Undergraduate Community-Based Action Research

A relatively new approach that is gaining popularity, community-based action research is similar to an independent study option for the rare student who is highly experienced in community work. Community-based action research can also be effective with small classes or groups of students. In this model, students work closely with faculty members to learn research methodology while serving as advocates for communities.

Example: Lehigh University
Economics 295 Regional Economic Development Practicum

Purpose: This course will involve teams of students in community-oriented research projects. Students will participate in the design and execution of a specific research project identified by a Lehigh Valley development agency. The results of this research will be communicated both orally and in a written report to the agency.

Community-Based Component: Students may choose one of seven research projects identified by development agencies. For example:
Transportation Barriers to Successful Welfare to Work Transitions
Community partner: Council of Hispanic Organizations
Students will assist the council by researching and documenting the extent to which women living in the inner city of Allentown are limited in their search for employment by the current configuration of bus routes. Student teams will meet with LANTA planners to identify ways in which routes could be changed or new services developed to enhance the possibility of successful transitions from welfare to work

Related assignments: Large research paper and presentation.


Sample Assignments from Other Courses:

Anthropology: Bert de Vries, IDIS 240 Introduction to Archaeology.
This course introduces students to the Calvin Garbage Project. The primary assignment requires students to work in teams of two assigned a specific task contributing to a large, class field report assessing garbage produced by the Calvin College community.
Service Component: Students are asked to research and assess the waste produced by the college community and to provide data for improving disposal, recycling and composting procedures. Students work with the Calvin Environmental Awareness Program.
Related Assignments: Team reports, two exams, field work report and class presentation.

Economics: Thomas Hyclak and Todd Watkins, Regional Economic Development Practicum.
Service Component: Students choose one of 7 community projects within a particular agency, e.g., identifying transportation barriers to successful welfare to work transitions. Students work with the Council on Hispanic Organizations to improve the public transportation options for inner-city residents.
Related Assignments: Student responsibilities include documenting the extent to which women living in the inner city of Allentown are limited in their search for employment by the current configuration of bus routes. The study team meets with LANTA planners to identify ways in which routes could be changed or new services developed to enhance the possibility of successful transitions from welfare to work.

Engineering: Peter Martin, Civil Engineering, Traffic Flow Theory.
Service Component: Students complete an extensive analysis of speed limit violations in a local neighborhood and design traffic solutions to address the problem. Students present their work to the community and the County in public meetings, and get feedback on improving their projects.

Linguistics: William Labov, Linguistics 160/African American 160.
Students investigate the use and structure of African American Vernacular English and apply this linguistic knowledge to the task of teaching African American children to read at the Wilson School.
Service Component: Students develop methods for teaching reading building on home language and interests of African-American children. Students gather information by either observing children on the playground or tutoring small groups of children in the classroom.
Related Assignments: The class will also produce a ‘Dictionary of Every-Day Words,’ which will define words found in daily speech and in hip-hop lyrics that the children believe the teacher does not know.