Understanding student engagement as a multidimensional and dynamic concept
1University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Sciences and Teacher Education, Education
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|Persistent link:|| http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:oulu-201406191769
|Publish Date:|| 2014-06-23
|Thesis type:||Master's thesis
Growing interest in the sphere of student academic engagement can be explained by practical reasons. Engagement in school affects such aspects as academic conduct, achievement, and emotions experienced in school. Antecedents of student engagement may rise from school and classroom environment. Thus, ensuring availability of opportunities for engagement in classroom is likely to result in increased learning. Engagement is an extremely complicated phenomenon embracing students' emotional, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics. Engagement has a lot in common, but is different from such concepts as emotions, interest, and motivation. Theoretical framework of student engagement is also strongly interrelated with the theory of self-regulated learning. Due to a great amount of research studies about students' thinking, behaving and feeling it is difficult to single out specific portions of literature which could be labeled with the term “engagement”. However, in spite of problematic issues in the conceptual clarity, the concept of engagement has a potential as a metaconstruct which can provide us with a deeper understanding of students' learning than single constructs would do. Engagement may result from a great variety of antecedents, including individual needs, school-level factors, and classroom context. The theoretical part of this thesis provides a deep review of the educational context factors affecting student engagement discussed in research literature. The empirical part of the study is aimed at exploring classroom environment factors affecting dynamics of student engagement. Research questions are formulated around five specific factors from the classroom environment which are in the center of investigation: the attractiveness of a task for students (related to the use of iPads in tasks), task meaningfulness, autonomy support, interactions with the teacher, and peer regulation. An intervention was carried out with a sample of 11 fourth grade students (4 girls and 7 boys), 10-11 years old, in an authentic English language classroom. The intervention lasted one month, and included six lessons. At each of the lessons video observations were carried out. Video observations are the main source of data in this study, and they are complemented with learning diaries filled out by the students on each of the lessons, and individual products collected after one of the learning activities in order to ensure triangulation across data sources. The process-oriented approach for data analysis is adopted in the study. Student engagement is characterized with the help of on-task/off-task and phase-shift analysis method, and further analyzed in relation to the five specific factors of classroom environment. The results show that the research questions have been answered. The attractiveness of the task was increased with the use of iPads. Use of iPads caused positive emotions in students and situational interest in the task, which initiated task engagement. Meaningful tasks supporting students' autonomy by providing opportunity for choice turned out to be more engaging. Interactions with the teacher observed during the intervention were classified into three main types, each having a different effect on student engagement. Provision of additional instructions turned out to be the most effective type of interactions since it supported original engagement. Regulation of behavior by the teacher in most cases could only restore behavioral engagement. In addition, it was not always successful. Third type of teacher interference, assisting a student, resulted in a student's high dependence on the teacher. Analysis of peer interactions aimed at regulating peers' engagement shows that most types of such interactions were focused around the organization of work mainly from the point of view of turn-taking and using support materials. Attempts to regulate peers' behavior varied in the level of success. In some cases peer regulation was not enough, and a student had to draw the teacher's attention in order for her to help in regulation. A significant part of results goes in line with previous research findings described in the theoretical part of the thesis. The results of the study are also approached from the point of view of theoretical implications, as well as practical implications for teachers aimed at enhancing student engagement. The study is valuable since it provides an insight into the dynamics of student engagement in an authentic learning context. The reasons of individual students' engagement or disengagement are attached to specific contextual factors. Understanding what factors affect student engagement and how these different factors work in a real classroom context can help us design more effective learning environments.
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