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SL and research in an English composition course

Posted on Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Last spring, I approached an English composition instructor, Stephanie Dickey, about integrating a research component into her English 102 service-learning intensive course.  I sent Stephanie Jennifer Nutefall's article: "The relationship between service learning and research."  (see Recommended Reading for the full citation).  Jennifer had done something similar with a composition instructor at George Washington University. Stephanie enthusiastically agreed that I could become librarian-partner for her class, and we are now in the second quarter of our partnership.  We discussed what this partnership might look like.  She decided she would like the students to gather information that would benefit an emergency student food pantry that was soon to be operational on our campus (an initiative of our Office of Service Learning).  After meeting with each other, and with the AmeriCORPS VISTA in charge of coordinating the food pantry, we determined the students might be able to find information about the following:

  • assessing the need for a campus food pantry
  • researching and soliciting community partners
  • researching and soliciting campus partners
  • promoting the food pantry
  • peopling the pantry itself for distribution of goods
  • organizing and stocking the food pantry
  • organizing, advertising, and implementing a campus food drive

We were unable to find enough information in the academic literature, since campus food pantries are a relatively new phenomenon.   It gave me, as librarian partner, an opportunity to really stress evaluating information with the students.  They were forced to look for newspaper articles and other campus food pantry web sites to answer these questions, and I helped give them the tools to evaluate the information they found. The class also gathered primary data as they conducted an informal poll in our University portal, WINGS, to find out how many students have experienced food insecurity while enrolled at Wright State.  Another group conducted student interviews on campus. The students used the information to write letters to the editor to convince/persaude the audience that food insecurity among college students is indeed an issue.  They also presented some of their findings to people on campus who might be instrumental in supporting the food pantry.  Finally, the wrote analysis papers based on the research they conducted and found. It was a challenging, but rewarding, collaboration.  I met with the class several times, and met with each student individually. 

  •  The first visit was an overview of the databases and some advanced google search techniques (limiting to .edu domain, etc.). 
  • Another visit highlighted our Student Technology Assistance Center (where the students could create videos to include in their presentations - and a few groups did!) and our presentation practice room.  
  • I also attended the students presentation practice day and their formal presentation day, which generated more than $300 in support for the campus food pantry!

Overall, the project required a significant time committment, but it was still doable.  I tried to meet with students as groups to cut down on the number of appointments.  Soon, I'll ask Stephanie to post her reflections on the collaboration.