In the article “Student Involvement: A Developmental Theory for Higher Education” Alexander W. Astin effectively outlines what he considers to be the most effective ways for students to gain the most from the academic environments they inhabit. The notion of “student involvement” is a good one. The premise here is that those students who participate in various on campus activities are more engaged with the overall experience of college, and tend to perform better.
Astin criticizes “traditional pedagogical theories” like “the subject-matter theory,” “the resource theory,” and “the individualized (ecelectic) theory” (519-21). For his own theory of “student involvement” he claims that “the factors that contributed to the student’s remaining in college suggested involvement, whereas this that contributed to the student’s dropping out implied a lack of involvement” (523). While I can agree with a student’s need for attachment to a school and a full range of experiences associated with that school contributing to their overall success as students, I find it problematic as a pedagogical exploration to rely so heavily on what the students do with their time on campus. I would argue, however, that the most important involvement that a student might experience on campus is directly related to the courses they take.
This other type of engaged involvement functions in a two-fold process. That is to say, the instructor’s involvement is directly related to the ways in which the students engage a particular course-it folds over on them. Astin writes “the most important application of the student involvement theory to teaching is that it encourages the instructor to focus less on content and teaching techniques and more on what students are actually doing” (526). He follows this immediately with the assertion that “[t]eaching is a complex art…which may suffer if the artist focuses too much on technique” (526). From a pedagogical frame, this seems ill informed. Sure, teaching is an art form- it’s multi-modal-it’s performance, it’s idea generation, it’s application, and it is hyper-aware of audience engagement that makes it real. What Astin’s article seems to be fundamentally lacking is the necessity for an instructor’s involvement in their own topic, in their own class, or in their own work-whether that is their research or their teaching is irrelevant. What is relevant is that students do not inherently know how to navigate a university. Students do not automatically know how to want to be involved. Students learn these things through their experience, and the most important experience that they have is what they get inside the classroom. It is the involved instructor who brings that energy into that space and transfers it to their students.
Astin, Alexander W. “Student Involvement: A Developmental Theory for Higher Education.” Journal of College Student Development 1999: 40.5. Print.