We offer a case study of social work graduate and undergraduate students (N = 9) who used a research opportunity while employed as research assistants on a faculty-led research project to expand their understanding of the relevant literature. Because of the nature of the research project that employed the students, the journal club focused broadly on articles about conducting community-based research with vulnerable populations, particularly around lay-provider facilitated interventions, family caregiving, and low-income older adults. This case study presents evidence from a journal club led by this team of PhD (n = 1), MSW (n = 4), and BSW (n = 4) students who met for one hour per week over the course of 42 weeks.
Based on our data, we provide recommendations for the development and maintenance of student-led journal clubs. We find that participating in the journal club allows students to take an experiential approach (Kolb, 1984) to their education, continually gaining knowledge and skills, and shifting the focus from passive to active learning. Findings from this study have important implications for engaging students in applied research, including challenging them to learn new skills and providing opportunities to practice: 1) systematically searching the extant literature; 2) evaluating sources; 3) critiquing study design; 4) expanding their knowledge beyond the traditional confines of their personal research interests, 5) speaking in front of others and leading group discussions, 6) synthesizing information gleaned from current research, and; 7) applying newly learned information in real-world settings (e.g., implementing new strategies for participant recruitment and retention in research, applying theoretical concepts in field practicum).
Recommendations for the design and delivery of these journal clubs could be used across various avenues. For example, one of the students has implemented a journal club as part of their course content when teaching and another student has started a journal club as part of their team meetings at the hospital where they are placed for their field practicum. When provided with the right structure and a safe place to explore, journal club has the potential to help students to translate research into real-world applications.