Academic journal article Peer Review

Engaged Learning: Are We All on the Same Page?

Academic journal article Peer Review

Engaged Learning: Are We All on the Same Page?

Article excerpt

Engagement is increasingly cited as a distinguishing characteristic of the best learning in American higher education today. Vision statements, strategic plans, learning outcomes, and agendas of national reform movements strive to create engaged learning and engaged learners. Despite this emerging emphasis, an explicit consensus about what we actually mean by engagement or why it is important is lacking. Is engagement an end in itself, or a means to other ends? Is engagement as important as other characteristics of a good education such as intentionality, balanced breadth and depth, complexity, multidisciplinarity, integration, and contextual awareness? And, while we are asking questions, perhaps we should begin by askingEngagement with what?

Educators think of engagement in four related but different ways. The most fundamental is student engagement iuith the learning process: just getting students actively involved. The second is student engagement with the object of study. Here the emphasis is on stimulation of students' leaning by direct experience of something new. Another is student engagement with contexts of the subject of study. This gives emphasis to the importance of context as it may affect and be affected by the students' primary subject. When social and civic contexts are considered, this inevitably raises ethical issues. Finally, there is student engagement with the human condition, especially in its social, cultural, and civic dimensions. According to this way of thinking, the human condition is the ultimate subject of study to which individual subjects and disciplines should be understood as subordinate. Each of these ways of thinking about engagement has an interesting history, relationship to the others, and relationship to the goals of liberal education.

Student engagement with the learning process is a concern as old as teaching itself. The disengaged student daydreaming in the back row has always been a challenge for his or her teacher. To successfully compete with all the other forces impinging on the consciousnesses of children, adolescents, and young adults, teachers must gain a larger measure of influence than they are normally granted by developmental processes established through some four million years of human evolution. Passion, sensitivity, creativity, and persistence have long been important to teachers' success in getting students to pay attention to the learning process and become engaged learners. Today, teachers make extensive use of pedagogies designed to compel students' active engagement. Grounded in advances in our understanding of how students learn, these pedagogies of engagement include frequent short-term feedback, writing across the curriculum, cooperative learning, and learning communities. The National Survey of Student Engagement, which assesses the extent to which these pedagogies are used on various campuses, has become one de facto operational definition of engagement.

Although just paying attention to the learning process may be enough engagement for students to acquire knowledge and skills, teachers who value liberal learning* are not likely to consider this sufficient. They will be interested in transformative learning-learning in which students grow in response to what they have learned. Here, engagement is more intense and more personal. As students attempt to reconcile what they learn with what they previously believed, they demonstrate growth in understanding, values, and commitment typical of mature cognitive development (Perry 1981). The idea that intense personal engagement in the learning process is important to the development of values has achieved cultural currency. For example, in a recent interview in Newsweek magazine, Wynton Marsalis emphasized the importance of intense personal engagement for development of aesthetic values in music when he stated, "The entire country has been in decline in terms of the arts. . . . Short of being given rituals of initiation into adulthood-and art courses that demand engagement and development of your taste-there is nothing to do but descend. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.