In our last post, we discussed how various activities that involve community engaged teaching fall on a spectrum. Now, we’d like to share a couple of our experiences integrating community engagement into the courses we teach in community psychology. Referring back to the spectrum we introduced, we are going to highlight two strategies – Photovoice & service learning – that we used to help students achieve the learning outcomes for the courses we taught. We first introduce Photovoice – an “innovative participatory photography and digital storytelling method” that helps students reflect upon their course experiences. Second, we will introduce our use of service learning in a course. In each case, we will provide our rationale, start-up and implementation tips as well as “lessons learned”. It is important to note that while both of these tools were used within community psychology classes, they can easily be implemented in a wide range of courses. See the end of this post for resources to help apply these approaches to other classes and disciplines.
Katie’s Experience with Photovoice
In my course, I wanted to challenge students to think more deeply (than they might as a result of engaging with traditional news and/or educational sources) about social issues that are important to them. At the beginning of the semester, I encouraged students to choose a topic of interest related to a specific social issue (e.g., gender-based violence, sexual health, youth empowerment). They then explored this issue tduring conversations in class and in class assignments. For one assignment, students learned about Photovoice and both used photos to visually highlight the issue in the community they cared about and wrote a corresponding reflection. By the time they began this project they had already begun to explore the issue n depth, and they were able to use the photographs and observations to reflect their learning. I chose to use this tool because it can be a creative means (beyond typical written assignments like research papers) of having students communicate what they know about a subject of interest to them..
Set-Up & Implementation
- Clarify Assessment: The front-end work for photovoice is much less community-intensive and more instructor-intensive. It is important to think about what you want your students to learn and how you will assess this learning while maintaining engagement about the issues within the class.
- Introduce Critical Thinking and Theoretical Context: Preparing students to do the photovoice project was intensive. I introduced students to relevant theory, multiple social issues, intervention strategies, and how Photovoice itself could be used as an intervention within communities.
- Introducing the Photovoice Approach: Students learned about Photovoice through readings, websites, and a visiting instructor who had extensive experience using Photovoice with community groups.
- Phase 1: Students submitted a photo they took that represented their social issue with an accompanying narrative addressing multiple questions posed in the rubric.
- Phase 2: I created a photo gallery within the classroom and online, allowing students to view each other’s work. Photos were put into “mini-galleries” based on shared topics of interest.
- Phase 3: Students gave written reactions to the photos within their “mini-gallery.” I asked students to first provide a reflection about their own personal experience viewing the gallery. I then asked students to take on the role of a specific community member (e.g., police chief, parent, service provider) who might have interest in the issue and write a brief reflection and develop an intervention to address the issue from that stakeholder’s perspective
Lessons & Suggestions
I have gone through iterations of what this project can look like. Initially, I did not consider the amount of time it would take to organize the photos to get them ready for the gallery. I also had students doing other activities to engage with their communities at the same time and I wonder if the multiple phases of the project became too overwhelming for students. For those who are interested in using a project similar to this in their own courses, I would encourage you to:
- Consider limiting the issues students will be exploring. I made the mistake of letting students choose their social issues and had a difficult time grouping them together when we did our photo gallery.
- Determine what other activities and assignments you can link to this project.
- Reach out to others who have used this tool in the past – including instructors, community members, and researchers.
- Read Lauren Lichty’s article Photovoice as a Pedagogical Tool in the Community Psychology Classroom.
Jennifer’s Experience with Service Learning
In teaching community psychology, I wanted my students to have an opportunity to engage with the local community and to have some shared experiences around a common issue, which we could apply to the theories we would learn in class. I approached this process with the overarching goal that my students would be able to apply lessons learned in class to practical experiences in their communities. To do this, I chose to incorporate a service learning component into the course, having students work with several local organizations focused on community food access.
Set-Up & Implementation
- Negotiating Partnerships: In the months leading up to my class, I met with representatives from organizations doing food access work. I brought my course plans to meetings and we found places where my students could learn from the organization while providing useful support. (I also balanced this process against practical concerns like how easy it would be for students to access the site via public transportation and ensuring that the sites would not need students to be there during class meeting times.)
- Site Selection: In the first week of class, I invited representatives from each site to visit class and share a little bit about the kind of work they do. Students then had the opportunity to choose which site they would work with and started time logs to track their work. Then the fun began!
- Class Discussion & Reflection: We spent our semester diving into theories about how communities function and learning about how we might engage in research with them. Armed with knowledge from their service sites, students debated things like the relative merits of various theories in community psychology for addressing food access issues and the potential for various types of interventions to prevent food access issues in the future. They completed a final reflective paper, where they integrated their experiences at their service site with the theories discussed in class.
- Integration: I brought in additional videos and articles about how others approached these issues to add additional perspectives into ourconversation. These resources expanded student perspectives and gave them additional information to help make meaning of their experiences in the context of course content.
Lessons & Suggestions
Above all, I learned the importance of maintaining awareness of how the process is going with students and organizations. In service learning courses, the instructor is the bridge between the community and the classroom. Consistently facilitating and redirecting that experience as needs arise is critical. This includes working with students and organizations to set up their hours, manage conflicts, and creating judgment-free spaces for student and organizational feedback. This might seem like a lot, but many institutions have great resources to help manage service learning courses.
Both service learning and photovoice provided students with rich experiences for critical thinking about issues happening in their communities (be sure to check out the links below for tools to adapt these approaches across disciplines). In our next post we will introduce how ethical considerations and points of reflection were critical components to students’ learning and engagement.
Let’s continue this conversation in the comments! What kinds of community engagement strategies have you used in your classrooms? What factors did you consider in integrating community engagement activities into your course? Are there any alternate ways you could imagine revising the specific approaches to community engagement we suggest?
For more information on how Photovoice and Service Learning can be incorporated into the classes in your discipline:
- Lichty, L. F. (2013). Photovoice as a pedagogical tool in the community psychology classroom. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 41(2), 89-96.
- Cook, K. L. (2014). Beginning a classroom inquiry: Using Photovoice to connect college students to community science. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(6), 28
- Health in My Hometown (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8lSw5Cdi8k)
- The Photovoice Process (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shrFa2c305g)
- Vanderbilt Center for Teaching: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-through-community-engagement/
- Campus Compact: http://compact.org/initiatives/service-learning/
- Implementation Examples from multiple disciplines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKj608jp-f8
Jennifer Lawlor is a graduate student in MSU’s ecological-community psychology program, where she studies collaboration networks among community stakeholders. She has taught courses in community psychology and research methods, sparking her interest in working with undergraduates. When she’s not geeking out about communities and teaching, Jennifer enjoys figure skating, baking, and playing board games.
Katie Gregory is an ecological-community psychology graduate student at MSU. As a Michigander born and raised, she is passionate about mentoring students while keeping them engaged with local issues and policies through courses in community psychology and human services internships. Her research interests focus on gender-based violence, specifically on how multiple systems respond to survivors of intimate partner violence. Free time? What’s that? Katie is a parent to twin toddlers.