“Student Engagement Research in Higher Education: Questioning an Academic Orthodoxy” – Zepke

“Student Engagement Research in Higher Education: Questioning an Academic Orthodoxy” by Nick Zepke

Article Citation: Zepke, Nick. “Student Engagement Research in Higher Education: Questioning an Academic Orthodoxy.” Teaching in Higher Education 19.6 (2014): 697-708. Web.

Abstract (From Source):

This article suggests that student engagement research is not often investigated critically. It attempts to change this. After briefly outlining a conceptual framework for student engagement, it explores three critical questions about it. First, it asks whether in trying to be all things in teaching and learning, student engagement focuses too much on an engaged generic learner that neglects the impact of specific contexts. Second, it asks whether engagement research, with its focus on identifying engaging classroom practices, has come to emphasise pedagogy at the expense of curriculum, which is a more philosophical and political understanding of purposes, knowledge and values in higher education. It asks, third, whether student engagement has gained its high profile because it aligns with and supports a neoliberal ideology that has an instrumental view of knowledge and emphasises performativity and accountability.

Keywords: student engagement, higher education, pedagogy, accountability, performance, student investment

Further Reading: 

  • Fredricks, J., P. Blumenfeld, and A. Paris. 2004. “School Engagement: Potential of the Concept, State of the Evidence.” Review of Educational Research 74 (1): 59–109.
  • Higher Education Academy. 2010. Framework for Action: Enhancing Student Engagement at the Institutional Level.
  • Kuh, G. 2009. “The National Survey of Student Engagement: Conceptual and Empirical Foundations.” New Directions for Institutional Research 141: 5–20.
  • Lam, S., B. Wong, H. Yang, and M. Liu. 2012. “Understanding Student Engagement with a Conceptual Model.” Handbook of Research on Student Engagement, edited by S. Christenson, A. Reschly, and C. Wylie, 403–420. Heidelberg: Springer

Key Quotes:

“Behavioural engagement relates to participation in academic and social activities leading to positive academic outcomes. Emotional engagement is about reactions to and relationships with teachers, classmates and administrators that encourage a love of learning. Cognitive engagement points to investment in deep learning of concepts and skills” (698).

“In the UK the emphasis seems more on facilitating a student’s own sense of what learning is in a constructivist framework, whereas the American view fits more with facilitating learning within a predetermined and generic pedagogical framework” (699).

“The surveys conceptualise engagement as a technical construct focusing on behaviours. Monitoring the quality of engagement is measurable, objective and universal” (700).

“Students must have control of and autonomy in their learning. They must also be encouraged to take a critical view of their learning and be able to disengage without being characterised as alienated” (700).

“Student engagement research, with its focus on ‘what works’, takes a lead role in how pedagogy is constructed. This renders wider concerns such as purposes, knowledge and values of higher education largely invisible” (701).

“student engagement describes a learning fashioned to actively commit to a task, to problem solve and to feel a strong sense of belonging” (701).

“According to neoliberalist ideology, knowledge is a commodity. Higher education is a market where knowledge and skills are traded. Universities offer marketable knowledge and skill as as well as supplying marketable services” (702).


Further Questions:

  • If engagement is generalist and is used more as a buzz word or assessment tool for students, instructors, and the institution, then would investment be a better term for the research of the student?
  • It is made clear that engagement is not just on the instructor, but also the student. However, it is important for the instructor to get the students to invest in their education and be given the tools to hack their education–become agents to their education. Not every instructor does this, and it is very difficult to do this in a large lecture. Even though the article doesn’t specify disciplines, are FYC instructors in prime position to do this?

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