I have been at two national forums on student engagement in the last 3 weeks – one here in Melbourne and one in New Zealand. I’ve been talking about student engagement for about 3 years now and was just beginning to give up hope that it would ever catch on. But catch on it appears to have done.
Its popularity is probably due in part to the federal government’s stamp of approval of student engagement as a site of interest. In 2009, the Australian federal government responded to the Bradley Review of Higher Education report through the May 2009 federal budget. In their budget summary document, Transforming Australia’s Higher Education System (http://www.deewr.gov.au/HigherEducation/Pages/TransformingAustraliasHESystem.aspx), the government indicate the status of each of the specific recommendations made by the Bradley Review.
On recommendation 7, that states in part that the Australian Government require all accredited higher education providers to administer the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) from 2009 and report annually on the findings, the Transforming summary paper indicates in principle support. It is likely that with the announcement of a new federal Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), further consideration will take place once details of the new body are determined.
The Transforming document includes a section on student attainment, access and engagement. Within this section, under the heading ‘Better Student Engagement’, the document mentions “student satisfaction”; “teaching and learning experience indicators; “drop-out rates” and “the rise in student-to-staff ratios” (p. 14). It also notes the impact of the student experience on retention and notes the need to focus on improving the student learning experience. It is likely we will see funding tied to measurements in some or all of these areas.
But what is student engagement? I wrote in my column in The Age newspaper recently about what it meant (http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/engaging-with-campus-life-20090529-bpia.html) and received a lovely email from a member of the public telling me how unhelpful he found my definition. It wasn’t my definition I sniffed, I got it from some experts, but my correspondent had a point – we need to be clear what it is we are working toward.
The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) define student engagement as students’ involvement with activities and conditions likely to generate high-quality learning. In plain language, it’s about stuff students do at uni that contributes to better learning. Stuff like actually reading the set pre-reading for class; doing regular private study outside of class; working hard to meet or exceed staff expectations; and getting involved in active learning such as working with other students on a project.
But it’s not just students who need to get on baord with this. Teachers need to teach – face to face and online – in ways that engage all types of students. Teaching and learning leaders need to set up systems of reward and recognition that mean teachers’ efforts to these ends are worth it and institutions do all they can to underpin student engagement through physical and other environments being the best they can possibly be.
Deakin has a neat new website on student engagement with advice, suggestions and resources for anyone interested in the concept: http://www.deakin.edu.au/itl/student-engagement/index.php
With the targets set by the federal government in realtion to expanding participation, the fact that student engagement is now on the national and international agenda is good news.