Innovative Approaches to Public Service Through Institutionalized Action Research: Reflections from Law and Social Work

By Susan R. Jones, JD and Shirley J. Jones, PhD | 33 U. ARK. LITTLE ROCK L. REV. 377 (2010).

This article describes innovative approaches to integrating public service into law school and graduate social work curricula through the overarching lens of action search, a broad term encompassing service and action learning, and a pedagogical approach designed to educate students while helping communities.

Action research is a participatory way of learning which includes the components of action and service learning. Action research is an educational tool that intertwines “justice” and “participation” to influence positive concrete change and development in communities. As teachers, scholars and community advocates, the authors have utilized action research and clinical legal education to prepare students to become helping professionals within their roles as future members of civil society. Through this work, the authors have come to view action research as an innovative way to teach students not only the substantive doctrine, skills, professional values, and ethics of their professions, but also client advocacy, community and capacity building, and issues relevant to social and economic justice.

The authors use their experiences in law and social work to illustrate teaching methods to promote students’ awareness of social justice issues in their own communities and abroad, while also building and fortifying relationships between students and the clients or communities they are called to serve. The article also advocates for “institutionalized action research,” a term used to describe full acceptance and immersion of action research into the cultural and education fabric of colleges and universities; greater recognition of this pedagogy in light of global economic realities; the needs of millennial generation students; and calls for increased experiential learning opportunities in graduate education.

The authors present case studies that describe their experiences in social and law, illuminating the action researcher’s multiple roles as facilitator, participant, student, and education. The authors also discuss key outcomes from the case study projects, observations, lessons learned and recommendations.

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Posted in: Public Interest Law

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