Student Engagement, Experiences, Everyday Life and Contexts

Several of the academics in the here@lancaster research centre are concerned with the lived realities of student life and issues around their engagement with and the influences of the contexts in which they live, study and work.

Kirsty Finn has conducted research into student well-being in higher education, their emotional lives and personal relationships. The emotional and sensory dimensions of student life are central to her work, for example, in her recent book Personal Life, Young Women and Higher Education, and in her more recent research into the everyday mobility practices of student commuters. Recently she has focused on the ways in which different patterns of engagement and interaction with higher education reflect and potentially redefine personal relationships such as family bonds, friendships and romantic and sexual partnerships. She draws on theoretical frameworks which foreground reflexivity and the relational and emotional dimensions of inequality and identity.

Natasa Lackovic's work concerns multimodality and semiotics of teacher-student practices as well as in research methods, communication and experiences of higher education. She deploys critical theory in this work. Natasa is also interested in the deployment and value of images, art and artefact-based research and practices addressing educational and community needs. Finally she, like Finn, conducts research in the areas of students’ and lecturers’ well-being, creativity and empowerment.

Mantz Yorke’s research career has consistently focused on issues around student experience, engagement, retention and participation in higher education. Mantz is committed to the enhancement of a higher education system which is inclusive and engaging for all and so is work has an underpinning objective of delivering research data that can be deployed by leaders and change agents to bring this about.

Brett Bligh conducts research into the connections between the material surroundings of higher education, the technologies that permeate them and the ways people act, think and learn. Brett has investigated how Universities design and evaluate their built environment estate and what that tells us about how that estate is valued. He has also investigated how ubiquitous technologies, such as wall-sized visual projection displays, are challenging the design conventions of formal teaching spaces. In addressing the interplay of physical context, ubiquitous artefacts and the mediation of learning, Brett draws on Activity Theory and the literature on collaborative learning.

Work on student engagement has been conducted by a team led by Paul Trowler, funded by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE).  These projects have resulted in a very widely-cited literature review as well as materials for institutional leaders and policy makers aimed at improving student engagement, in different senses, in institutional contexts. This work uses the version of social practice theory that we have developed at the Centre for Higher Education Research and Evaluation and which stresses the significance of contextual contingency, the interplay between material artefacts and social practices, the processes of adaptation rather than adoption, and the significance of narrativity and history on the reception and implementation of initiatives. Paul’s publications include those on student engagement arising from work commissioned by the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.  Paul has also given keynote addesses about this research namely Engaging students: concepts, practices, resources and Conceptualising student engagement.  Read about work on student engagement in this research impact story.