ERG SES C 05, Ignite Talks
Ignite Talk Session
‘Student engagement’ is a pervasive keyword in contemporary educational discourse. While conceptually ambiguous, and technically contested in the scholarly domain (Reschly & Christenson, 2012), the term is widely and often uncritically deployed in the public and practitioner space as a measure of educational success and as a rallying call for a variety of educational innovations. It also embodies key dispositions of today’s successful students and tomorrow’s desire citizens: the engaged student is an active participant in learning and life, one who exhibits the desire to learn and succeed, and demonstrates the willingness and aptitude to do so (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2012).
However, as ‘common sense’ as the idea seems to be, the term has only a relatively recent history. It first appeared in educational literature in the 1960s and 1970s as a temporal construct (Carroll, 1963; Rosenshine, 1978) before also taking shape as a solution to concerns about young peoples’ alienation from schooling in the 1990s (Newmann and Associates, 1996). The idea that schools are failing to engage their students, particularly those in the middle years, remains a widely accepted and anxiety provoking ‘truth’ (Ecclestone & Brunila, 2015). Re-imaginings of pedagogy, curricula and learning environments are regularly called for and operationalized as crucial solutions, both historically and today (Beane, 1993; Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2015).
Using Australia as a case study, this critically-oriented project explores how this present has come to be. Understanding engagement as an invention, and informed by historical-sociological approaches to understanding contemporary phenomena, it seeks to trace the history of the concept since its emergence as a scientific object, illuminating both its transformative promise and its regulatory effects on ideas of good teaching and learning in policy, public and practitioner imaginaries.
While the project places its focus on the Australian context, engagement is an internationally shared concern (Christenson, Reschly, & Wylie, 2012; Lam et al., 2016) with ideas, debates, and solutions flowing across national borders. For example, the idea that engaged learning time is a crucial element of an effective classroom, optimised through a structured teaching approach and careful time management practices, is currently a ‘common sense’ shared by researcher and educators in multiple nations (e.g., Hattie, 2009; Kyriakides, Christoforou, & Charalambous, 2013). In deconstructing often taken-for-granted assumptions in the Australian context, this project offers educational researchers a lens through which to reconsider similar assumptions—and their effects—extant in their own fields.
It is difficult to argue against engagement, nor is this my intention. But, because its truth claims are so widely accepted and its effects on teacher/learner subjectivity and educational practice have been so profound, I argue that a close examination of the concept is warranted to better understand its ‘grip’ in education today and why we as educators hold on to certain truths and practices, and reject others.
The key research question driving this study is therefore:
When and why and how did we arrive at the idea that the student engagement is necessary in education, and to what effect?
This study takes the shape of a genealogical history of the present, an historical approach that works to trace how contemporary practices and institutions exist in their present form, to reveal their ‘concrete, practical, and historical conditions of existence’ (Mahon, 1992, p. 8). This critical form of discourse analysis can be undertaken in multiple ways. I am choosing Foucault’s (1996) strategy of problematization—the notion that current problems are ‘not the effect or consequence of a historical context or situation, but an answer given by definite individuals’ (p.172)—to examine how the concept of engagement has been able to emerge and become a means of categorising and evaluating educational practice, teachers, and students. Using documentary analysis as my method, I draw on the complementary methodological frameworks offered by neo-Foucauldian scholars Hacking (2007) and Somers (2008), both historical approaches oriented to concept analysis. Using Somers’ (2008) evaluation of concepts as relational, historical, and cultural objects—existing in a network with other concepts and contexts that both constrain and enable them—I examine the discursive conditions of possibility for engagement. For example, I trace how in Australia in the early 2000s, ‘traditional’ pedagogies became considered problematic for the demands of the ‘21st century’, and explore how engagement became employed as a tool to increase the ‘intellectual quality’ in classrooms. I use Hacking’s (2007) five-element analytic framework (concepts involve classifications, people, institutions, knowledge, experts) to support this examination, to explore the institutions and material practices that actualise the abstract conceptual work and produce effects, intended or otherwise, in the real world.
This study is designed to help educators and policy-makers ‘understand how we think and why we seem obliged to think in certain ways’ (Hacking, 1990, p. 362) about engagement. By defamiliarizing engagement’s epistemic authority, it seeks to provide an opening for educators and other stakeholders to think critically about the concept and consider how it shapes their own perceptions and practices. Such an examination may then create space for new ways of thinking and other practices.
Beane, J. (1993). A Middle School Curriculum: From Rhetoric to Reality. Columbus, Ohio: National Middle School Association. Carroll, J. (1963). A model of school learning. Teachers College Record., 64, 722–733. Christenson, S. L., Reschly, A. L., & Wylie, C. (2012). Handbook of research on student engagement. New York, NY: Springer Science & Business Media. Ecclestone, K., & Brunila, K. (2015). Governing emotionally vulnerable subjects and ‘therapisation’ of social justice. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 23(4), 485–506. http://doi.org/10.1080/14681366.2015.1015152 Foucault, M. (1996). The Concern for Truth. In S. Lotringer (Ed.), Foucault Live: Interviews, 1961–84 (pp. 455–464). New York: Semiotext. Hacking, I. (2007). Kinds of People: Moving Targets. Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 151, 2006 Lectures, 285–317. http://doi.org/10.5871/bacad/9780197264249.003.0010 Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London and New York: Routledge. http://doi.org/10.4324/9780203887332 Kyriakides, L., Christoforou, C., & Charalambous, C. Y. (2013). What matters for student learning outcomes: A meta-analysis of studies exploring factors of effective teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 36, 143–152. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2013.07.010 Lam, S., Jimerson, S., Shin, H., Cefai, C., Veiga, F. H., Hatzichristou, C., … Zollneritsch, J. (2016). Cultural universality and specificity of student engagement in school: The results of an international study from 12 countries. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(1), 137–153. http://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12079 Mahon, M. (1992). Foucault’s Nietzschean genealogy: Truth, power, and the subject. Albany: New York State University Press. Newmann and Associates. (1996). Authentic achievement: Restructuring schools for intellectual quality. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2012). PISA 2012 results: Ready to learn: Students’ engagement, drive and self-beliefs (Volume III). OECD Publishing. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2015). Schooling Redesigned: Towards Innovative Learning Systems. Paris: OECD Publishing. http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264245914-en Reschly, A. L., & Christenson, S. L. (2012). Jingle, jangle, and conceptual haziness: Evolution and future directions of the engagement construct. In S. L. Christenson, C. Wylie, & A. L. Reschly (Eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 3–19). New York, NY: Springer Science+Business Media. http://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-2018-7 Rosenshine, B. (1978). Engaged time, content covered, and direct instruction. The Journal of Education, 160(3), 38–66. Somers, M. R. (2008). Genealogies of Citzenship: Markets, Statelessness and the Right to have Rights. Cambridge, Massachussets: Cambridge University Press.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Network 6. Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures
Network 7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education
Network 8. Research on Health Education
Network 9. Assessment, Evaluation, Testing and Measurement
Network 10. Teacher Education Research
Network 11. Educational Effectiveness and Quality Assurance
Network 12. LISnet - Library and Information Science Network
Network 13. Philosophy of Education
Network 14. Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research
Network 15. Research Partnerships in Education
Network 16. ICT in Education and Training
Network 17. Histories of Education
Network 18. Research in Sport Pedagogy
Network 19. Ethnography
Network 20. Research in Innovative Intercultural Learning Environments
Network 22. Research in Higher Education
Network 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education
Network 24. Mathematics Education Research
Network 25. Research on Children's Rights in Education
Network 26. Educational Leadership
Network 27. Didactics – Learning and Teaching
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