Post written by guest authors Rebecca Ng from the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences and Frederick Chew from the Fenner School of Environment and Society
Engagement is certainly not a new topic. In fact, several coffee courses before have extensively covered this as well as strategies to foster engagement (e.g. Engaging Students Online and Enhancing you Lecture: Strategies for Student Engagement). This coffee course does not aim to reinvent to wheel; rather, it seeks to revisit some of the key aspects to student engagement and repackage good ol’ strategies to suit the current climate of teaching and learning. We also want to focus more on how to tackle low levels of engagement and disengagement, and discuss ways to reinvigorate your course even if you are knee-deep in the teaching period already. But first, some key concepts to anchor us for the week.
What is student engagement and why is it important?
These questions get repetitive, don’t they? And yet, after decades of exploring the subject, there is no one definition. In fact, I would take a guess that as educational technologies and our experiences expand, the notion of engagement and how it can be measured becomes even more multifaceted and complex. For the purpose of this coffee course, student engagement can be summarised into three points:
- Student participation and communication (Goss, Sonnerman & Griffiths, 2017): To achieve engagement, students must participate in the course and through participation, communicate with their teachers and peers. The question here is how do we define participation? E.g. is active listening participation?
- Self-motivation or involvement in own learning (Coates, 2007): Not only must they participate but they should feel motivated, whether intrinsically or extrinsically, to do so for their own learning.
- Purposeful and measurable (Kuh, 2009): And finally, these engagements need to be educationally purposeful, and measurable against the learning outcomes that you have set for the course.
Other definitions have included aspects around interactivity (Kennedy, 2020) or building a sense of connectedness (Stevens et al., 2018) but overall, there is a general consensus that it requires both students and teachers (or even institutions) to be actively involved.
According to Russell & Slater (2011), these are some factors that affect student engagement:
- Motivation and agency – engaged students are intrinsically motivated to exercise their agency
- Transactional engagement – learners and teachers engage with each other
- Institutional support – institutions provide an environment conducive to learning
- Active citizenship – students and institutions work together to enable challenges to social beliefs and practices
So why is student engagement so important? Kuh (2009, p. 683) states that it is “the time and effort students devote to activities that are empirically linked to desired outcomes of college and what institutions do to induce students to participate in these activities.” Put simply, engagement contributes to the success of one’s learning as designed by the teacher or the institution (see also Stevens et al., 2018; Trowler, 2010).
The Australian National University’s teaching and learning vision published in 2018 mentioned that one of its pillars is to nurture “engaged students”. It provides a good summary of the University’s view on engagement. If you are from the ANU, what are your thoughts about some of the points made about engagement in the vision? If you are not from the ANU, does your institution have a similar vision or document discussing its views on student engagement?
Types of engagement
We often focus on specific activities to induce engagement. But how do we know we are holistically engaging our students to meet the learning outcomes that we have set for them? In a previous point, I questioned the understanding of participation. This is because we can sometimes have false impressions of engagement. For example, we may think that a student who attends class is more engaged than a student who doesn’t. However, attendance is only part of one type of student engagement. Fredricks, Blumenfeld and Paris (2004) provide three dimensions for student engagement for your consideration:
- Behavioural engagement: This form of engagement is concerned with behavioural norms like attendance and involvement. Students who are behaviourally engaged would not only comply with norms as set by the teacher or institution but also avoid negative or disruptive behaviour.
- Emotional engagement: Students who are emotionally engaged would display affective reactions such as interest, enjoyment or a sense of belonging.
- Cognitive engagement: Finally, students who are cognitively engaged would invest in their learning. This means that they would seek to exceed expectations and enjoy challenging work.
These dimensions are important as they prompt us to think about whether we are relying on one form of engagement more than others. Are you?
What about disengagement?
The antonym to engagement is similarly difficult to define. However, I would like to point you to Trowler’s (2010) definition of disengagement because he describes it as “non-engagement” which sits on the neutral part of the engagement continuum that is neither negative nor positive. This means that students may not be attending classes, are experiencing boredom or are submitting assignments late while only meeting the minimum requirements. But what is important about his definition is that is helps us to view disengagement as only part of the spectrum of engagement. What we are dealing with here is not just disengagement but lower levels of engagement and even negative engagement; all of which will be discussed further tomorrow.
Additionally, there are also different types of disengagement such as:
- value disengagement where students do not see the value of their education;
- interactional disengagement where students do not interact with their peers and teachers;
- and motivational disengagement where students are not motivated to participate or engage in their own learning (Chipchase et al., 2017).
According to a literature review by Chipchase et al. (2017), the factors for disengagement include:
- Psychological factors such as stress
- Low motivation
- Inadequate preparation for study and academic capacity
- Unrealistic expectations
- Competing demands and financial stress
- Institutional structures and processes
- Academic staff factor
- Online teaching and learning (due to reduced interaction between peers and teachers)
These will be discussed further in tomorrow’s post but it is a great reminder that as teachers, you can be “mediators of engagement” (State Government of Victoria, 2019) and put in place strategies to counter disengagement or low levels of engagement. However, there are also aspects to disengagement that are beyond your control. What we can do is to address as many of these factors as possible by carefully designing and creating a multitude of opportunities for different types of engagement.
In tomorrow’s post, we will specifically be discussing how to detect and intervene when you encounter low levels of engagement or disengagement.
Reflect on your teaching: What type(s) of engagement are you having with your students? Share examples of how you have engaged students behaviourally, cognitively and emotionally.
Chipchase, L., Davidson, M., Blackstock, F., Bye, R., Colthier, P., Krupp, N., … Williams, M. (2017). “Conceptualising and Measuring Student Disengagement in Higher Education: A Synthesis of the Literature”, International Journal of Higher Education, 6(2), 31. https://doi.org/10.5430/ijhe.v6n2p31
Coates, H. (2007). “A Model of Online and General Campus-Based Student Engagement”, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 32 (2), 121–141.
Fredricks, J.A., Blumenfeld, P.C. & Paris, A.H. (2004). “School Engagement: Potential of the Concept, State of the Evidence”, Review of Educational Research, 74 (1), 59–109.
Goss, P., Sonnemann, J., & Griffiths, K. (2017). Engaging students: creating classrooms that improve learning. Melbourne, VIC: Grattan Institute.
Kennedy, G. (2020). “What is student engagement in online learning … and how do I know when it is there?”, Melbourne CSHE Discussion Paper, May 2020. https://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/3362125/student-engagement-online-learning_final.pdf
Kuh G. D. (2009). “What student affairs professionals need to know about student engagement”, Journal of College Student Development, 50(6), 683-706. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.0.0099
Russell, B. & Slater, G. R. L. (2011). “Factors that Encourage Student Engagement: Insights from a Case Study of ‘First Time’ Students in a New Zealand University”, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 8(1). https://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol8/iss1/7
Stevens, R., Cronley, T., Eckert, A., Kidd, M., Liondos, N., Newall, G., Pilkington, M., Rekic, B., & Ructtinger, L. (2018). Cultivating student engagement – Part 2. Scan 37(10). https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/scan/past-issues/vol-37-2018/cultivating-student-engagement-part-2
State Government of Victoria (2019). “Identify students at risk of disengaging”, State Government of Victoria: Education and Training. https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/behaviour/engagement/Pages/identify-students.aspx
Trowler, V. (2010). “Student engagement literature review”, The Higher Education Academy. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6d0c/5f9444fc4e92cca76fe9f426bd107e837a9f.pdf