Last week provided me with a double of interesting events that made me think about the importance of ‘engaging’ (with learning, people and change).
There are various definitions on Dictionary.com but for me engaging is a conscious act, one of opening up oneself to new information, ideas or opportunities. From this can come the act of engagement, characterised in a multi-way transaction in which all parties are actively involved and inevitably, something changes as a result.
On Thursday, I attended a TUoS Engaged Learning Network event. Professor Brendan Stone, who introduced the session, describes engaged learning & teaching as, “combining academic rigour and disciplinary knowledge with opportunities for students to learn with and from external partners, ‘real-world’ challenges, and experiences outside the University.” (‘Engaged Learning Sheffield’, 2016).
The keynote speaker, Dr Ira Harkavy from the University of Pennsylvania, talked passionately about the need for academia to use its considerable resource and standing to foster community engagement and cooperation to enable genuine research impact in the local environment.
In the Q&A at the end, an impassioned colleague pointed out that this type of engagement, whether in Undergraduate learning or in core research, needs to be woven in to the fabric of the institution, rather than be seen as the activity of a few ‘out there’ individuals on the margins.
What all of these positions reminded me was of the need for researchers to look beyond the day to day activity of research to consider who they will need to engage with to create change (no matter how big or small and whether in their own lives or beyond).
This contemplation was then reinforced on Friday when I attend a meeting of the nascent University-wide researcher society. Once again, impassioned colleagues talked, this time the focus being the benefits of engaging with researcher networks/associations for skill development, social connectivity, profile raising and to support collective change.
Both of these events had a common undercurrent, the certainty that collaboration and collective effort can be a force for change. For me, the very desire for ‘engagement’ implies that either an individual wants to improve something, be it personal and directly related to themselves or for the wider benefit to others.
I guess what I am trying to say (in a muddled philosophy kind of way) is that my choice to engage in both of these events, provided me opportunity to hear others’ visions, reflect on my own values, think more broadly about the role of research in society and be reminded about the potential for change that comes through a collectively engaged ‘voice’.
Time well spent, I’d say.