The Three As: Defining Engagement in Higher Education

This month we published International Student Engagement in Higher Education by Margaret Kettle. In this post, the author introduces her “three As” model for defining the concept of engagement and explains what inspired her to write the book.

Engagement is everywhere. When I go to meetings and presentations, and read policy documents, the word is pervasive. We have student engagement, community engagement, the importance of engaging with industry partners, and so on.  It is clear to me that the word has become a catch-all and that the concept is in danger of being washed out, and then possibly thrown out. My book International Student Engagement in Higher Education is an attempt to identify the components of what is a complex and elusive concept. To this end, I foreground international students’ experiences and utilise social practice to explain the multiple, interrelated dimensions of engagement. My model comprises three ‘A’s: antecedents to engagement, actions of engaging, and achievements and accomplishments flowing from engagement.

Antecedents to engagement include dominant forms of academic English as well as facilitative teaching and assessment practices. Actions refer to students’ strategic acts in the moment of engaging. Finally, accomplishments draw attention to the benefits students derive from engagement such as academic achievement and personal change. The power of my model is that it disentangles the various dimensions of engagement while retaining their interrelationship.

By understanding the complexity of engagement, I believe that university leaders, managers and academics are better equipped to make decisions about policy and teaching approaches as well as academic support. Clearer conceptualisation of engagement will benefit international students and domestic/home students. Indeed, the model could also be used in other educational settings such as schools.

My interest in international student engagement began with my own experiences as an international student in Germany. It continued with work at an Australian university and being privy to international students’ strategic campaigns to assert themselves in their postgraduate courses. The opportunity to research engagement arose through my study with a university academic who had a reputation among colleagues and students for being an excellent teacher. The research involved a case study of the academic’s course over a semester – a rich and transformative experience for all, including myself as researcher.

At a time when the focus on engagement is increasing, the best way for institutions to learn about international student engagement is by listening to the students themselves. Teachers are integral to the student experience and have a vital role to play in providing the conditions for engagement. This book explicates these relationships and will hopefully be of benefit to people interested in promoting engagement for all students undertaking higher education.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Desiring TESOL and International Education by Raqib Chowdhury and Phan Le Ha.

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