It is generally agreed that student engagement is important, but actually answering ‘what is student engagement?’ can be difficult. After all, many would argue that there is a difference between a student being emotionally engaged and cognitively engaged. Of course, if we accept this as being true, it throws up further questions, like ‘how many types of engagement are there?’ and ‘which of these different dimensions of engagement need to be met before we agree that a student is fully engaged?’
Keep reading to learn more about the problems with trying to accurately define student engagement, as well as some of the ways that engagement is measured. Or learn more about ViewSonic’s education solutions.
What is student engagement and how should it be measured? These two questions have generated significant debate, because while it is generally accepted that student engagement is both an indicator of high-quality teaching and a prerequisite for students getting the most out of a class or course, finding a single, succinct definition of student engagement is difficult.
The Glossary of Education Reform, which was created by the Great Schools Partnership, uses the following definition for student engagement: “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning and being taught,” which is a useful starting definition. Yet, the glossary also goes on to break down the various forms of engagement that exist, and provide some of the limitations to its own definition.
With this in mind, in this post, we take a more in-depth look at what student engagement is, how it can be defined, and how student engagement levels can actually be measured.
Why is Student Engagement Difficult to Define?
The primary reason student engagement is difficult to define is because the term itself is fairly vague. As Paul Ashwin and Debbie McVitty point out in The Meanings of Student Engagement: Implications for Policies and Practices, it is especially vague with regards to what the focus or object of “engagement” is; in other words, what are students engaging with?
Although it usually refers to engagement with learning activities or courses as a whole, it can also refer to engagement with the design of the curriculum, or with decision making. Additionally, many modern definitions also place an emphasis on participation in the overall academic environment, including social aspects and extracurricular activities.
Furthermore, it can be argued that true student engagement means more than students doing what is required to pass an exam, or complete a particular assignment. Instead, real engagement is only achieved when students become fully invested, have a desire to learn, display a willingness to do the work, and want to gain a rounded understanding of the topic.
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What Are the Different Types of Student Engagement?
In 2004, Fredericks, Blumenfeld and Paris broke down student engagement further into three main dimensions, which can be described as follows:
- Behavioral Engagement – This covers students’ participation in lessons, such as attendance and concentration levels, as well as their involvement in social aspects of learning, and whether or not they engage with extracurricular activities.
- Emotional Engagement – This covers students’ feelings, especially towards the subject or course they are studying, their teacher, their peers, their overall academic experience, and whether or not they feel the lessons actually have value.
- Cognitive Engagement – This covers students’ motivation and investment in their own education. It also includes the extent to which they take ownership of their own learning, are able to self-regulate, and wish to pursue personal educational goals.
Such a breakdown highlights the limitations of using a short and simple definition for student engagement, as students can simultaneously be engaged in certain ways, but disengaged in others. Full student engagement will require all three dimensions to be met. Achieving this requires the right strategies, the latest EdTech, and effective feedback from teachers.
How Can Student Engagement Be Measured?
Traditionally, student engagement has been measured on a self-reported basis, meaning students provide their own feedback on lessons, courses, or teachers, and their level of engagement is then deduced from this. Often, this self-reporting will take the form of a student survey or questionnaire. One way that technology can be introduced, in order to gain student feedback in the moment, is through audience response systems.
Moreover, with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and modern education technology, a wider range of devices in the classroom can collect and share data. This offers the potential for facial expression recognition and machine learning technology to be used in order to measure student engagement and compare findings with other classes or courses.
Nevertheless, much of the way student engagement is measured is still dependent on observation, either from teachers or from outside observers. This requires the observer to look for signs of engagement or disengagement and then report their findings.
Student engagement can be broadly defined as students being interested, passionate and invested in their own learning, but definitions vary and can even conflict with one another. As a result, there is no singular, widely-accepted definition and engagement can mean different things to different people. One of the most robust definitions breaks engagement down into behavioral, emotional and cognitive engagement dimensions, and this can potentially make it easier to measure, particularly when it comes to observing the signs of engagement.