Abstract: Using Participatory Action Research to Teach Community Practice in a Post-Truth Era (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Using Participatory Action Research to Teach Community Practice in a Post-Truth Era

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
M. Candace Christensen, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Inci Yilmazli Trout, Ph.D. Student, University of Incarnate Word, TX
Beatrix Perez, MSW, Program Coordinator, San Antonio College, TX
Background: The purpose of this project is to use a grounded theory approach to examine the role of participatory action research (PAR) in teaching community practice in a post-truth era. The research question guiding this study is "What do graduate students perceive as the role of PAR in learning community practice in a post-truth era?" This project focuses on the learning experiences of 55 graduate students enrolled in three MSW courses centered on teaching community practice theories and skills. The instructor of the class taught the students how to implement and evaluate a photovoice project, which included teaching them how to recruit and train undergraduate students to be the photovoice participant-researchers. The topic for the project is transforming campus rape culture. The MSW students taught the participating students how to generate data in the form of photographs and through a focus group discussion. The MSW students also identified stakeholders and invited them to an end-of-semester event where the participant-researchers displayed their pictures, and we encouraged attendees encouraged to discuss how the photographs related to understanding campus rape culture.

Post-truth politics refers to the way politicians use the enormous amounts of data generated by smart technologies to shape the policy platforms on which they campaign for office (Davies, 2016). For example, the Trump campaign cherry-picked findings from empirical data and used them to incite fear or anger in the conservative political base (Todd et al., 2017). The results of this study, illustrate how using PAR can counter the efforts of populist political movements to cherry-pick data.  Teaching students how to use PAR as a tool for community practice, helps students learn that the data generated by the community is an authentic and credible way of understanding the community, because it illuminates the multiple truths that exist for a community.

Methods: This design of this study engages a constructivist paradigm as described by Schwandt (1998). As coursework, students generated reflection papers and an evaluation of the project. These artifacts constitute the data for this project. The data analysis includes grounded theory methods (Charmaz, 2014) and a focus on post-truth politics.

Results: Three distinct, but related categories emerged from the data analysis. These categories arose in response to our research question. A) Supporting cultural competence: Students find the implementation and evaluation of the photovoice project to support a culturally relevant approach to community practice. B) Facilitating self-awareness: Many students describe how their participation in the facilitation of the photovoice project led to increased self-awareness regarding professional roles and personal values. C) Viewing truth as multi-faceted: This final category illustrates how students perceive photovoice as a format that allowed for multifaceted truths to emerge among the participant-researchers and for the MSW students.

Conclusions/Implications: In relationship to education in a post-truth era, the PAR experience helps students to see "truth" as multi-faceted. The students learn that the community contains a multitude of perceptions and experiences on this topic and that PAR creates a safe, culturally relevant, and respectful structure for presenting the community's multiple truths.