An International Center for Research on Engaged Learning

Glossary of Terms

Academic Capitalism is the idea that increasingly academia is adopting a capitalist model of being: with overfocus on specific kinds of “productivity” (such as securing grants and publishing) and decreased value placed in less tangible outcomes like teaching and student learning (beyond the usual measures of matriculation and graduation).

Ako is short for akoranga, a Te Reo Māori word which means teaching, learning, and all of the circumstances therein. Ako in Action is described in chapter 5. The term “ako” is also used in the Introduction and chapter 13.

Brave Space refers to Arao and Clemens’ (2013) acknowledgement that learning is difficult and often personally challenging– and therefore by nature never fully “safe” (see “Safe Space” below). They recommend the term brave space to make visible the courage required for transformative learning. See chapter 3 and chapter 10.

Course can refer to, depending on the regional context, a single semester-long unit of study within a larger academic program, such as Introductory Accounting, or to a full degree program such as a Bachelor of Accounting.

Critical Feminism uses critical theory in conjunction with feminism (the belief in the equal moral worth of people in society regardless of gender) to examine and change the world. In other words, critical feminism asks who holds power in society and why, and works to make visible and explicitly deconstruct the inequities it finds. See chapter 1.

Critical Race Theory uses critical theory to examine society and culture as they relate to categorizations of race, law, and power. In other words, critical race theory constantly questions the impact of power and inequity on different racial groups and works to make visible and explicitly deconstruct such inequities.

Engagement is most often used in our book to refer to students’ active participation in the university. In some national contexts, such as the UK, engagement has become a sought after measure in which universities hope to improve (see Enhancement, below).  However readers should be aware that other scholarly conversations about student engagement use a more intentional and focused definition for the term. Wolf-Wendel, Ward, and Kinzie (2009) emphasize that engagement should include “purposeful student-faculty[staff] contact, and active and collaborative learning” as well as inclusive and affirming educational environments. They point to the etymological root of engagement as an agreement or contract between two parties –in this case, between the student and the university about the educational experience.

Enhancement as used and defined in chapter 4 refers to student engagement efforts around university quality assurance and governance (TSEP 2018).

Faculty can refer to the individual instructors (as in “faculty member”) who might otherwise go by titles like “professor,” “lecturer,” or “academic,” or to whole groups or departments of people who represent a particular academic discipline (e.g. the faculty of mathematics). Nearly all of the chapters in this book use the first definition of the word (individuals). Chapter 5 is an exception and uses the latter definition to refer to the meso level of programs or departments.

Genre refers in our text to the different forms that writing can take.

Higher education provider is a catch-all term which refers broadly to colleges and universities. See chapter 4.

Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991) to describe the unique form of oppression faced when multiple oppressed identity categories overlap–most often to render the individual invisible or unseen in the face of laws and other structures which otherwise aim to reduce oppression. See section 2 introduction.

Managerialism, as used in this book, is the idea that higher education is increasingly overrun by managers and administrators, with fewer resources or care for those who do the heart of the work of academia (instructors and other educators).

Module refers to a single class session within a semester- or term-long course.

Neoliberalism describes an ideology which underlies many governance systems in the 21st century, key features of which are characterized by free market trade, deregulation of financial markets, individualisation, and a shift away from state welfare provision. In the case of higher education, it often refers to the stronger business-centered model of operating that universities have adopted in the face of decreased government funding, and the subsequent transactional culture that has arisen among students, instructors, and staff.

Partnership aims to reconceptualize the traditional power hierarchies of higher education, empowering students to take shared responsibility for their own learning and staff to trust the agency of students by engaging both in democratic, meaningful, and dialogic relationships. See the full re-definition in our Introduction.

Pedagogy encompasses all the elements, activities, and decisions contributing to the act of teaching.

Poetic Transcription is a process of re-presenting data in the form of poetry where the words of a dataset are reshaped into poems with minor textual changes (e.g. changes in tense to match the rest). See it in use in the introduction and chapter 5.

Postcolonial Feminism is a form of feminism that was born as a resistance against Western-centric, colonial forms of feminism which have been critiqued as ignoring the different ways women from various national, ethnic, and religious backgrounds experience gender and oppression. See chapter 3.

Safe Space is a phrase that describes the kind of learning environment many educators attempt to facilitate in order to support students risk-taking, open questioning, and discovery in learning. The phrase suggests that students need some level of support and mutual understanding to take the steps outside of their comfort zone necessary to learn.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) refers to the field of study that “aims to investigate student learning in a disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and systematic way,” (Wilson, Phillips, Meskhidze, Lockard, Felten, McGowan, and Bloch-Schulman 2020).  See chapter 2.

Staff refers broadly to employees of a university, including colleagues in managerial, academic, professional and support roles. Outside of North America, staff most often refers to anyone employed by a certain institution including those in teaching roles.

Student refers to any person enrolled in a higher educational institution, including undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral students.

Student Representatives (student reps), as specifically defined by chapter 4, operate within Student Academic Representation Systems (see definition below). In most contexts within the UK specifically, student reps exist for everything: course reps (who collect feedback and speak for their peers to liaise between peers and staff; conduits); year reps; program (major) reps; and equity reps (who amplify the perspectives of liberation students, and others in minoritized groups) at both departmental and institutional levels. In practice, this usually involves the reps being invited to participate in institutional governance structures such as course or department committee meetings. Within these meetings, student reps give informed insight into their peers’ experiences, both positive and negative. Ideally, those reps would act in partnership (defined below) with peers and staff. Their agency and power vary massively, and Abbi Flint and Hannah Goddard explore in their dialogue ways student reps’ experiences could be improved by partnership values. Student representation systems differ regionally and outside of the UK may function very differently to this definition.

Student academic representation systems (also referred to as representation or rep systems specifically in chapter 4) refer to a model of student involvement in the governance of universities. In the UK, these systems are an important mechanism for student voice (NUS 2016) and quality assurance and enhancement (QAA 2012) and continue to play a vital role in a changing policy context. They constitute a form of student engagement which has received comparatively little study, and there are no universally accepted definitions of these systems. Abbi Flint and Hannah Goddard suggest the following working understanding: a structured system where individual (elected or selected) student representatives (reps) speak and act on behalf of their (collective) peers concerning the educational and scholarly experiences of students (Flint, Goddard and Russell 2017a).  Partnership in such systems may be seen in “collaboration between an institution/faculty/department and student, involving joint ownership and decision-making over both the process and the outcome” (HEA & NUS 2011). See chapter 4.

Students’ Union (SU) is used in chapter 4 in particular as a short-hand for a student organization, association, or guild that promotes and represents the interests of student members of a higher education provider (Education Act 1994).


Arao, Brian, and Kristi Clemens. 2013. “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice.” In The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators, edited by Lisa M. Landreman, 135-50. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (July): 1241-99.

Education Act 1994, c.30. UK. ukpga/1994/30/contents

Flint, Abbi, Hannah Goddard, and Ellie Russell. 2017. Architects of their Experience: The Role, Value and Impact of Student Academic Representation Systems in Higher Education in England. The Student Engagement Partnership.

Higher Education Academy and National Union of Students. 2011. Student Engagement Toolkit. HEA and NUS.

Quality Assurance Agency. 2012. UK Quality Code for Higher Education: Chapter B5—Student Engagement. Quality Assurance Agency. information-and-guidance/uk-quality-code-forhigher-education-chapter-b5-student-engagement#. WUbM09yQzIV

The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP). 2017. Student Academic Representation Literature Review. The Student Engagement Partnership.

Wolf-Wendel, Lisa, Kelly Ward, and Jillian Kinzie. 2009. “A Tangled Web of Terms: The Overlap and Unique Contribution of Involvement, Engagement, and Integration to Understanding College STudent Success.” Journal of College Student Development 50, no. 4 (July/August): 407-28.