The transformative potential of engagement in education and research

Engagement scholars and practitioners descended on Melbourne for the Engage to Transform, Engagement Australia’s 13th annual conference, held on July 18-19. Hosted by Victoria University, the conference keynotes explored the nexus between engagement and transformation. engagement in education and research

Addressing how to adequately respond to the call for transformation through education and research, as Ben Roche, Chair of Engagement Australia put it, the conference looked at core elements of the engagement agenda – impact, research, and ‘grappl[ing] with a precise articulation of the who and the why that is at the heart of all transformative engagement processes’. Keynote speakers included leading international academics – Associate Professor Henrietta Marrie (CQUniversity), Professor Jim Nyland (ACU), Professor David Davies (University of Derby, UK), Professor Barbara Holland (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Portland State University and University of Sydney) – with panellists comprising Professor Brenda Cherendnichenko (Deakin University), Emeritus Professor Geoff Scott (Western Sydney University) and innovation industry representatives (including Colin Kinner, Director Spike Innovation, David Williamson CEO Melbourne Innovation Centre.

Expanding on keynote themes, the conference also hosted over 20 practice and research papers, balanced out by roundtables and spotlight sessions that furthered engagement in scholarship and wider institution-based professions. The nexus that undergirded the conference – exploring engagement across contexts of the individual, the community and the institution – had a commitment to reinvigorating university research and teaching. Integrated-teaching and robust learning activities were the focus of research papers that explored shifts from competency-based assessment to centralised support structures for more meaningful student engagement (Carol-Joy Patrick/Griffith University). Innovative work-integrated learning practices also considered whether arts industries can promote community understanding of emerging sustainable technologies (Dr Barry Hill/Southern Cross University).

Over 20 practice and research papers from academics and practitioners and professionals addressed diverse topics including rural medicine, urban social housing, multi-cultural and multi-faith communities. Practice papers explored transformative potential of university and community engagement through communities histories, including engaging rural communities in the development of a rural health virtual museum (Associate Professor Louella McCarthy, Dr Kathryn Weston/University of Woollongong).

Engage to Transform 2016 Conference

The spotlight session with Editor Megan Le Clus, ‘Transforming your engagement practice into publication’, launched the new refereed journal, Transform: the journal of engaged scholarship. The online bi-annual journal will provide space for critical inquiry, reflections and reviews including practice-oriented research and practice relevant to engagement in the Higher Education sector aiming to reset the balance on publications on community engagement in Australia.

Le Clus facilitated an extended introduction that broke down traditional conference-style focus, where issues raised in relation to conference themes located the importance of issues within the realm of conference participants. Practitioners, researchers, volunteer engagement, students, university and wider engagement professionals unpacked issues around the discipline of engagement and publishing. Le Clus situated, in a broader context, Australian understandings of engagement as co-creating knowledge, and the mutuality and reciprocity that defines community engagement. While ‘community engagement’ is not academically recognised as a discrete field of research, with hard scientific research, the session spelled out that the innovation of engagement journals is in the broader application of public issues, community validation, and invites an academic and community readership that advances knowledge and understanding of community engagement and public social issues.

Overall, the conference engendered a deep understanding of issues facing institutions and challenges faced by scholarly engagement communities. The annual conference was broadly attended by academics and professionals with many people who work in the field of engagement, including university professionals, who could participate meaningfully in conference agenda. Undisputable value in Engage to Transform was to provide opportunities for scholars to share research and open discussion around collaborative nexus of practice/research and publication, with chances for networking and information sharing around theme of transformative potentional of engagement practice within the university sector.

Photos: copyright Engagement Australia

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