What Is Student Engagement?
According to the Glossary of Education,
In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. (February 18, 2016)
In Barkley’s “Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty” (2010 p.3-8), she begins to describe the importance of engagement, describing in comparison to a teacher’s passion to a student’s apathy. The teacher wants the students to have the same enthusiasm for the given subject being learned.
She stresses the importance of avoiding dis-engagement, and why teachers must find ways to sufficiently engage students (in face to face classroom settings, and also online).
Engaged students want to learn. They are motivated to learn. They have passion and excitement about learning.
From Barkley’s “Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty” (2010 p.6)
As illustrated above, Student Engagement is the product of Motivation and Active Learning. It will not occur if either motivation or active learning is missing.
Other Definitions of Student Engagement
Engagement, in terms of the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE), is measured and defined as the frequency of participation. The 2 key components, according to the NSSE, are:
- Amount of time invested in learning by the student, and
- Institutional organization and resources.
To paraphrase Pascarella and Terenzini (1991), “the greater the student’s involvement or engagement in academics, the greater the knowledge acquisition.”
However, in Bowen’s “Engaged Learning: Are We All on the Same Page?” (2005 p.3) – “An explicit consensus about what we actually mean by engagement or why it is important is lacking.”
Personal Observations About Student Engagement
Active Learning and Motivation work together synergistically in a double helix model of student engagement. (“Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty” Barkley 2010 p.8). See figure 1.2 above.
Reflecting on my personal experience and observations, my students are motivated by:
- their employers (continuing their apprenticeship is directly linked to their success in my classroom)
- their personal interests and aptitudes (why they were selected to be an apprentice by their employer in the first place)
- competitiveness with their fellow students
- job security and greater earning potential
My students experience active learning in my classroom when:
- During lectures, students participate by following along the lecture and doing the physics and math problems involved in electronics
- During laboratory time, they perform experiments and measurements, drawing conclusions based on their observations
- being tested in exams and quizzes
My students also experience day-to-day active learning on the job. They have to, they are being motivated by their employers!
Students must have the correct attitude to be motivated, they must believe that they can learn a task successfully under stable and controllable conditions.
Behaviorism theory suggests teachers develop motivated students by reinforcement of successful learning behavior (class participation, attentiveness on assignments, etc.)
Self efficacy theories suggest that students believe in their ability to succeed in learning is more important than their actual skill level.
Attribution theory of expectancy suggests that students’ failure or success comes from internal or exernal, permanent or temporary, controllable or uncontrollable sources.
Self-worth models suggest that individuals are motivated to preserve their sense of self-worth.
Students must be able to value learning if they are to become successful at the learning. Teachers must be able to reward student’s coursework with grades, praise, etc. Employers reward apprentice students with higher pay and with the greater job security of becoming a journeyman.
Student’s Responses to Tasks Related to Expectancy and Value Perceptions
If a student expects to succeed and…
If a student does not expect to succeed and…
|… Values the Task||The student will probably engage in the task, eager and happy to focus on developing knowledge and skills by seeking to discover meanings, grasping new insights, and generating integrative interpretations.||The student might dissemble and make excuses, pretend to understand, or deny having difficulties, focusing more on protecting the ego than on developing task-related knowledge and skill|
|… Does Not Value the Task||The student might evade the task by doing the minimum that is required to get the task done, but his or her heart and mind won’t be engaged in it; attention will be scattered, drifting to competing interests.||The student will probably resist or reject the task. If the task is required, the student will do it resentfully, angry at being coerced into a perceived unpleasant, pointless activity that may also prove to be embarrassing and reinforce negative self-perceptions of low ability.|
|Source: Based on J.E. Brophy, 2004, Motivating students to learn (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum), pp. 19-20.|
Kohn (Punished by Rewards 1993) criticizes these approaches, saying that they are bribing the students and shifts the focus away from valuing the tasks to valuing the consequences of completing the tasks.
Csikszentmihalyi (1993, 1997) says the concept of “flow” describes states of deep intrinsic motivation, hence deep engagement. When flow is experienced, awareness is merged with action, making the learner more absorbed in the task, and the activity becomes worth doing.
Wlodkowski (2008) says helping students achieve flow can be achieved by:
- Making goals clear, allowing learners to focus
- Giving immediate, relevant feedback as the activities continue
- Balancing skills and knowledge
Student Expectancy and Value Conclusion
The teacher must find the balance between engaging students while avoiding apathy if he is to be successful in making the students successful. Understanding the complex theories of motivation will takes a lot of planning and commitment. A teacher is a leader, and the students, seeing the leader’s passion, can be guided to increasing eagerness to learn, and thus, engagement.
How Does This Affect Me? Where Do I Go From Here?
As a newbie to the world of being an adult education instructor, I must educate myself on how to educate my students. I must give the students the tools they need to succeed as learners. Adult students of today have grown up playing video games, using the internet, and using mobile telephones. They expect the modern classroom to be able to keep up with their short attention spans by capturing their interest using a variety of techniques and technologies.
When I began my new job, I noticed that the course material was almost exactly the same as when I took the same program nearly 20 years earlier. The same notes I learned from were scanned onto PDFs and reprinted. When teaching in the classroom, my students lamented that the course materials were old and needed improvement.
Based on this feedback, I have learned from my students. The same old drawings and old photocopies that were probably decades old when I was a student are even older today. Today’s students prefer animations, colors, and modern fonts in the graphic design of the course material. Needless to say that the chief instructor is old school, and might be resistant to change.
As I pledged to the students, I am trying to put a new perspective on the same old material. I plan to update all my material by supplementing the old notes with new examples.
I have created animated power point presentations to illustrate the same concepts, and have had some positive feedback. I try to explain the basic concepts using the old notes, and compliment them with my power points.
Based on feedback from the students, I have decided NOT to use Youtube video examples. It turns out that is too cheesy, and could easily be done on their own time. I will, however, continue to recommend Youtube videos that I found helpful, and pass on video html’s from other students.
Just goes to show that learning is dynamic and interactive.
Rome wasn’t built in a day…
Elizabeth Barkley “Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty” (2010 p.3-15)