Andrew Furco is the Associate Vice President for Public Engagement and Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota
"Connected Knowing" is the perfect theme title for 2012 International Research Conference on Service-Learning and Community Engagement. Both explicitly and implicitly, the term, “connected knowing”, characterizes the essence of service-learning and community engagement research. In so many ways, it embodies what the annual research conference has sought to accomplish over its twelve-year history.
Since its inception in 2001, the annual conference has sought to bring together producers and consumers of research from across varied and disparate academic disciplines to connect their particular perspectives of service-learning and community engagement to build a more clear and more well-articulated field of study and practice. It is through connected knowing across the disciplines that the field of community engagement research has been built.
The annual conference encourages connected knowing by showcasing new findings from brand new, cutting edge research studies and then linking this new knowledge with the previous research in the field. Every year, through the conference presentations, the research base for service-learning and community engagement is further strengthened, helping to build the current robust body of knowledge for service-learning and community engagement.
Because of the multi-disciplinary nature of service-learning and community engagement, the research in the field draws from a broad range of theories and relies on various methods and paradigms of inquiry, ranging from positivistic experiments to more interpretative and critical inquiry. The annual research conference intentionally seeks to connect these different ways of knowing in ways that enlighten us about the strengths and limitations of each paradigm and method.
The annual conference was established with the specific intention of linking the service-learning and community engagement research knowledge that is produced within higher education contexts with the knowledge that is produced within K-12 and other educational contexts. By connecting research knowledge from across the educational spectrum, the body of research on community engagement has been strengthened in innumerable ways. For example, this connection has helped identify similarities and differences in how older and younger students experience service-learning and community engagement. It has also helped bring to the fore the universal aspects of service-learning that are important, regardless of participating students’ educational levels.
As an international conference, the annual conference supports connected knowing across national border and cultural boundaries. With research sessions facilitated by participants from dozens of countries, the conference offers space to explore simultaneously national and global trends in the study and practice of service-learning and community engagement. This work helps us understand more fully the nuanced differences in how service-learning and community engagement is practiced across national borders. After eleven years, the conference remains an important venue for connecting (across national borders) the latest research on service-learning and community engagement.