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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What Does Student Engagement Look Like? | Teaching Professor Blog

Photo: Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D.
Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks summarizes, "Engagement. . .it’s another one of those words that’s regularly bandied about in higher education. We talk about it like we know what it means and we do, sort of." 

Photo: The Teaching Professor Blog

It’s just that when a word or idea is so widely used, thinking about it often stops and that’s what I think has happened with engagement.

We know that engagement is an essential part of learning. For years, folks have correctly pointed out that the term “active learning” is redundant. When learning’s the game, you’ve got to be on the field, actively engaged. No sitting on the sidelines. We aren’t like plants, if you can stand another metaphor. We don’t get much by osmosis, but must instead rely on effortful acquisition for the knowledge and skills we need.

The Teaching Professor Blog
We aspire to get our students engaged because most of them don’t come to us that way. Our first (and often default) strategy is participation. We believe if we can just get students talking in class, they’ll be engaged. It’s that part of our thinking that merits a revisit. In the April issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter, I highlighted research that explores the participation-engagement relationship. It’s a complicated, two-study design with most of its eight hypotheses and three research questions confirming this conclusion: “oral participation is not a good indicator of engagement.” (Frymier and Houser, p. 99)

The findings do not indicate that participation is a bad thing or that it can’t engage students, just that it didn’t do so very convincingly for this cross-disciplinary cohort of more than 600. What the research team found did indicate engagement was something they call “nonverbal attentiveness.” It’s associated with behaviors like frequent eye contact, upright posture, seat location (closer to the front than the back), note taking, and positive facial expressions. In other words, silent students can be engaged and perhaps even more so than some who participate.

We tend to think that either students are engaged or they aren’t. In fact, engagement varies in intensity and duration. It “can be short term and situation specific or long term and stable.” (Fredricks, et. al., p. 61) It can be measured at different levels as well. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) gauges it at an institutional level—the extent to which a large cohort of students is engaged in the experiences that constitute post-secondary education at their institution. Other measures can be used to assess the involvement of an individual student in a course, a program, or at the institution.
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Source:Teaching Professor Blog


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