University connecting people…?
Campus Conexus Projects
Campus Conexus is a set of networked research and development projects which are carried out by six Finnish universities and three student organisations. Its purpose is to strengthen the cultural practices of the universities promoting learning and teaching.
The central objective of the project is to produce practices which promote the engagement of the students to the expert community and support studying, learning and the process of development of expertise and thus prevent educational exclusion of university students.
Keywords describing the spirit of the project are future, engagement, community, network, guidance, holism and higher education. The word 'conexus' means ’twined together.
The projects are carried out in 2009–2013 and they are financed by the European Social Fund.
Campus Conexus Research Group at University of Tampere, School of Education
Educational environments in transition – higher education
Engagement and change in academic communities
The general aims are:
- to bring to light the distinct points of view and experiences of various groups of actors within HE;
- to examine the potential of academic communities as learning communities and pedagogical communities; and
- to investigate the role of HE staff development—and pedagogical training in particular—as the agent and facilitator of realistic and manageable collective transformation.
The research consists of the following substudies:
1. Engagement in higher education
‘Engagement’ has recently become a frequently used concept in the vocabulary of HE. It has been defined differently in different contexts. Is has been perceived as a ‘meta construct’, with cognitive, emotional and behavioural components encountered simultaneously. It has been used to discuss undergraduate engagement, and it may also refer to high-quality programs in HE focusing on diverse and engaged students and staff, participatory cultures, interactive teaching and learning, and adequate resources.
Overall, engagement has a wide range of invisible elements, and its critical and complex nature is challenging to demonstrate.
Student engagement is considered to be among the best predictors of learning and personal development in HE. Despite the wide range of international evidence, research concerning student engagement is not widely recognised in Finland.
Generally speaking, engagement has been used to discuss the extent to which students are involved in learning activities. More precisely, the concept is underpinned by at least two research strands. First, the significance of student engagement is evidenced by studies linking it with student transition, dropout, delay and retention (i.e., learning management aspects). Another research strand reveals students’ growing disengagement within university life as a whole. One reason for that stems from the increasing numbers of students who work part-time or full-time, which has spawned the term ‘negotiated engagement’ to refer to the strong relationship between students and their learning communities in terms of engagement. Thereby, a sharing of values and approaches to learning between staff and students would be a key to good engagement.
This substudy aims to take both the students’ own perseverance and commitment to learning, and negotiated engagement approaches, into account.
Student engagement has been suggested as an indicator of quality of teaching. In turn, work engagement models among teachers appear to emphasize the significance of a sense of vigour, dedication and absorption as the key elements of job satisfaction. So far, however, teacher engagement has not received much attention in the context of HE. Therefore, if engagement is seen as a predictor of students’ success in their studies, it can be assumed to be a good descriptor of university teachers’ work engagement.
Recent research has shown that, for instance, work overload, role ambiguity, emotional demands and poor colleague relations can lead to stress and burnout. There is also evidence that teachership development is a long-lasting and contradictory process in HE context and teachers feel they need more support, training and appreciation. Thus, continuously changing working conditions in academic institutions may create the risk of exhaustion and burnout. Therefore, it is necessary to take seriously academics’ well-being in their highly demanding academic working contexts.
This study aims to identify teachers’ experience of their position, aims and ways of being involved in teaching in their particular discipline.
Engagement in academic communities
As mentioned above, our research project aims at identifying ways to strengthen academic communities as pedagogical communities, which in turn is expected to foster student engagement and increase teacher engagement, commitment and well-being at work. Therefore, our research has an overarching practical and developmental interest.
Our foci range from face-to-face interaction to community-level processes, but the driving force is the aim to facilitate engagement on a community level in various academic settings across disciplinary cultures.
2. Curriculum in higher education
Scholarly interest in matters of curriculum has been scarce at the tertiary level, contrary to primary- and secondary-level training. The understanding of curriculum in HE is diverse and vague. Thus, the curriculum design is driven from internal intentions of discipline, where the purposes of curricula are seen as representations of the disciplinary knowledge, the growth of academic expertise and the contribution to identity formation processes. From external point of view, the purposes of curriculum design are to implement knowledge-intensive education, to produce competent professionals for the employment market and society, and to enable individuals’ career success.
In this substudy, our aim is to conceptualize and make visible the intentions and dynamics of curriculum as interpreters and implementers of the universities’ internal tasks, likewise those imposed from outside. Curriculum is understood here as a process of change and development that consists of a series of social interactions, reflective examination of disciplines and personal life histories within complex institutional and global contexts.
In these processes, the cultures in relation to knowledge and disciplines, and the purposes of HE, are reflected. In addition, research-teaching linkages are crucial for understanding what kind of teaching and learning is to be enhanced in HE.
For further information please contact campus.conexus(at)uta.fi