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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Evaluating the engaged institution: The conceptualizations and discourses of engagement
by Steel, Victoria A., Ph.D., University of Missouri - Columbia, 2009, 207; 3484580
Abstract (Summary)

Over the past two decades there have been growing public dialogues around the concern that institutions of higher education and the faculty, staff and students within them, are disengaged – separated and unconcerned with issues beyond their immediate environments, both physical and social. A concomitant discourse has emerged in higher education and its associated institutions towards greater engagement: of students with their learning and community service; of faculty and staff with applied research and public scholarship; and of internal groups with external communities. At the broadest level, this concept culminates with the representation that the institution as a whole is engaged as an organizational citizen on a local, regional, national or global level.

Engaged higher education is being promoted by a variety of stakeholders each with differing philosophies and accompanying discourses as to the role of higher education as a whole and the expectations of institutions of higher education. As a relatively new term applied to the activities of higher education, engagement is an emerging conception that is presently being constructed and defined by actors within and outside of higher education. As these conceptions are expressed and given form, systems and measures of evaluating the accomplishment of engagement are being developed.

The activity and process of evaluation defines measures, refines concepts, directs resources and shapes policy. Evaluation systems and the evaluative measures themselves focus attention on select aspects of the broader issue. Thus, the discourses that are invoked to support the evaluation of engagement and the construction and selection of the measures are simultaneously revealing and setting the boundaries for problem and solution conceptualization.

For institutions of higher education to respond to measures of engagement, and/or for outside stakeholders to perceive higher education as engaged, an understanding of the meaning of engagement and the accompanying underlying values and beliefs within these discourse communities is necessary. Analyzing the discourses surrounding engaged higher education evaluation reveals assumptions of validly measurable engaged activity and perceptions of attainment. The analysis also reveals the more influential discourses in the role that higher education “should” be playing within the broader society and the implied successes or failings of higher education in meeting this role, at this point in time, from the perspectives of these engagement evaluation communities.

This study examined the discourse(s) within the engagement movement, and in particular two systems – The North Central Association-Higher Learning Commission (NCA:HLC) and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) – that address the evaluation of engagement at an institutional level. Using an interpretivist approach toward achieving a meaningful understanding of actor’s frames of reference through the theories and methods of critical discourse analysis, particularly those of Norman Fairclough (1995) and James Paul Gee (1999), the focus was on how an examination of the engagement evaluation discourse communities revealed social and cultural perspectives and assumptions. With a concentration on the evaluative measures, Gee’s (1999) tools of inquiry were assimilated with Bob Barnetson and Marc Cutright’s (2000) typology of the normative assumptions embedded in performance indicators to develop engagement evaluation tools of inquiry. The findings of this study revealed the multi-faceted ways in which the concept of engagement is being constructed and evaluated by different stakeholders at this point in time.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Placier, Peggy
School: University of Missouri - Columbia
School Location: United States -- Missouri
Source: DAI-A 73/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Educational evaluation, Higher education
Keywords: Carnegie Foundation, Engagement, Evaluation measures, Higher Learning Commission
Publication Number: 3484580
ISBN: 978-1-267-00525-0
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