Engagement in plain English

It’s interesting how certain words and phrases seem to catch on. It’s annoying to see them being abused. One of these words is “to engage” (used as a transitive verb) and all its derivatives, such as engagement and disengaged.

Collocation also matters, of course. “Engagement with stakeholders” seems to have become a classic. You can’t tell what that engagement actually means or who the stakeholders are. But the phrase sounds sexy, so it gets used. “Learner engagement” and “employer engagement”, among others, also rank near the top of the most abused yet mysterious (and even meaningless) phrases these days.

What does “to engage” actually mean? Is it “to interest”, “to work with”, “to involve”, “to hire”, “to engross”, “to mesh”? All of the above? Can we not be clear about its meaning in context? Let’s be specific… and let’s stop abusing the term.

Alejandro Armellini
4 May 2010

How does employer engagement contribute to improvements in courses delivered for work-based learners?

In the Duckling project, we collaborate with three distance learning work-based Masters’ programmes in two disciplines within the University of Leicester: MSc in Occupational Psychology and Psychology of Work at the School of Psychology, and MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL at the School of Education. In Psychology, students are practising psychologists studying towards chartered psychologist status. In Education, learners are practising language teachers seeking enhanced professional competence.

One of the research questions in Duckling is, ‘How does employer engagement contribute to improvements in the delivery of the three curricula and in student learning?’ To address this question, I interviewed some employers from Psychology and Language teaching fields.

The three employers in the Psychology field that I interviewed are all based in the UK. They are all chartered psychologists and have plenty of experience working in business, public sectors and academia. The three employers from Language teaching field are based in South America. They are all practising English teachers and work for an English teaching or exam centre.

Their interviews mainly covered two themes:

  • Their perceptions of the professional development needs of the employees in their organisations.
  • Their ideas and insights on how a Masters course in Occupational Psychology or Applied Linguistics can help practising psychologists or language teachers meet their professional development needs.

In Psychology, employers identified a number of professional development needs faced by practising psychologists:

  • To become chartered psychologists
  • To enhance quantitative and qualitative research skills
  • To develop consultancy skills
  • To understand the key business strategy of the organisation that they work with.

The three employers offered ideas or insights on how the current MSc courses can be improved to meet the professional development needs of work-based learners:

  • To integrate the chartership model into the course delivery
  • To enhance practical aspects of the course delivery by:
    • providing students with opportunities to work with practising psychologists
    • establishing relationships with the employers
    • covering practical topics such as interventions in depth within the course
    • involving external practising psychologists as contributors to the course delivery, such as case studies or supplement material.

In Education, the three employers identified two professional development needs faced by the practising language teachers in their organisations:

  • How to incorporate technologies into the design and delivery of a language course
  • How to transfer theory into practice

They also offered ideas on how the MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL course can be improved to meet the professional development needs of practising language teachers:

  • Offer an optional module focusing on technology-supported course design and delivery
  • Add more practical elements into the current course by incorporating project-based activities, reflective accounts and critical thinking
  • Add practical components from the beginning modules

In Duckling, the employers’ voices will be incorporated into the curricula delivery to improve the learning experience of work-based distance learners. The outcomes from employer interviews will be fed back to the two course teams for consideration.

Ming      09 July 2009

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