Once I started in the role of Student Engagement Librarian, I had to go about defining this word, more than just always throwing up a slide of me doing a bunch of stuff in undergrad (although that would be awesome). Lucky for me, I have a good boss who encouraged me to write a scope statement (because scope creep is real, especially when you’re changing jobs within an institution) and also gave me four hours to lead a meeting on student engagement with my department early on in my position.
During the scope statement writing process, I read a lot of articles on student engagement. Naturally those articles intersect and intertwine with folks like Astin and Tinto (both who focused on student development and retention in undergraduates), and Kuh (THE guy on student engagement assessment in higher education) as well as new scholars (to me) who talked beyond behavioral aspects and dove into how student engagement impacts our student holistically. While there were different strands, I could begin to see how to articulate a more shared definition. My favorite article during my scope writing days was one from Johanna Vuori who asked in her title, “Student Engagement: Buzzword or Fuzzword?” Student engagement is truly a fuzzword.
Part of that fuzziness, comes from the words “student” and “engagement.” Often I’ll hear people talk about how a student is engaging with the library (through participation) or how a particular instruction activity really engages the students. While that’s true, it doesn’t mean it’s student engagement. It’s engaging students, but is missing some of the core elements of the word.
The other part of student engagement, especially in a library sense, is that it gets tangled with outreach. At the end of the day, student engagement and outreach are two, distinct, things, but we need both in our day-to-day. Good outreach can lead to student engagement. You need both, but both provide different things to our students.
The past year I've really worked to untangle these threads, have lots of conversation with folks to hear how they are thinking about these topics, and start to make something cohesive. My job is help move the library towards an aligned approach to student engagement, across the Commonwealth. As I've been asked to speak and present on my job, I've come up with good ways to explain what I do and my framework. You're probably waiting for me to define student engagement so here it is. For me student engagement is about the student, who investing time and energy outside the classroom setting to be "engaged." This engagement can be tied to a student's academic pursuits, but doesn't have to be. Finally, this student is working on a project/activity/experience for a significant length of time (it's not a one day thing). Along with the student being engaged, we, as institutions of higher education, also have a responsibility to support these experiences and make sure they are meaningful for our students.