Understanding the faculty experience in teaching social justice through service learning instruction
This study explored the motivations of college faculty who teach social justice lessons through their service learning courses. In recent decades, universities have begun to respond to calls for a renewal in their civic missions, and educating students on civic responsibility and social justice issues (Boyer, 1994; Boyte & Hollander, 1999; Ehrlich, 2000). Faculty have been shown to be the critical facilitators in brining social justice topics to the curriculum through the use of service learning instruction (Buchanan, 1998; Ward, 2003). Given the emphasis in higher education today on social justice learning outcomes and the importance of the role of faculty, there is surprisingly no previous research on faculty motivation to teach social justice lessons through service learning.
For this study, there were two guiding research questions: (1) what aspects of the faculty’s individual backgrounds influence their teaching of social justice topics? (2) What are faculty’s perceptions of the impact that service learning has on student learning? The setting of the study was a large research university in the southwest. Data were collected from 11 faculty through individual interviews and supplemented by course-related artifacts. Data were analyzed using coding procedures suggested by Strauss and Corbin (2008) from a grounded theory qualitative approach.
Results indicated that faculty motivation to use service learning to teach social justice lessons was based on several core themes. These themes included: 1) the faculty’s personal background; 2) individual identity and role as faculty; 3) faculty’s perceived desired student outcomes; and 4) faculty reflection of observed student outcomes. In addition to the key themes, results showed that faculty did enjoy their teaching approach, an enjoyment that reinforced their motivation to continue to teach. Faculty in lecturer positions indicated that they believed they were adding special student experiences through social justice lessons that were void in other aspects of their education. Faculty with tenure indicated that although they were providing social experiences for students, they also tended to combine their social justice instruction with their research work. A model of faculty motivation for teaching social justice topics was presented. Implications for research and practice are discussed.