Reflections on Student engagement–Part one

Having been a participant in establishing a pilot program in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department regarding student engagement, I wanted to write up some reflections regarding student engagement and the role of Student Engagement Staff we have created.

The phrase “student engagement” can have differing meanings and connotations depending on the context.  One way to conceptualize these differing conceptions is to orient the concept of student engagement around the following three categories.

  1. Techniques
  2. Practices
  3. Modalities

The following analysis attempts to bring out the varying emphases in the ideas of student engagement.


A quick perusal of online search engines for the phrase “student engagement” often brings up specific classroom techniques that are offered to engage the student’s interest and attention in the classroom.  In fact, a recent article stressed that one of the best things to emphasis for student engagement is for students to study![1]


The Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) issued a report in 2013 that covered twelve high-impact practices for student engagement.[2]

  1. Experiential learning beyond classroom
  2. Class attendance
  3. Alert intervention
  4. Supplemental instruction
  5. Academic goal setting and planning
  6. Orientation
  7. Accelerated/fast-track developmental education
  8. First year experience
  9. Student success course
  10. Tutoring
  11. Assessment and placement
  12. Learning community

This list of high-impact practices can be divided into two distinct arenas of implementation.  First, there are those practices that can be implemented by the professor in the classroom.  Second, there practices which are more administrative and operate at the level of the larger institution.  The following delineates this breakdown:

Professor/Classroom Level Administrative/Institutional Level
Experiential learning beyond classroom Academic goal setting & planning
Class attendance Orientation
Alert intervention Accelerated/fast-track dev. ed.
Supplemental instruction First year experience
  Student success course
  Assessment & placement
  Learning community

The main difference between these practices is that some are directed by the individual professor and are much quicker to implement.  The second set of practices requires auxiliary departments and specialization beyond the individual professor’s control.


“Modalities” refers to the modes in which student engagement manifests itself.  Think of modalities like vehicles.  Modalities are the differing configurations of personnel and structures that allow for practices and techniques to be expressed.  Consider, for example, the modality of the professor.  The professor is uniquely situated to be the vehicle for implementing specific student engagement practices listed above (e.g., alert intervention).  Beyond the individual professor there are also institutional and structural departments organized around implementing student engagement practices.  Think, for example, of the advisement department.  This is an organized collective of people structured toward the end of giving students effective counsel regarding course selection in light of the student’s stated goals.

The pilot program we have developed in the Philosophy and Religious studies department centers around the creation of a new modality we have called “Student Engagement Staff.”  In my next piece I will give an overview of the specific dynamics of this modality and how it has functioned over the past three semesters.

     [1] “Another form of student engagement is also linked to educational progress and post-graduate success.  It’s called studying.  And its effects include what some may now regard as old-fashioned—even quaint—notions that serious reading increases the understanding of factual and fictional worlds, that intentional writing improves the ability to think clearly, and that mathematical analysis promotes better use and evaluation of data.  Even memorization-often denigrated as rote trivialization—has the value of enabling one to know something without always having to look it up.” Michael T. Nietzel, “A Best Practice for Student Engagement: It’s Called Studying” Forbes (January 10, 2019)—online:

     [2] Center for Community College Student Engagement. (2013). A Matter of Degrees: Engaging Practices, Engaging Students (High-Impact Practices for Community College Student Engagement). Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin, Community College Leadership Program.


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