22 SES 04 E, Student Engagement and Active Learning
Changes in modern society challenge learning and competences, and require also higher education institutions to continuously develop their teaching, renew learning cultures, and support students’ active agency in schooling and society.
Agency is seen as a central part of professionalism (Goller & Paloniemi, 2017). It relates to expert work with increasing call for creativity, collaboration, joint knowledge construction, and development of work practices (e.g., Eteläpelto et al., 2013; Hökkä et al. 2017). Agency has a key role in (lifelong) learning and in coping with uncertainty and changes in working life (Su, 2011). Existing literature (e.g., Trede, Macklin & Bridges, 2012), however, claims that universities typically focus on content-based knowledge construction of individual learners and do not to the same extent prepare students for taking agentic stances on work and professionalism.
Rather than a stable state, agency is conceived as being dynamic and contextual in nature (cf., Emirbayer & Mische, 1998). Earlier studies of agency emphasise the role of relations (e.g, reciprocity and dialogue between teacher and students, Lipponen & Kumpulainen, 2011; learners’ equal relations, Eteläpelto et al., 2005; and cooperation capacity, Edwards, 2005), and participatory structures (e.g., opportunities to make choices and influence, Eteläpelto et al., 2005). In university courses stronger support for agency would require a shift from one-way knowledge transmission to flexible, interactional practices (cf. Lakkala, Ilomäki, Mikkonen, Muukkonen, & Toom, 2018). Theoretical literature links agency with student-centred approaches on learning, allowing an active role in forming personally meaningful learning environments (Bransford et al., 2006) and personalised and individualised education (Starkey, 2017). Research on university students’ agency experiences is needed to develop pedagogy and guidance practices that support students’ agentic action and development. Moreover, analysis is also needed of university courses as learning environments (e.g. in terms of pedagogy and tools for learning), from the view of practicing agency.
The authors (Jääskelä, Poikkeus et al., 2017; Jääskelä, Vasalampi et al., 2017) developed a model and a quantitative assessment instrument (the AUS Scale) defining university students’agency in higher education as “access to (and use of) resources for purposeful action in study contexts, i.e. personal, relational (i.e., interactional), and context-specific resources to engage in intentional and meaningful action and learning, as experienced or interpreted by students”. The instrument conceptualises agency as students’ perceptions of personal, relational and participatory resources and opportunities for practicing agency in the courses. Personal resources capture aspects of efficacy and competence beliefs. Relational factors comprise, in particular, power relations between the teacher and students, and experiences of trust and support in the learning situations. Participatory resources refer to factors such as teacher’s pedagogical choices, student interest, and available peer resources facilitating reciprocity and dialogue, and equal opportunities for participation, and making choices and influencing.
As far as we know, there are no comparative empirical studies on university student agency. The present study examines university students’ agency experiences in two countries: Finland and Spain. We are also interested in how the participatory structure of the courses, as perceived by students, contributes to students’ agency experiences. The following research questions were set:
- To which extent can a similar factor model of agency (e.g., equality of measurement structure) be identified among university students in Spain and Finland?
- How do Finnish and Spanish university students differ in their experiences of agency in their courses?
- To what extent are students’ agency experiences associated with student-perceived participatory structure (i.e, pedagogical implementation of instruction, student-teacher roles) of the courses?
The data were collected using the Agency of University Students (AUS) Scale (Jääskelä, Poikkeus et al., 2017; Jääskelä, Vasalampi et al. 2017). The developed AUS scale constitutes 11 dimensions and 58 items. Each dimension included three to seven items rated using a five-point Likert scale (1 = fully disagree, 2 = partly disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, 4 = partly agree and 5 = fully agree). In addition, students were asked to respond to two structured questions concerning the participatory structure of the course. First, they were asked to indicate using a four-point Likert scale (1 = not at all, 2 = rarely, 3 = sometimes and 4 = a lot) what forms of instruction were used in the course they attended. Second, they were asked to choose from multiple choices the alternative which best describes the type of student-teacher role (STR) (e.g., teacher-centred vs. student-centred learning) that they experienced in the course they participated. A total of 645 university students (270 of one Finnish university; 375 of one Spanish university), filled in the questionnaires at the end of their course. The respondents of both countries represented the same discipline (e.g., natural sciences, education, and humanities), subjects and contents as well as stage of their studies. In the first stage, multigroup CFA analysis was conducted to examine the measurement structure of student ratings of agency in the present data. The models were estimated using full information maximum likelihood with robust chi-square test value and robust standard errors (MLR estimator in Mplus statistical program). The few missing values were assumed to be missing at random (MAR). The equality of measurement structure was tested using scaled chi-square difference test. In the second stage, variables related to student-perceived participatory structure of the course were added to the measurement model to test the association with students’ agency experiences. Model fits were evaluated with chi-square test, comparative fit index (CFI), Tucker-Lewis index (TLI), root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) and standardized root mean square residuals (SRMR). The cut-off values for good fit for a model are non-significant chi-square test, greater than .95 for CFI and TLI, lower than .06 for RMSEA and lower than .08 for SRMR. Mean differences between the countries were examined using Cohen’s d (translating to mean difference divided with pooled standard deviation).
Measurement model was tested separately for 11 factors. In the first step, multigroup model were estimated without any constraint. In the second step, factor loadings were fixed to be equal between countries. In third step, factor loadings and intercepts of observed variables were fixed to be equal between countries. In fourth step, factor loadings, intercepts and residual variances of observed variables were fixed to be equal between countries. The models in the successive steps were tested using chi-square difference test. Evidence for at least partial invariance in factor loading was observed. Also partial invariance was found for intercept in many of the factors. Our preliminary findings indicated that Spanish students perceive lower competence beliefs (mean values varied from 3.14 to 4.01 for the single items) than Finnish counterparts (mean values varied from 3.72 to 4.27 for the single items) (Cohen’s d = .97). Also, Spanish students experienced lower trust for their teachers (mean values varied from 3.94 to 4.23 for single items) than Finnish students (mean values varied from 4.36 to 4.59 for single items) (Cohen’s d=.53). No differences between the countries emerged for experiences of interest and utility value, utility of peer resources and opportunities to influence. Based on our earlier research, we expect to find associations between students’ agency experiences and the student-perceived participatory structure of the course. This phase of the analysis will be finalised by the end of the conference. The study contributes to the development of measurement tools for assessing agency in higher education context and deepens understanding of the critical elements of participatory structure (e.g., pedagogical practices) in different cultural contexts.
Bransford, J. D., Vye, N. J., Stevens, R., Kuhl, P., Schwartz, D., Bell, P., Meltzoff, A., Barron, B., Pea, R., Reeves, B., Roschelle, J., & Sabelli, N. 2006. Learning theories and education: Toward a decade of synergy. In P. Alexander & P. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (Volume 2). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 209–244. Edwards, A. 2005. Relational Agency: Learning To Be a Resourceful Practitioner. International Journal of Educational Research 43 (3), 168–182. Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. 1998. What Is Agency? American Journal of Sociology 103 (4), 962–1023. Eteläpelto, A., Littleton, K., Lahti, J., & Wirtanen, S. 2005. Students’ Accounts of their Participation in an Intensive Long-Term Learning Community. International Journal of Educational Research 43 (3), 183–207. Eteläpelto, A., Vähäsantanen, K., Hökkä, P., & Paloniemi, S. 2013. What is agency? Conceptualizing professional agency at work. Educational Research Review 10, 45–65. Goller, M., & Paloniemi, S. (Eds.) 2017. Agency at work. Agentic perspective on professional learning and development. Professional and Practice-based Learning series. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. Hökkä, P., Vähäsantanen, K., & Mahlakaarto, S. 2017. Teacher educators’ collective professional agency and identity – Transforming marginality to strength. Teaching and Teacher Education 63, 36–46. Jääskelä, P., Poikkeus, A-M., Vasalampi, K., Valleala, U-M., & Rasku-Puttonen, H. 2017. Assessing agency of university students: Validation of the Agency of University Students Scale. Studies in Higher Education 42 (1), 2061–2079. Jääskelä, P., Vasalampi, K., Häkkinen, P., Poikkeus, A-M., & Rasku-Puttonen, H. 2017. Students’ agency experiences and perceived pedagogical quality in university courses, Paper presented in the network of Research in Higher Education, ECER 2017, 22 - 25 August, Copenhagen, Denmark. Lakkala, M., Ilomäki, L., Mikkonen, P., Muukkonen, H., & Toom, A. 2018. Evaluating the pedagogical quality of international summer courses in a university program. International Journal of Research Studies in Education 7, 89–104. Lipponen, L., & Kumpulainen, K. 2011. Acting as Accountable Authors: Creating Interactional Spaces for Agency Work in Teacher Education. Teaching and Teacher Education 27 (5), 812–819. Su, Y-H. 2011. The Constitution of Agency in Developing Lifelong Learning Ability: The ‘Being’ mode. Higher Education 62, 399–412. Starkey, L. 2017. Three dimensions of student-centred education: A framework for policy and practice. Critical Studies in Education, doi:10.1080/17508487.2017.1281829 Trede, F., Macklin, R., & Bridges, D. 2012. Professional identity development: a review of the higher education literature. Studies in Higher Education 37 (3), 365–384.
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