Student engagement: a tale of two campuses

I had occasion to visit two universities over the last two weeks or so. The first I am going to leave nameless, but I went there to listen to a public lecture. The event was at 6 pm, and the speaker was very good indeed, and I was pleased to have gone. But the audience for this was very small. There were perhaps 15 people in all, and as far as I could tell, none of them were students; indeed I’m not sure there were many staff either. Outside the venue the campus was eerily quiet; everyone had gone home.

Then last Friday I was a panelist at a student-organised event in Trinity College Dublin – the Trinity Economic Forum. The discussion in which I participated was about higher education policy, and the packed lecture theatre must have contained about 200 people. It was at 6.45 pm on a Friday night. Not only were the students there in number, they also participated actively.

The university experience is of course changing all the time. New demographic trends and new technology – to name just two factors – are making a difference to how students interact with the university, with their teachers and with each other. But I still believe that the experience of active engagement, both with people and with topics, as part of the learning process but outside its timetabled elements is a vital element of higher education. It is something we lose at our peril. We must all embrace change, but we must hold on to the goal of student engagement in whatever educational experience we aim for in the future.

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One Comment on “Student engagement: a tale of two campuses”

  1. V.H Says:

    I remember being at a few college organised lectures where I was the only undergrad. Where the audience was restricted to the lecturer mate of the guest, his/her grad students and the dean of arts. I remember one such ‘do’ held in a place called AC 1. Turned out it was the boardroom. A place festooned with dead presidents. But then I was at lectured which were filled by students and organised by themselves. One such where Paddy Ashdown fill the biggest theatre.
    What was the difference. Well for the rest of the student body I don’t know. But for me it came down to knowing I was welcome to anything organised by the students, anything, subject to getting into the room. I was never sure about the college organised ones, and I’m still not sure.
    So, all-in-all, I’d say you need to be kinda careful. The students are takers of atmosphere and only form it within very narrow areas. It is from your office that the community is formed.

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