Higher Education Policy

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 5–21

Critiques of Student Engagement

Original Article

Abstract

Student engagement initiatives at the national, institutional and classroom level have emerged against a backdrop of rising participation rates and the marketisation of higher education. This context has informed the development of a literature that is heavily influenced by cause-effect framing and a focus on effectiveness. However, in recent years an alternative, critical literature has emerged that challenges some of the assumptions of the student engagement movement on the grounds of student rights and freedoms as learners. This review article identifies the following six critiques of student engagement based on an analysis of the literature and arguments stemming from analyses of the effects of neoliberalism, namely performativity, marketing, infantilisation, surveillance, gamification and opposition. It is concluded that at a policy and institutional governance level, there is a need to shift the emphasis from what and how questions concerning student engagement to consider its broader political, economic and ethical implications as a means of challenging the prevailing policy narrative.

Keywords

student engagement neoliberalism performativity marketing infantilisation surveillance gamification opposition 

References

  1. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) (2008) Attracting, engaging and retaining: New conversations about learning. Australasian student engagement report, Camberwell, VIC: ACER.Google Scholar
  2. Ashwin, P. and McVitty, D. (2015) ‘The Meanings of Student Engagement: Implications for Policies and Practices’, in A. Curaj, L. Matei, R. Pricopie, J. Salmi and P. Scott (eds.) The European higher education area: between critical reflections and future policies, Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 343–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett, R. (1988) ‘Does higher education have aims?’, Journal of Philosophy of Education 22(2): 239–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brannick, T. and Coghlan, D. (2007) ‘In Defense of Being “Native”: The case of insider academic research’, Organisational Research Methods 10(1): 59–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, R. and Carasso, H. (2013) Everything for Sale?: The Marketisation of UK Higher Education, New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Boud, D. (2001) ‘Using journal writing to enhance reflective practice’, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 90(1): 9–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coates, H. and McCormick, A.C. (eds.) (2014) Engaging University Students: International Insights from System-Wide Studies, Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  8. Collini, S. (2012) What are Universities for?, London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  9. Danvers E.C. (2015) ‘Criticality’s affective entanglements: Rethinking emotion and critical thinking in higher education’, Gender and Education doi:10.1080/09540253.2015.1115469.Google Scholar
  10. Dawson, S. (2006) ‘The impact of institutional surveillance technologies on student behaviour’, Surveillance & Society 4(1/2): 69–84.Google Scholar
  11. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) (2015) Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice, London: DBIS.Google Scholar
  12. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) (2016) Higher Education: Success as a Knowledge EconomyWhite Paper, London: DBIS.Google Scholar
  13. Ecclestone, K. and Hayes, D. (2009) The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, New York and Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Edmond, N. and Berry, J. (2014) ‘Discourses of ‘equivalence’ in HE and notions of student engagement: resisting the neoliberal university’, Student Engagement and Experience Journal, doi:10.7190/seej.v3i2.90.
  15. Evans, C., Muijs, D. and Tomlinson, M. (2015) Engaged Student Learning: High-Impact Strategies to Enhance Student Achievement, York: Higher Education Academy.Google Scholar
  16. Fejes, A. and Dahlstedt, M. (2013) The Confessing Society: Foucault, Confession and Practices of Lifelong Learning, Oxford and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punishment, London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  18. Fredricks, J.A., Blumenfeld, P.C. and Paris, A.H. (2004) ‘School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence’, Review of Educational Research 74(1): 59–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Furedi, F. (2004) Therapy culture: Creating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Gilmore, S. and Anderson, V. (2016) ‘The emotional turn in higher education: a psychoanalytic contribution’, Teaching in Higher Education, doi:10.1080/13562517.2016.1183618.
  21. Giroux, H.A. (2014) Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education, Chicago, IL: Haymarket BooksGoogle Scholar
  22. Gourlay, L. (2015) ‘Student engagement and the tyranny of participation’, Teaching in Higher Education 20(4): 402–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hammersley, M. (2007) ‘Philosophy’s Contribution to Social Science Research on Education’, in D. Bridges and R. Smith (eds.) Philosophy, Methodology and Educational Research, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 251–264.Google Scholar
  24. Hobbs, V. (2007) ‘Faking it or hating it: can reflective practice be forced?’, Reflective Practice 8(3): 405–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kahn, P. (2014) ‘Theorising student engagement in higher education’, British Educational Research Journal 40(6): 1005–1018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kahu, E.R. (2013) ‘Framing student engagement in higher education’, Studies in Higher Education 38(5): 758–773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kuh, G.D., Kinzie, J., Buckley, J.A., Bridges, B.K. and Hayek, J.C. (2006). What Matters to Student Success: A Review of the Literature. Commissioned report for the national symposium on postsecondary student success: Spearheading a dialog on student success. Washington, DC: National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC).Google Scholar
  28. Kuh, G.D. (2008) High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access To Them, and Why They Matter, Report from the American Association for Colleges and Universities.Google Scholar
  29. Lasch, C. (1979) The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in the Age of Diminishing Expectations, London and New York: Norton Press.Google Scholar
  30. Latane, B., Williams, K. and Harkins, B. (1979) ‘Many hands make light the work: The causes and consequences of social loafing’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37(6): 822–832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lester, D. (2013) A Review of the Student Engagement Literature, Focus on Colleges, Universities and Schools 7(1): 1–13.Google Scholar
  32. Lucas, L. (2006) The Research Game in Academic Life, Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Lynch, K. (2006) ‘Neoliberalism and marketization: Implication for higher education’, European Educational Research Journal 5(1): 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Macfarlane, B. (2013) ‘The surveillance of learning: a critical analysis of university attendance policies’, Higher Education Quarterly 67(4): 358–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Macfarlane, B. (2015) ‘Student performativity in higher education: converting learning as a private space into a public performance’, Higher Education Research and Development 34(2): 338–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Macfarlane, B. (2016a) ‘The performative turn in the assessment of student learning: a rights perspective’, Teaching in Higher Education doi:10.1080/13562517.2016.1183623.
  37. Macfarlane, B. (2016b) Freedom to Learn: The Threat to Student Academic Freedom and Why It Needs to be Reclaimed, New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  38. Mann, S.J. (2001) ‘Alternative perspectives on the student experience: Alienation and engagement’, Studies in Higher Education 26(1): 7–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Maringe, F. and Gibbs, P. (2009) Marketing Higher Education. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  40. McCormick, A.C. and Kinzie, J. (2014) ‘Refocusing the Quality Discourse: The United States National Survey of Student Engagement’, in H. Coates and A.C. McCormick (eds.) Engaging University Students: International Insights from System-Wide Studies, Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 13–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nelson, K.J., Quinn, C, Marrington, A. and Clarke, J.A. (2012) ‘Good practice for enhancing the engagement and success of commencing students’, Higher Education 63(1): 83–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Newswander, L.K. and M. Borrego (2009) ‘Engagement in two interdisciplinary graduate programs’, Higher Education 58(4): 551–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nonnecke, B. and Preece, (2000) Lurker Demographics: Counting the Silent. In: T. Turner, G. Szwillus, M. Czerwinski, F. Peterno and S. Pemberton, Steven (eds.) Proceedings of the ACM CHI 2000 Human Factors in Computing Systems Conference; 1–6 April, The Hague, The Netherlands. New York: ACM, pp. 73–80.Google Scholar
  44. Oblinger, D.G. (2012) ‘Let’s talk analytics’, EDUCAUSE Review July/August: 10–13, http://er.educause.edu/articles/2012/7/lets-talk–analytics, accessed 29 November 2016.
  45. Pascarella, E.T., Seifert, T.A. and Blaich, C. (2010) ‘How effective are the NSSE benchmarks in predicting important educational outcomes?’, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 42(1): 16–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pigott, T.D., Valentine, J.C., Polanin, J.R., Williams, R.T. and Canada, D.D. (2013) ‘Outcome-Reporting Bias in Education Research’, Educational Researcher 42(8): 424–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rogers, C. (1969) Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become, Columbus, Ohio: Merrill Publishing.Google Scholar
  48. Rose, N. (1990) Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  49. Sadler, D.R. (2010) ‘Fidelity as a precondition for integrity in grading academic achievement’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 35(6): 727–743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Slade, S. and Prinsloo, P. (2013) ‘Learning analytics: ethical issues and dilemmas’, American Behavioral Scientist 57(10): 1509–1528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sumsion, J. and Fleet, A. (1996) ‘Reflection: can we assess it? Should we assess it?’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 21(2): 121–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Trowler, V. (2010) Student Engagement Literature Review, York: The Higher Education Academy.Google Scholar
  53. Trowler, V. (2015) ‘Negotiating Contestations and ‘Chaotic Conceptions’: Engaging ‘Non‐Traditional’ Students in Higher Education, Higher Education Quarterly 69(3): 295–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zepke, N. (2014a) ‘Student engagement research in higher education: Questioning an academic orthodoxy’, Teaching in Higher Education 19(6): 697–708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zepke, N. (2014b) ‘What future for student engagement in neo-liberal times?’, Higher Education 69(4): 693–704.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zepke, N. (2015) ‘Student engagement research: thinking beyond the mainstream’, Higher Education Research and Development 34(6): 1311–1323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zepke, N. and Leach, L. (2010). Improving student engagement in post-compulsory education: A synthesis of research literature. A report prepared for the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative, Wellington. http://tlri.org.nz/sites/default/files/projects/9261-Literature-review.pdf, accessed 12 August 2016.
  58. Zyngier, D. (2008) ‘(Re)conceptualising student engagement: Doing education not doing time’, Teaching and Teacher Education 24(7): 1765–1776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Association of Universities 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

Personalised recommendations