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Clarifying the concept of student engagement: A fruitful approach to underpin policy and practice. Colin Bryson and Christine Hardy. To meet regularly to discuss SE.   An early goal is to develop a concept map and set of principles that underpin the promotion of SE

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Clarifying the concept of student engagement: A fruitful approach to underpin policy and practice

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Clarifying the concept of student engagement: A fruitful approach to underpin policy and practice

Colin Bryson and Christine Hardy

To meet regularly to discuss SE.  

An early goal is to develop a concept map and set of principles that underpin the promotion of SE

To establish an annual conference drawing together leading edge work on SE - and to feed into publication through journals and books. (Inaugural conference – Sept 15/16th 2011, Nottingham)

To gain funding to support these events and activities.

To create a bank of useful resources for us to share.

To facilitate communication between us (web, email network etc);

Essential that students play a full part

HEA Conference, July, 2011


  • A shared understanding of the nature and meaning of student engagement

  • Develop a concept map

  • Develop a set of shared principles

  • Consider how this should guide practice and policy

HEA Conference, July, 2011

Problems with the dominant paradigm and measuring SE

  • SE is holistic and socially constructed

  • Every student is an individual and different (Haggis, 2004)

  • Engagement is a concept which encompasses the perceptions, expectations and experience of being a student and the construction of being a student in HE (Bryson and Hand, 2007).

  • Engagement underpins learning and is the glue that binds it together – both located in being and becoming. (Fromm, 1977)

  • More than about doing/behaving and quantity

  • Method, validity and reliability issues

  • SE is dynamic and fluid

  • SE is multidimensional, includes student’s whole lives and it is the interaction and pattern that matters not any specific variable – avoid reductionism

  • SE needs to sensitive to the local context

  • Closed question surveys do not allow student voice

HEA Conference, July, 2011

SE in other forms of education

  • Strong evidence base and critical perspective from schools SE research

    (Fredricks et al; Zyngier; Gibbs & Posskitt; Harris)

  • Metaconstruct (includes emotional)

  • Pattern rather than variable centred

  • Critical take on SE

HEA Conference, July, 2011

More perspectives

Professional formation and authentic learning (identity projects) (Holmes; Reid and Solomonides) – an ‘ontological turn’

Willingness ….and readiness…to engage

(McCune; Handley et al; Barnett; Hockings)

Inclusivity (Hockings)

Ways of being a student (and SOMUL)

(Dubet; Brennan et al)

HEA Conference, July, 2011

Engagement to what?

Engagement to and with different levels

(Bryson and Hand)

Collective SE – but also participation and partnership

(Little et al: Bovill: Healey et al)

Integration, belonging and community

(Tinto: Kember: Wenger and several others)

Intellectual development

(Perry: Baxter Magolda: Belenky)

HEA Conference, July, 2011

The flipside of SE

  • Alienation, inertia/anomie and disengagement (Mann: Krause)

    • Performativity

    • Being ‘other’

    • Disciplinary power

    • Inertia

    • Battle between cultures and values

HEA Conference, July, 2011

A revised definition of SE

Student engagement is about what a student brings to Higher Education in terms of goals, aspirations, value and beliefs and how these are shaped and mediated by their experience whilst a student. SE is constructed and reconstructed through the lenses of the perceptions and identities held by students and the meaning and sense a student makes of their experiences and interactions. As players and shapers of the educational context, educators need to foster educational, purposeful SE to support and enable students to learn in constructive and powerful ways and realise their potential in education and society.

HEA Conference, July, 2011

To aid clarity -separate the dual

Engaging students

Students engaging

HEA Conference, July, 2011

Students engaging - conceptual maps

The black box

HEA Conference, July, 2011

Existing models

Astin (1991): Input - Environment – Output

Dubet (1994): Ways of being a student

Zepke and Leach (2011): Conceptual organiser

Reid and Solomonides (2007): Relational SE

HEA Conference, July, 2011

The dynamic cycle of student engagement

HEA Conference, July, 2011

SE derived from relationships

HEA Conference, July, 2011

Engaging students - principles

We should:

Foster student’s willingness and readiness to engage by enhancing their self-belief

Embrace the point that students have diverse backgrounds, expectations, orientations and aspirations – thus different ‘ways of being a student’, and to welcome, respect and accommodate all of these in an inclusive way

Enable and facilitate trust relationships (between staff:students and students:students) in order to develop a discourse with each and all students and to show solidarity with them

Create opportunities for learning (in its broadest sense) communities so that students can develop a sense of competence and belonging within these communities

HEA Conference, July, 2011

Teach in ways to make learning participatory, dialogic, collaborative, authentic, active and critical

Foster autonomy and creativity, and offer choice and opportunities for growth and enriching experiences in a low risk and safe setting

Recognise the impact on learning of non-institutional influences and accommodate these

Design and implement assessment for learning with the aim to enable students to develop their ability to evaluate critically the quality and impact of their own work

Seek to negotiate and reach a mutual consensus with students on managing workload, challenge, curriculum and assessment for their educational enrichment – through a partnership model – without diluting high expectations and educational attainment

Enable students to become active citizens and develop their social and cultural capital

HEA Conference, July, 2011

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