Innovative Higher Education

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 83–96 | Cite as

Studying the Professional Lives and Work of Faculty Involved in Community Engagement

  • KerryAnn O’Meara
  • Lorilee R. Sandmann
  • John Saltmarsh
  • Dwight E. GilesJr.
Article

Abstract

Community engagement is one of the major innovations that has occurred in higher education over the last 20 years. At the center of this innovation are faculty members because of their intimate ties to the academic mission. This article examines the progress that has been made in understanding this critical area of faculty work. It builds on past research to consider how the conceptualization of faculty community engagement influences the kinds of questions we ask about it and the kinds of recruitment, support, and professional growth we provide. Implications of the study and for the practice of faculty community engagement are provided for researchers, administrators, and faculty members.

Key words

Faculty community engagement 

Community Engagement and Faculty Work

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, higher education was strongly criticized for not extending its significant resources to relevant community, social, and national issues (e.g., education, the environment, economic development) (Boyer 1990; O’Meara and Rice 2005). In response, many higher education institutions and faculty members began applying their teaching, research, and expertise to local, regional, and national problems, often joining with community partners in mutual and reciprocal partnerships. This community-based faculty work is hereinafter referred to as “community engagement.” We further define community engagement using the Carnegie definition: a “collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” (Driscoll 2008, p. 39). Our approach to defining community engagement, and faculty community engagement more specifically, takes into account the variations in the form of the work: service-learning, community-based research, outreach and extension as well as differences in philosophy and context (e.g., universities that have a land-grant mission or conduct disciplinary fieldwork). We recognize that one of the difficulties in studying this area is that faculty members are involved in vastly different kinds of activities; and they have differing motivations, goals, and interests. Consequently, one of our major critiques of the literature is the need for researchers to distinguish between both the types of work (e.g., service-learning, action research, outreach) and the goals of the work (e.g., enhanced student learning, contribution to a community partnership, enhancing civic awareness and sense of responsibility).

Community engagement, in its many forms, has been one of the major innovations within higher education over the last 20 years. At the center of higher education innovation in community engagement are faculty members because of their intimate ties to the academic mission. This article examines the progress that has been made in understanding this critical area of faculty work.

Our purpose is fourfold. First, we provide a critical review of the literature on faculty community engagement. Second, we consider four dominant disciplinary perspectives that guide research on faculty community engagement and shape the topics or questions explored. Third, we consider how the frameworks we use to study faculty community engagement, as well as the methods we use, have shaped the narrative on this work and thereby the way we support and reward the work. Fourth, we consider new frameworks and methods and their relevance to practice for the next generation of research on engaged faculty. This inquiry is important in part because of the sheer volume of activity that occurs to facilitate faculty engagement without either sufficient theory to support it or concrete proof of outcomes. Each year millions of dollars are poured into institutional faculty development programs, grants, and projects to facilitate faculty community engagement. The major funders of this work have been the U.S. government through the Fund for the Improvement of Higher Education (FIPSE); Learn and Serve America; the National Science Foundation (NSF); private foundations such as W. K. Kellogg, Pew, Atlantic Philanthropic, Ford, Lumina, Kettering and Templeton, which have fueled organizations committed to civic engagement such as Campus Compact and its state offices; the American Association of Colleges and Universities; and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. There is no doubt that this level of financial support has increased the amount of faculty engagement, and there is evidence to suggest some of the funding has improved the quality of the engagement process and its outcomes. However, the greatest advances made have been in understanding the impact of engagement for student learners, rather than for faculty members as professional learners and partners.

We suggest here that it is critical to examine the factors that influence faculty members’ own civic commitments, practices of engagement, and outcomes rather than viewing them as a means through which to achieve student outcomes. Just as studies of student engagement in classrooms have benefitted faculty by giving them tools to improve their practice (see National Survey of Student Engagement 2007), so, too, will this greater attention on the engaged faculty reap significant benefits for both the students and community partners.

The Complexity of the Topic

We begin with the observation that studying the lives and work of faculty members is a complex endeavor that requires multiple theoretical lenses. Research over the last two decades has consistently shown that across these varying work contexts, identities, and cultures faculty members have differing preparation and socialization for the professoriate, career opportunities, and work experiences according to discipline, institutional type, individual demographics and identity, and appointment type (Aguirre 2000; Antonio et al. 2000; Becher 1989; Clark 1987; Schuster and Finkelstein 2006).

Furthermore, faculty engagement as a form of faculty work defies categorization (Giles 2008; Sandmann 2008; Ward 2003); involves complex and overlapping types of motivations (O’Meara 2008a, b; Peters and Alter 2006); and engages both personal and professional passions, values, and commitments (Kuntz 2005; Moore 2006; Neumann 2006; O’Meara 2008a, b). Recent research suggests that faculty members have dominant and supporting motivations for engagement (O’Meara and Niehaus 2009) rather than a clear and single motivation.

Because there is no tidy category for the work and the lives of engaged scholars, we need studies, frameworks, and methods that weave together examination of different sectors of faculty work, theories from multiple areas in social science and other areas of inquiry, and a diverse set of research methods.

Factors That Influence Faculty Engagement

In this section we consider literature to date on major factors found to contribute to the professional lives of engaged scholars. In each section, we consider what this line of inquiry has illuminated and what we still do not understand.

Demographics, Identity, and Life Experiences

Many studies have reported that women and faculty of color are overrepresented in the group of faculty involved in community engagement (e.g. Aguirre 2000; Antonio et al. 2000; Baez 2000; Vogelgesang et al. 2010). However, it is difficult to ascertain from extant research whether gender and race and ethnicity are the dominant influencing factors on community engagement. In a recent study, while gender was found a consistent predictor of community engagement, there were subgroups of faculty of color who were less involved than white faculty (Vogelgesang et al. 2010). Likewise, O’Meara (2009) reported from an ongoing research project examining peer reviewed journal articles from 1990–2010 on gender and faculty community engagement that there seem to be more women who “show up” in the samples when convenience samples are taken in surveys and used to arrive at qualitative interview samples with engaged faculty members. However, in larger scale studies of engaged faculty there is less obvious discrepancy in engagement activity when one controls for such factors as career stage, institutional type, discipline, and the epistemological beliefs of the faculty. Whereas the larger survey samples ask faculty members to self report their engagement behavior within the scope of all their activities, the smaller surveys and more qualitative studies are more often selecting individuals known to be involved in this work via a more objective measure, that is, faculty members who list service-learning or community-based research courses or who have received grants for this work (O’Meara 2009). The smaller studies, by virtue of being closer to the work and who is doing it, may be more accurate. However, the fact that many of the organizations that could collect data on demographics, such as Learn and Serve and Campus Compact, most often do not do so means that we have to rely on the larger scale surveys of overall self reported faculty behavior, which is inadequate. Self reported behavior has been found an adequate proxy for actual observed behavior in many areas of higher education research such as studies of student retention and faculty teaching behaviors. However, in situations where the definition of the activity is broad or imprecise and the participant perceives the activity which they are reporting as socially desirable, as is the case with engagement, it is likely to be a less effective measure of actual behavior. While it would be useful to have better demographic information on who is involved in faculty community engagement, the deeper questions are likely to be how demographics (such as having been a first generation college student) and specific gender and racial/ethnic identities help shape the work as has been studied by Baez (2000) and Ward (2010). Also, as Ward (2010) suggested, the intersections of a demographic characteristic such as gender and factors like epistemology and personal goals have very important implications for supporting this work. An example of such intersection is the fact that some studies do not find gender to be a predictive factor of engagement but do find teaching goals (Parkins 2008) and humanistic and service orientations significant (Antonio et al. 2000). Yet women and faculty of color tend to report higher commitments to teaching and are more likely to have humanistic and service orientations. As such, the influence of demographics on faculty engagement is complex as it intersects with other associated identities and orientations.

Epistemology and Personal Goals

Research indicates that many faculty members practice community engagement in their teaching because of the desire to teach well (Abes et al. 2002; O’Meara 2008a, b), often believing that it will increase student understanding of course material and enhance student development (Abes et al. 2002; Bringle and Hatcher 2000; Hammond 1994; McKay and Rozee 2004; O’Meara and Niehaus 2009). Faculty members may want to help students learn specific knowledge, develop certain skill sets, or become socialized toward a set of civic or moral values; or they may have goals such as being an educator alongside community partners (Moore 2006) or being involved in a national movement around an issue (O’Meara 2008a, b). In most cases, the faculty goal of teaching disciplinary knowledge or providing opportunities for experiential learning reflects both personal motivation and department and institutional missions (O’Meara and Niehaus 2009).

Epistemology, or how faculty approach knowledge creation, has also been recognized as an important factor in community engagement (Colbeck and Michael 2006; McAfee 2000; Vogelgesang et al. 2010). Saltmarsh et al. (2009a) however, observed that “the dominant epistemology of the academy runs counter to the civic engagement agenda” (p. 3). They pointed out that traditional teaching and research assume an expert model of knowledge production. This means faculty members involved in community engagement may often approach this work from a different epistemological stance than is held by some colleagues in their departments, and this difference might influence how their work is regarded within in the institutional and disciplinary reward systems. We need studies that explore the epistemology of the faculty involved in this work. We also need to understand how different epistemologies affect what faculty members and students learn and what communities get out of such partnerships.

Institutional Contexts

The literature indicates that institutional context affects what types of engagement faculty members choose, how they integrate engagement into teaching and research roles, and how they are rewarded and encouraged (Bloomgarden and O’Meara 2007; Driscoll and Lynton 1999; Holland 1999; O’Meara 2002, 2004; Peters et al. 2005; Thornton and Jaeger 2008; Ward 2003). For example, Vogelgesang et al. (2010) analyzed the responses of faculty members who participated in the 2004–2005 Higher Education Research Institute faculty members survey. These authors found that faculty from two-year colleges, public four year colleges, and Catholic four-year colleges perceived institutional commitment to engagement to be greater than that of faculty members from other institutional types. Alternatively, a lack of recognition in the institutional reward system often deters faculty engagement (Driscoll and Sandmann 2001; O’Meara 2002; O’Meara and Rice 2005; Sandmann 2006; Ward 2003).

Research on civic and community engagement in all types of higher education institutions has consistently shown that context matters (O’Meara 2005; Sandmann and Weerts 2008; Ward 2003). However, research is needed to explore the way new generations of faculty members can transform institutional values with regard to engagement and faculty work roles through their daily practices, priorities, and commitments (O’Meara et al. 2008; Rhoades et al. 2008). Those institutions that have attempted to transform their cultures and are ranked as “engaged institutions” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (2008) constitute a ready-made arena for such cohort studies (Saltmarsh et al. 2009a, b; Sandmann et al. 2009). We need to understand whether reform made to promotion and tenure documents, the creation of awards for engagement, and new forms of peer review and documentation of engaged scholarship are having any impact on the careers of engaged scholars and in which institutional contexts this change can be observed.

Disciplinary and Department Contexts

Most issues relating to faculty productivity, satisfaction, and motivation are embedded in experiences at the departmental level (Bland et al. 2006; Porter 2007). Research indicates that faculty socialization into a discipline and belief that their discipline values this work influences their interest and involvement in engagement (Abes et al. 2002; Vogelgesang et al. 2010). There are certain disciplines and fields such as education and health sciences, social sciences, and agriculture that have consistently reported higher interest and involvement in engagement and several fields that have consistently reported lower interest and involvement such as Humanities, Math/Statistics, and English (Antonio et al. 2000; Vogelgesang et al. 2010). Future research should explore how faculty members view their work relative to the values and missions of their disciplines or fields and departments’ values and missions. Such studies could assist with the transformation of doctoral training so as to allow greater focus on community needs and faculty development for engagement that integrates mission-centered strategies. Since much engagement scholarship requires interdisciplinary connections, research on the effect of a propensity for interdisciplinary work on faculty engagement is also needed.

In conclusion, the topics of much of the research on faculty-community engagement cover the following questions:
  • What is the work? (definitional)

  • Why do faculty members do it? (motivational)

  • How do faculty members do it? (operational)

  • What are the barriers against it? What are the facilitating factors? (structural, human resource, political, organizational, and cultural)

  • Specifically, in the area of engaged teaching, what faculty behaviors enhance student learning? (learning outcome oriented)

Given the relatively recent nature of this movement , it makes sense to ask these questions on a definitional and practice level. While the civic and service missions of higher education have a much longer history that goes back to the 19th century and the articulation of the land-grant mission, the engagement movement as we understand it today is often noted to have started in the early 1980s (O’Meara in press; Saltmarsh et al. 2009a). However, as the movement moves into its fourth decade, we wonder if a deeper, more theorized analysis of faculty engagement is warranted. Recent critiques of community engagement have made us contemplate more deeply where the study of faculty community engagement needs to go—both in terms of richer perspectives and narratives from which to study engagement and methodologies. In the next section we begin this process by considering four dominant perspectives that have been used to study faculty engagement and their strengths and limitations, and we offer a brief discussion of methods in order to chart new directions for the next decade of research in this area.

Critique of Theoretical Frameworks Used to Study Faculty Engagement

The Need for Multiple Lenses

As we reviewed the extant literature on faculty engagement, we found four perspectives most often used to study this issue. Here we critique these dominant perspectives, identifying their strengths and limitations and how each perspective focuses our attention on one aspect of the engagement while obscuring another. O’Meara et al. (2008) provided a similar analysis of perspectives used to study engaged faculty. Table I summarizes these perspectives, which come from the areas of psychology and motivation, psychology and career development, organizational behavior, and anthropology; and the Table outlines the strengths and limitations of each.
Table I

A critique of perspectives used to study faculty community engagement

Perspective

Strengths

Limitations

Psychology/Motivation

Provides strong understanding of how personal and professional goals as well as environment matter in faculty engagement

Focus is on the individual, drawing attention away from cultural influences and structural or market-based incentives or supports

Psychology/Career Development

Helps understand the changing nature of faculty needs over a career span and considers how institutions can help meet the engaged faculty member’s needs for professional growth

Focus is on the individual; sometimes oversimplifies idea of faculty needs dominated by career stage as opposed to nature of projects, relationships, or political context; at times puts emphasis on what we do to faculty members as opposed to the faculty member’s own civic agency

Organizational Behavior

Illuminates the ways that organizational priorities, norms, structures, politics, and leadership influence faculty engagement

Places more emphasis on the higher education institution as central to faculty work than other locations such as networks with community organizations; can overestimate the degree to which faculty respond to institutional norms as opposed to working to re-create them

Cultural

Reveals values and beliefs of academic cultures that socialize and shape faculty teaching, scholarly agendas; also reveals dominant academic norms that can support/thwart faculty engagement

Can overemphasize the current state of a culture, disregarding its malleability; tends to describe the average as opposed to outliers; also cues attention away from structural and political support

Psychology and Motivation

In recent years scholars have used theories of motivation to understand why faculty members choose to become involved in community engagement activities. For example, Colbeck and Michael (2006) applied motivational systems theory to the study of public scholarship. Motivational systems theory (Ford 1992) assumes motivation is the result of individual goals, beliefs about capabilities, and beliefs about the supportiveness of one’s contexts. Thus an environmental studies professor may establish a community partnership that, with this perspective, is revealed to be motivated by the goal to improve water quality in a nearby area and the belief that she has skills that will be useful in this effort. Strengths of this theory include comprehensiveness in considering a range of motivations for faculty activity and viewing motivation not as static but as changing and variable, with different layers of faculty personal and professional lives as intertwined. However, because of its focus on the individual instead of the social, economic, or cultural context, it is less effective in capturing generational influences, involvement in identity politics, or power struggles for social justice as origins of faculty engagement.

Psychology and Career Development

Rooted in the field of developmental psychology and human development, this perspective considers how needs and strengths change over the duration of faculty careers and how institutions might develop professional development programs to benefit individuals and institutions over a career span. For example, an early career professor new to an engagement project may need assistance in developing the partnership or writing articles arising from the project whereas a more senior engaged scholar may need assistance with institutionalizing the engagement project and extending the network to faculty members at other campuses. One strength of this perspective is that it recognizes that faculty members evolve throughout their professional lives; and they will have different and changing needs, challenges, and strengths. The perspective can be criticized, however, for focusing on the needs of the individual in relationship to the institution, rather than the needs of a partnership or of the work itself. Likewise, this focus turns attention away from social context and cultural values. Also, career development studies have tended to emphasize the professional development created for a faculty member rather than the self-initiated growth and development that motivates faculty members to approach community partners for joint exploration and learning as independent agents (Neumann 2009; O’Meara et al. 2008). Also, by making faculty career stage the central focus, scholars are less likely to study what happens when community partners initiate projects with faculty members and the reasons they get involved that are unrelated to career stage and their own personal and professional needs.

Organizational Studies

Faculty behavior occurs in the context of organizations. Consequently, many studies of faculty engagement have used organizational lenses to examine how engaged scholars operate in higher education organizations (Bringle and Hatcher 2000; Colbeck and Michael 2006; Holland 1999; O’Meara 2004). For example, many studies have drawn on the work of Bolman and Deal (1997), Birnbaum (1988), and Senge (1990) to consider the organizational structures and leadership necessary to support faculty engagement within institutions. A commonly used organizational theory is one articulated by DiMaggio and Powell (1983), which posits that institutions are compelled to emulate the most prestigious institutions by coercive, mimetic, and normative forces. The new Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement will encourage faculty community engagement by creating an alternative set of standards to emulate. Further research could use DiMaggio & Powell’s theory to consider whether campuses are in fact responding to external and internal coercive, mimetic, and normative forces in ways that benefit and thwart faculty community engagement (O’Meara 2007). Looking ahead, it will be important for researchers to consider how faculty community engagement fares as institutions weather difficult economic times and compete in the academic marketplace.

Cultural Perspectives

Cultural perspectives have long been used in studies of faculty members (e.g. Schein 1985). While drawing heavily on anthropological views, scholars have also linked cultural studies to theories from sociology, organization, history, and other fields (O’Meara et al. 2008). In studies of faculty community engagement, cultural perspectives have been used to understand promotion and tenure review of engaged work (O’Meara 2002) and to consider the culture change necessary for institutions to institutionalize and accept engaged work as a core faculty activity (Holland 1999; Sandmann et al. 2000).

A shortcoming of the cultural approach is that it may give insufficient attention to cultural change over time and to the malleability of culture itself. Focusing on values and beliefs may divert our attention from how faculty work is intimately embedded in a local market economy or in a system of organizational structures propelling or limiting its expansion and success. Also, the tendency of cultural studies to frame individuals as insiders and outsiders may not accurately represent engaged faculty members holding professional identities as insiders and outsiders simultaneously (Bloomgarden 2009; O’Meara 2002; O’Meara in press).

Critique of Methods Used to Study Faculty-Community Engagement

To date, faculty community engagement has been studied primarily through survey research, institutional case studies, and individual qualitative interviews. Here we consider the strengths and weaknesses of these designs for the study of the professional lives of engaged faculty. Embedded in the discussion of survey research is the issue of defining engagement. An important caveat is that several of our critiques or observations of the limitations of methods are not isolated to this topic but have been observed in other social science research on faculty teaching lives, balance of work and family, and other aspects of the faculty career.

First, national and regional quantitative surveys (Abes et al. 2002; Antonio et al. 2000; Parkins 2008; Vogelgesang et al. 2010) have illuminated the extent of community engagement work and provided some important data on demographics. An additional advantage of this method is that over time we can begin to see new areas of the work emerging as in the recent partnership between Washington Campus Compact and the Western Region Campus Compact Consortium. They completed a survey of 2,626 faculty members, which reports service-learning interest and a growing engagement and interest in community based research (Western Region Campus Compact Consortium 2009). However, surveys by design cannot provide rich description of the actual work nor of the rich personal history or culture around it. Closely related to this critique is the definitional problem of what we mean by engagement.

We believe future research on faculty community engagement, especially survey research, needs to differentiate among service-learning, community-based research, and outreach/extension. A recent review of the literature noted that even just among the dominant large survey research reporting on faculty community engagement—the Higher Education Research Institute annual faculty survey (Vogelgesang et al. 2010), National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty (2007), and recently Parkins (2008) and Washington Campus Compact’s survey—researchers use different definitions of engagement. Some include service-learning and community based research, others only service-learning and public service (O’Meara 2009). Also, these survey studies often measure different things; some measure estimated work time dedicated to engagement activities and others measure the respondents’ professed commitment to it (O’Meara 2009). In some studies the definition is left intentionally broad to allow the participant to define whether their work fits in or not. The field would benefit from standardizing the definition of engagement and embedding it across studies in future research.

Individual and multi-campus case studies, although by design not representative of other institutional types or contexts (Yin 2003), can and have provided rich descriptive portraits of the history and social context within which faculty members engage with partners. Two examples are illustrative of the strengths of case studies and of individual qualitative portraits of engaged faculty. Bloomgarden (2009) examined the intersection of exemplar engaged scholar work and the elite liberal arts college culture through a design of 15 triadic qualitative portraits. In these triads the engaged faculty member was interviewed and one of their community partners and faculty colleagues was also interviewed about that engaged faculty members’ work. Janke (2009) conducted interviews and observations and analyzed documents to understand 5 faculty partnerships with community organizations and the role that partnership identity played in the faculty work and outcomes. In both cases, we see different kinds of theory applied to understand specific contexts in rich detail. The great strength of this design is the holistic examination of the faculty member as an agent in a specific institutional and community context. Some important critiques of even the best qualitative studies of engagement, however, are that these studies often have small sample sizes, gather “the likely suspects” or uncommonly engaged faculty, and have no comparison groups; and often there is a halo effect in that faculty members may be more likely to report positive contexts or aspects of the work.

Our review of the extant literature on faculty community engagement and critique of these common research designs used to study it suggest that (a) mixed methods approaches have rarely been taken; (b) ethnographic approaches have been underutilized; and (c) discourse analysis methods have rarely been used to understand motivations, framing, goals, and epistemology.

New Directions for Research and Practice

In this section, we build on our critiques of topics, frameworks, and methods in the study of engaged faculty to suggest several important new areas for inquiry. This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, we intend these examples to be illustrative of how extending the perspectives and methods used to study faculty engagement influences the topics chosen for study and has implications for practice.

First, we believe it is critical that more research gets inside the classroom so as to begin to connect faculty and student behaviors and classroom curricula and pedagogies to gains in student civic agency. In an article in Change magazine, Boyte (2008) argued for higher education institutions to take the development of civic agency in their students, faculty, and communities more seriously. In this discussion civic agency is defined as “navigational capacities” to negotiate and transform the world toward greater democracy (Boyte 2008; Emirbayer and Mische 1998). We further define faculty civic agency in the context of their professional lives as having the intention to, feeling confident one can, and acting in ways that link professional work with public purposes (O’Meara 2008a, b). In this way, civic agency is not considered an innate quality; rather it is developed over time by enabling conditions that provide a foundation from which to act (O’Meara 2008a, b). Much research over the last decade has focused on connecting best practices in undergraduate education to student learning through the National Survey of Student Engagement (See NSSE 2007). Yet most research on faculty community engagement has examined student outcomes from service-learning outside or associated with classrooms (such as learning communities with service-learning components). Classroom observation approaches used to study how a faculty member’s framing of curriculum and classroom behaviors influences student civic agency could provide concrete tools and methods for other faculty members to use to catalyze student civic agency.

Second, we believe sociological and historical approaches that associate faculty members with cohorts, generations, or political identities would strengthen our knowledge of why they become involved and stay involved in this work. We may cite civic responsibility when faculty members are hurt professionally for speaking out on controversial issues, but we do not often map the daily activities of faculty members that enhance the democratic nature of higher education (Kuntz 2005). Historical and sociological research that considers the effects of generation (e.g., Generation X and Y) and of political identity would provide a context for their involvement that many research studies in this area lack. Such research might be helpful to those who support and encourage faculty engagement. Directors of centers for service-learning and centers for teaching who view this cohort from the perspective of their Generation X and Y status may see different needs and ways of working emerge, such as a desire for peer as opposed to hierarchical mentoring (Trower 2008).

Third, because so much of the actual work of community engagement occurs off campus and between campus and community, studies “from the field” may provide new understanding about use of expertise, community-building skills, and teaching and learning in community settings. Ethnographic and autoethnographic approaches to examination of the actual work will help us move beyond questions of what faculty members are doing to what they are learning in their specific settings (Fear et al. 2006; Neumann 2005). Research that follows faculty members off campus can illuminate strategies for optimizing that faculty time toward specific goals.

Conclusion

Although still fairly new, research on faculty-community engagement is approaching a more mature stage where deeper questions can be asked. In mapping out factors that influence faculty community engagement and considering strengths and limitations of perspectives and methods, we found that studies of faculty community engagement need to identify the different kinds of work faculty are doing better, consider the daily practices of civic agency in which faculty engage, and ascertain how faculty civic agency and behavior in classrooms contribute to inspiring student civic agency and democratic outcomes for institutions and communities. Doing so will require a more reflective use of theory, more ethnographic approaches, and an openness to new methods and longitudinal research designs that help us understand faculty members’ epistemological beliefs and learning.

Engaged scholars—whether in service-learning, action research, or intentional civic practice—are involved in important work. Research on engaged work likewise needs to get outside the mainstream of research on higher education to consider how new interdisciplinary frameworks and fields might approach this work. Each of these extended and refined areas of inquiry, perspective, and method has the potential to change what we know about faculty community engagement significantly. Such extended knowledge has immediate practical applications for those who support faculty community engagement nationally, at their institutions, and individually. For example, a more comprehensive understanding of the work could provide strategies for documenting the work for external audiences and for promotion and tenure purposes. A greater understanding of motivations is relevant for support through electronic media and social networking. Understanding the most effective classroom practices for civic learning has importance for faculty members in all institutional types and disciplines. It is also our hope that such research will likewise increase the visibility of faculty community engagement in an effort to move it forward.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • KerryAnn O’Meara
    • 1
  • Lorilee R. Sandmann
    • 2
  • John Saltmarsh
    • 3
  • Dwight E. GilesJr.
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Education Leadership, Higher Education, and International EducationUniversity of Maryland, College ParkCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Lifelong Education, Administration, and PolicyThe University of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  3. 3.Department of Leadership in Education and the New England Resource Center for Higher EducationUniversity of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA
  4. 4.Higher Education Administration and the New England Resource Center for Higher EducationUniversity of Massachusetts, BostonBostonUSA

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