Below is a summary of some of my recent research collaborations. To explore research partnerships please contact me using the contact page above, or via my James Cook University staff profile.
In 2017 I commenced a collaborative project with the global service-learning company Rustic Pathways Travel. This is an evaluative research End-User project that is intended to result in improved service delivery. A brief project summary is provided below.
Australian schools and universities now widely recognise the importance of delivering educational programs that encourage civic engagement, enhance intercultural understanding, and contribute to social wellbeing. At the centre of such “transformative” approaches to teaching and learning has been efforts to provide international educational experiences and service-based learning. Advances in this sector have been achieved through state-funded initiatives such as the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan and Endeavour Awards Schemes, and also through private-sector operators.
The growing adoption of international service-learning programs across a range of education platforms has generated much academic debate. On the positive side, it has been argued that service-learning has the potential to offer transformative experiences that include: a better understanding of working in cross-cultural contexts; greater appreciation of how power, wealth, class and ethnic relations shape social outcomes, and; enhanced student reflexivity on positionality and their own connectivity to structural inequities within society. On the critical side, however, it has also been suggested that such programs have the potential to: produce simplistic understandings of inequality that mask power relations; reproduce disparities in income and opportunity that characterise contemporary North-South relations; reinforce cultural stereotypes, and; encourage the belief that change must come from outsiders. What such divergent viewpoints suggest, is that the ability of service-learing to deliver transformative learning is largely dependent on the standard of program design and implementation.
A leading private-sector provider of international service-based learning for Australian students is the global adventure tourism company Rustic Pathways. Each year approximately 10,000 students undertake Rustic Pathways programs across approximately 93 community projects in 19 countries. Through the delivery of responsible service-based learning programs Rustic Pathways endeavour to cultivate students’ habits of mind and address community-identified challenges around the world.
This research has two main aims. First, it seeks to identify best practice in international service-based learning, and to evaluate and improve the delivery of Rustic Pathways service-based learning programs. I am interested, for instance, in how students are prepared to participate in service-learning through pre-departure teaching and learning activities. I also seek to understand student expectations and experiences of service-learning projects, particularly in respect to Rustic Pathways socio-emotional learning outcomes. The project also seeks to understand the ways in which service-learning programs might change the way that we think about our place in the world.
Second, the research seeks to consider what types of narratives inform service-learning practices. Here, the project seeks to evaluate whether (and in what ways) Rustic Pathways service-learning projects reinforce or contest Eurocentric and technocratic perspectives of development which perceive poverty and disadvantage as problems to be addressed through the replication of ‘Western’ processes of modernisation.
The research will involve qualitative analysis including: desk-based literature analysis, participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and analysis of cultural artefacts.