22 SES 02 A, Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Higher Education
There is ever-increasing global interest in the concept of student engagement and its proclaimed value in higher education. In the US it has been a fashionable term for over a decade, and lately, adopted as a favourite buzzword of the Obama administration as a proxy for overall university performance. Now the use of the term has spread all over the world. This trendy term has many functions: governments use it to refer to university efficiency; universities perceive it as a key to gaining a competitive advantage; administrators use it to emphasise educational excellence; while practitioners use it to justify new approaches to teaching.
At the same time it has become increasingly evident that the use of the concept of student engagement is ambiguous, tangled, and even misleading. The multiple interpretations of this concept have lately attracted the interest of educational researchers, who have provided different categorisations of the use of the term. Despite the recent theoretical interest, there are remarkably few empirical studies which illustrate the multiple uses of this concept in higher education institutions and examine whether student engagement has become a ‘fuzzword’ which in its fashionability conceals even the contradicting goals of different stakeholders?
Based on the interviews and documentary material collected, this study contributes to the discussion of multiple understandings of the concept of student engagement by investigating different pathways to promoting student engagement at three North-American institutions of higher education. The research questions that directed the analysis were: 1) how did the informants construct the meaning of the concept of student engagement and 2) what mechanisms promoted or hindered the spred of the term on campus?
The many meanings of the concept
While recognizing the use of the term student engagement in connection with learning, identity construction, autonomy or as a route to active citizenship, Kahu (2013), Leach and Zepke (2011) and Wimpenny and Savin-Baden (2013), who have examined the uses of student engagement concept in literature, do not distinguish the use of the concept to discusss student representation and participation in university governance or quality assurance. The use of term in this meaning, however, is recognized by Trowler (2010) and Klemenčič (2013). In addition, Klemenčič recognises the use of the term in connection with student involvement in student affairs and services as well as with students' political involvement and involvement for greater good.
Although the literature indicates that the behavioural perspective using the definition offered by Kuh (2009) tends to dominate the North-American higher education literature, the emotional perspective is most strongly portrayed in the school literature (Kahu, 2013) and the perspective pointing out to the student representation and student voice is clearly emerging in recent British discussion, it is evident that the fashionable term of student engagement has many overlapping meanings and as pointed out by Wolf-Wendel, Ward and Kinzie (2009) is in practice constantly mixed with the concepts of integration and involvement. Moreover, McGormick, Kinzie and Goneya (2013) notice that the concept of student engagement is often mixed up with the concept of student’s civic or community engagement-.
Axelson, R. D., & Flick, A. (2012). Defining student engagement. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 43(1), 38-43. Baron, P. & Corbin, L. (2012). Student engagement: rhetoric and reality. Higher Education Research & Development, 11, 759-72. Kahu, E. R. (2013). Framing student engagement in higher education. Studies in Higher Education 38, 758-73. Kinzie, J. & Kezar, A. (2006). Examining the Ways Institutions Create Student Engagement: The Role of Mission. Journal of College Student Development 47, 146-72. Klemenčič, M. (2013). Student engagement in time of transformation. Keynote address delivered at Society for Research into Higher Education Conference on 12 December, 2013 in Newport, UK. Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H. & Whitt, E.J. (2005) Assessing Conditions to Enhance Educational Effectiveness: The Inventory for Student Engagement and Success. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H. & Whitt, E.J. (2010). Student success in college: creating conditions that matter. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Kuh, G. D. (2009). The national survey of student engagement: Conceptual and empirical foundations. New Directions for Institutional Research, (141), 5-20. Lawson, M. A., & Lawson, H. A. (2013). New conceptual frameworks for student engagement research, policy and practice. Review of Educational Research, 83, 432-79. Leach, L., & Zepke, N. (2011). Engaging students in learning: a review of a conceptual organiser. Higher Education Research & Development 30, 193-204. McCormick, A., Kinzie, J., & Gonyea, R. M. (2013). Bridging research and practice to improve the quality of undergraduate education. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 28, 47-92. Rubin, H. J., & Rubin, I. S. (2005). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Trowler, V. (2010). Student engagement literature review. The Higher Education Academy. Retrieved at http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/studentengagement/StudentEngagementLiteratureReview.pdf van der Velden, G. (2012). Institutional Level Student Engagement and Organisational Cultures. Higher Education Quarterly 66, 227-47. Wimpenny, K. & Savin-Baden, M. (2013) Alienation, agency and authenticity: a synthesis of the literature on student engagement. Teaching in Higher Education, 18, 311-326. Wolf-Wendel, L., Ward, K., & Kinzie, J. (2009). A tangled web of terms: The overlap and unique contribution of involvement, engagement, and integration to understanding college student success. Journal of College Student Development, 50, 407-428.
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