22 SES 09 C, Support and Feedback in Teaching and Learning
Student engagement in Higher Education (HE) is a major concern since it is positively related to academic success (Baron & Corbyn, 2012) and student retention (Hu, 2010). The research on the subject follows different trends which may vary according to the reality of HE in each country (Zepke, 2015). In Spain, it mainly explores the positive effects of active methodologies or the introduction of information and communication technologies in class (Catalán Martínez & Aparicio de Castro, 2017).
Many British studies on student engagement in HE focus on student voice. A growing number of students in British HE institutions have already gone through student engagement or student voice activities at school (Robinson, 2012) and some say that the original views on student-centred education have become colonised by government and institutional policies ‘in forms of “student voice” practice as determined by everyone other than the actual student’ (Seale, Gibson, Haynes & Potter, 2015, p.547). Though some criticize the lack of democracy of HE institutions that would only listen to the students that share the values of the institution, some universities are trying to involve students in processes such as training staff, designing curricula and resources and writing examination questions (Robinson, 2012).
Several studies rely on students’ self-reports to assess student engagement which is commonly defined as the amount of participation in educationally sound activities (Kuh, 2003), but the students are rarely asked about what student engagement is. Besides, student engagement may vary according to the teacher’s ideological basis (Gourlay, 2015): a quiet student may seem engaged for some teachers, but too passive for others. Zepke, Leach and Butler (2014) compared teachers’ and students’ perceptions about how important nine selected teachers’ behaviours were in engaging students. Among the differences between teachers and students’ perceptions, students rated “teachers being enthusiastic about their subject” higher than teachers.
Many authors (McInerney, 2009; Smyth, 2006; Zyngier, 2008) share the idea that students’ engagement in school is something that teachers and students generate together, a two-way relationship that changes both altogether. In HE, many studies search for a correlation between good teaching practices and student engagement mentioning teacher competencies (Almarghani & Mijatovic, 2017) and instructional style (Quin, 2017), but also teacher-student relationships (McMahon, Harwood & Hickey-Moody, 2016), teacher’s affective support, care and interpersonal style (Quin, 2017). Richards and Richards (2013) explored the trust relationship between students and teachers finding that the students were constantly reading the emotional engagement of the teacher and adjusting their participation to that. Despite the importance of the teacher-student relationship in student engagement, it is hard to find studies that explicitly define teacher engagement and relate it to student engagement in HE.
This work presents the first results of a research carried on by an interdisciplinary innovative teaching group of the University of Barcelona (Indaga-t) regarding their students’ views on student and teacher engagement in HE. Our research built on the following assumptionsand hypothesis: a) HE students should be heard not as quality control, but as active partners that build a pedagogical relationship with the teacher; b) HE students can help teachers understand forms of engagement that are invisible to them; c) student engagement is deeply connected to the relationship established with the teacher and the perceived teacher engagement; d) students’ definitions of student and teacher engagement may vary according to the degree they are studying.
Since we have an interdisciplinary innovative teaching group, students from the degrees of Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Social Education and Education participated in this study. This situation allowed us to reflect upon whether students’ backgrounds could influence their understanding of student and teacher engagement. The main goals of our research were: 1) explore the students’ definitions of student and teacher engagement, 2) put in relation both definitions, 3) compare both definitions according to the students’ different degrees. We started our research with a pilot group or 31 students of a course on Diagnosis and Counselling in Education. They worked in small groups to: a) define student and teacher engagement, b) reflect upon the possible causes of student engagement and how it may vary according to the established pedagogical relationship and c) define how much student engagement would be visible to the teacher. Based on the results of this group, we decided to use only two questions with the other six groups. The participants were 185 students from the following courses: Psychology of Art, Contemporary Visualities, Expressions of Contemporary Culture, Disability and Mental Health and Teaching and Learning in the Digital Society (2 groups). They were invited to participate in an open conversation around these questions: What is an engaged student? What is an engaged teacher? As we tried to reinforce the spontaneity of the situation, they were not given any additional information to place or contextualize the notion of engagement. In doing so, we tried to bring out the conceptions that students had about the notion of engagement in an open way. The conversations were registered by a student of each group. The contents of the conversations were separated into two great categories: student engagement and teacher engagement. For each category of each group, different statements about student or teacher engagement were identified and categorised according to their emphasis on formal aspects of teaching and learning, relationships, personal affection and characteristics and going beyond the normative aspects of teaching and learning.
Some of the students’ definitions of student engagement emphasized the amount of effort and confirmed the orthodoxy of student engagement (Gourlay, 2015): it must be visible to the teacher and coherent with his or her expectations. Thus, the engaged student comes to class, reads the recommended texts, delivers the required tasks, puts effort, participates in class, learns and helps to create a good learning environment in class. Other definitions of student engagement stressed going beyond such orthodoxy but still highlighting the labour. They underscored the personal commitment of the students beyond the class: personal reflection at home, engagement in the university as a whole or debating a subject outside the class. Some students mentioned the relationships established with other students and questioning what is given as signs of engagement. The invisible (to the teacher) aspects of engagement were mentioned in how each student is personally affected by the subjects. The definitions of teacher engagement emphasized the transmission of enthusiasm and passion in what is taught, attention to the personal characteristics of each students and implementation of dynamic classes. Similar to the definitions of student engagement, teacher engagement also means going beyond the normative classes: thinking about the students at home, being available for the students outside the class or adapting the curriculum to the students’ interests. Some students also associated the excess of authority or the lack of humility of the teacher to a lack of teacher engagement. The differences in the definitions between the different groups of participant students have not been fully analysed yet, but the discrepancies are more noticeable in the following aspects: favouring dynamic situations, emphasizing the relational character of engagement and the connection between the inside and the outside of the university.
Almarghani, E. M. & Mijatovic, I. (2017). Factors affecting student engagement in HEIs – it is all about good teaching. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(8), 940-956. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2017.1319808 Baron, P. & Corbin, L. (2012) Student engagement: rhetoric and reality. Higher Education Research & Development, 31:6, 759-772, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2012.655711 Catalán Martínez, E. & Aparicio de Castro, G. (2017). Interpretation of the “Student Engagement” paradigm in Spain (a bibliometric review). Centro de Estudios Financieros, 6, 49-60. Gourlay, L. (2015). ‘Student engagement’ and the tyranny of participation. Teaching in Higher Education, 20(4), 402-411. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2015.1020784 Hu, S. (2010). Reconsidering the Relationship Between Student Engagement and Persistence in College. Innovative Higher Education, 36, 97–106 DOI 10.1007/s10755-010-9158-4 Kuh, G. D. (2003). What we’re learning about student engagement from NSSE. Change 35(2): 24--32. McInerney, P. (2009). Toward a critical pedagogy of engagement for alienated youth: insights from Freire and school-based research. Critical Studies in Education, 50(1), 23-35. DOI: 10.1080/17508480802526637 McMahon, S., Harwood, V. & Hickey-Moody, A. (2016). ‘Students that just hate school wouldn’t go’: educationally disengaged and disadvantaged young people’s talk about university education, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37:8, 1109-1128. DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2015.1014546 Quin, D. (2017). Longitudinal and Contextual Associations Between Teacher–Student Relationships and Student Engagement: A Systematic Review. Review of Educational Research, 87(2), 345-387. DOI: 10.3102/0034654316669434 Richards, R. W. & Richards, L. M. (2013). Sponges do not make their own water: student engagement through dialogue and the development of reflective consciousness, Reflective Practice, 14:6, 774-786, DOI: 10.1080/14623943.2013.836083 Robinson, C. (2012). Student engagement. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 4:2, 94-108 DOI: 10.1108/17581181211273039 Seale, J., Gibson, S., Haynes, J. & Potter, A. (2015) Power and resistance: Reflections on the rhetoric and reality of using participatory methods to promote student voice and engagement in higher education, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 39:4, 534-552, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2014.938264 Smyth, J. (2006). ‘When students have power’: student engagement, student voice, and the possibilities for school reform around ‘dropping out’ of school. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 9(4), 285-298. DOI: 10.1080/13603120600894232 Zepke, N. (2015). What future for student engagement in neo-liberal times? Higher Education, 69, 693-704. Zepke, N. Leach, L. & Butler, P. (2014) Student engagement: students' and teachers' perceptions. Higher Education Research & Development, 33:2, 386-398, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2013.832160 Zyngier, D. (2008). (Re)conceptualising student engagement: doing education not doing time. Teaching and teacher education, 24(7), 1765-1776. DOI: 10.1016/j.tate.2007.09.004
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