The SUNY Journal of the Scholarship of Engagement: JoSE

Author ORCID Identifier

Margaret Gichuru, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8878-8722

Lin Lin, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9431-9538

Mechthild Nagel, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0483-2483

Author Type



This focus group study explores the perceptions and experiences of college students working within an applied learning program during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program engages children from prekindergarten to sixth grade in local schools and early childhood education centers. The college students serve as teaching assistants in the SG Program hosted by an academic department in a northeastern university and lead philosophical inquiries as they read picture books. Informed by philosophical inquiry with children and the applied learning principles as the research framework, this focus group study invites five teaching assistants to three one-hour in-depth semi-structured interviews. The analysis of their experiences leads to three themes that include philosophical inquiry approaches in the primary grades have greater potential for promoting critical thinking; a flexible approach to culturally responsive discussions keeps students engaged; and teamwork with multiple stakeholders who validate diversity promotes a more engaging teacher education program. The experiences of the Teaching Assistants offer rich evidence to evaluate the value of philosophical inquiries in the SG Program and expand applied learning programs in more courses that teacher candidates take to develop their content and pedagogical knowledge.