22 SES 10 D, Student Engagement and Advising Programs
In recent years, student engagement, a construct often used in the study of students’ learning experience, has enjoyed increasing popularity in higher education because of its strong correlation with positive learning outcomes (Trowler 2010), and also because of its influence on the consumer-oriented global education market. However, the sheer pervasiveness of the term ‘student engagement’ has led perhaps to the consequence that it is not problematised in the literature to the extent that it might warrant. Additionally, limited attention has characteristically been paid to how student engagement is conceptualised by ‘consumers’, and what determinants inform and affect their perceptions and choices. On the global stage such issues come into sharp focus in the case of China, which is currently the largest international market for higher education in Western Europe, North America and Australia. It is also a ‘consumer’ that has a radically different socio-cultural environment to that of western countries, meaning that understanding the determinants that inform potential Chinese students’ perceptions and choices are perhaps doubly significant, not least because a growing number of Chinese universities are becoming global players, and are challenging the draw of Western European/North American/Australian universities for a burgeoning home market of more discerning and cost conscious consumers.
This research aimed to examine in depth engagement issues of undergraduate students at two comparable universities, one in China and one in the UK. It attempted to define characteristics of student engagement, and also to derive insights about similarities and differences in the way students conceptualised their engagement in two radically different cultural and social systems. Focusing on three courses, a maths course in the UK and a maths course and a Chinese course in China, it also aimed to develop a better understanding of the influence of discipline areas on student engagement. It adopted a mixed method design and analysed data collected through questionnaires, individual interviews and group interviews. The research sought to answer the following questions:
- How is students’ engagement similar and different across the three courses in the two countries?
- How do students and staff perceive the determinants that influence students’ engagement?
- How do students and staff conceptualise the construct of student engagement?
Bronfenbrenner’s Person-Process-Context-Time bioecological model, which focuses on the interrelationships between contexts and human development through proximal processes (Bronfenbrenner 1979; Bronfenbrenner & Ceci 1994), provided a useful framework to scrutinise the data as a whole in respect of aspects of engagement such as how students interacted with their immediate contexts, how the larger social and cultural context mediated such interactions and how students’ past experience influenced their identification with, and conceptualisation of, engagement. These aspects in turn variously affected their actual engagement with different activities. In addition, concepts such as identities, positionality, and agency from Holland et al.’s (1998) sociocultural theory, the Figured Worlds, offered a useful complementary perspective to look at how students positioned themselves in relation to staff and other students at the university, how their agency played out and how their identities were formed.
Bronfenbrenner, U., 1979. The ecology of human development: Experiments in nature and design, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Bronfenbrenner, U. & Ceci, S.J., 1994. Nature-nurture reconceptualized in developmental perspective: a bioecological model. Psychological review, 101, pp.568–586. Holland, D. et al., 1998. Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds, London: Harvard University Press. Robson, C., 2011. Real World Research 3rd ed., West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Trowler, V., 2010. Student Engagement Literature Review. Available at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/ourwork/studentengagement/StudentEngagementLiteratureReview.pdf [Accessed July 20, 2012].
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