Those of you that follow me on twitter will have noticed that Brookes had its annual Learning and Teaching conference yesterday on the theme of Student Engagement.
This really got me thinking about the some of the early findings of my BME project. At this early stage, I am wondering how student engagement plays out against ethnicity (and from a personal level against class)? It appears that those who are most engaged on a visible level are more satisfied and have positive stories to tell. When I say ‘visible’ I mean the traditional forms of engagement that the university can see; student ambassadors, course representatives and so on.
But what about invisible engagement? Students who are passionate about their course or an aspect of their study. They might be known to individual lecturers, assuming the class size is small enough or they care enough to notice (yes feel free to flog me over the huge value judgement made there but hey we all know those staff who would rather not have to teach). I guess those of us that love teaching appreciate those students because of their passion for the subject but how does the institution view them? How do they fit the engagement agenda?
Finally, we come to the disengaged. Why are they disengaged? Here I am going to digress into a personal story. I was one of those students. I loved my sixth form studies and I did well. However, my undergraduate years were ones to forget. I was the first in my family to get a degree. My parents sacrificed a lot to get me to university. I made the mistake (unbeknownst to me at the time) to go to a classic middle class, white university. I loved learning, I had all sorts of ideas and my university made its best efforts to put me firmly in my place.
Let me be clear here, I did not arrive disengaged. The university disengaged me; in a myriad of subtle different ways (which I won’t bore you with the details here).
So I wonder, is the student engagement agenda just another subtle way of maintaining the status quo. Is it that those who are white from well educated families and the middle classes are once again privileged? We can promote student engagement because it sounds so wonderfully equitable and progressive. Yet, deep down, we know (if we really, truly reflect upon it) we are really helping those that can already help themselves.