Cochran, Kathryn F.
Jameson, Molly M.
Stewart, Connie K.
Lahman, Maria K. E.
School of Psychological Sciences
University of Northern Colorado
Type of Resources
Place of Publication
University of Northern Colorado
The purpose of this study was to understand the processes of learning and meaning making that occur when people participate in long-term service learning programs. Service learning is a broad term that is used in many contexts and has a variety of meanings. The meaning used in this research is broad and includes include individuals not currently enrolled in college. Many researchers have noted the importance of reflection for learning through service, but the literature has a paucity of research on reflexivity. Addressing these gaps in the literature, this dissertation focused on the development of participants’ epistemological approaches to service through reflexive arts based research. The theoretical framework undergirding this research is critical feminism an emancipatory theory that emphasizes social justice and advocates for equity in research, especially for non-traditional ways of knowing and alternative approaches to academic inquiry. The methodology is bricolage, inspired in large part by portraiture and the mosaic approach. The five female participants in this study came from disparate backgrounds and service experiences; three undergraduate students, one recent PhD, and one retired probation officer. Through sharing their experiences with service, this study provides a look into the common elements of learning through service, the potential for personal transformation through arts based reflexive practice, and the methodological considerations for using arts based reflexive inquiry in educational research were addressed. Arts based research is the use of aesthetic representation in any step of the research process, from data collection to analysis to presentation of findings. Art was used in all phases of data collection and analysis. Data were collected through: Arts Based Reflexive Inquiry (ABRI) sessions, where participants created a work of art about their service; observation during ABRI sessions, and semi-structured interviews. Data analysis took the form of an ongoing, dialectical process for coding inspired by the constant comparative method, but reliant on art as the primary lens for analyzing the data. Findings are presented as both written and visual portraits of participants, and a free gallery open to the public where community members could view the original works created for this research. Findings include the common elements of the diverse service experiences, including the creation of a positive feedback loop leading to increased future engagement, and a deepened understanding of a social problem. Participants also indicated notable personal transformations, especially in terms of identity development. This study closes by addressing the methodological considerations of using ABRI in Educational Psychology research. Aesthetic methods are becoming more prominent and accepted within educational psychology research, but are limited to the inquiry phase and do not extend into data analysis or representation. This research addresses the aesthetic narrative reconstruction that participants undergo as they deepen their understanding of their personal epistemology through engaging in ABRI. Implications for future practice include the need for service learning practitioners to provide a safe space for volunteers to continually remake, refine, and define their personal epistemologies through deepened self-understanding. One way to achieve this end is through ABRI.
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