Student Engagement and Why It Matters, Part III

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johnsonBy Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

Why does student engagement matter? Is it important that your students are doing well in your class and highly involved in the class? Consider the definition of engagement from the first entry in this series. Engagement is an action-based state that consists of the time, energy, and effort that the student devotes to his or her class. When adults experience engagement in what they are doing they are devoting their full attention to the task and they are enthusiastically involved, highly interested, and experiencing positive emotions. The instructor’s role in student engagement was also considered and the following was noted: The instructor’s level of engagement has a direct impact on a student’s level of engagement. A student who believes their instructor is present in his or her class will be more active and engaged in the class as well.

The second blog entry in this series considered student engagement within an online classroom environment. This is an important consideration for online adjuncts as the physical observations are absent and instructors learn to gauge involvement in the class through the class discussion postings and work product submitted. Two methods of encouraging student engagement were discussed and included developing positive interactions and making learning relevant. In this third and final blog for this series there will be additional methods provided for encouraging student engagement and the initial questions posed within the first blog will be examined.

Encouraging Student Engagement

Conduct a Learning Activity Check-Up
Tristan de Frondeville notes that “although it may take years to develop the repertoire of skills and lessons that enable you to permanently create this active-learning environment, you can begin by discerning which activities truly engage your students.” If a learning activity does not generate students’ interest then it’s time to consider revising or eliminating that activity. While it’s not possible to create excitement and enthusiasm for every class activity and assignment it is important to consider if the activities are busy work or something relevant to the learning objectives and have a potential to enhance the process of learning.

Demonstrate Engagement for Your Students
It is possible to model active engagement in the class with daily participation postings, availability to address questions and concerns, and frequent communication. Chris Palmer believes that instructors should “convey your passion and enthusiasm for the subject” and as a result “when students see their professor’s passion, they want to participate.” In a traditional classroom environment students physically observe their instructor’s involvement in the class, along with their enthusiasm and passion. For the online classroom those characteristics are demonstrated through discussion boards and written communication.

Other Factors Related to Student Engagement
Adam Fletcher has conducted a literature review of this topic and listed “five indicators for student engagement in college,” which include “the level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching education experiences and a supportive learning environment.” One method of addressing this list of indicators is to allow students to make choices concerning their assignments or involvement with the class as a means of encouraging them to feel that they had a choice in their level of engagement. For example, students could receive a list of possible topics for an assignment and choose one that is of interest to them. Another method of connecting with students in a way that encourages engagement is to provide written feedback each week about the student’s overall progress and discuss specific resources that address their developmental needs.

Answering the Questions
Let’s consider the questions asked in the first blog for this series. Does active involvement equal engagement? Engagement is an action-based state. If the students are actively involved in the class through their participation in discussions and the submission of assignments that demonstrate progress throughout the class it is likely that instructors will view this level of involvement as engagement in the class.

What does student engagement mean to you and to your class? Instructors have the ability to influence student engagement in the class by providing support and guidance, being actively present in the class, developing meaningful interactions, and demonstrating engagement through their participation, passion, and enthusiasm. The goal is to create a learning environment that encourages students to be involved. Next week the subject of student motivation will be explored, along with its connection to the subject of engagement. Students who are highly motivated to participate in the learning process are likely to also be engaged in the class.

About the Mentor: Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a Ph.D. in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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