An Exploratory Study On Student Engagement Education Essay

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Research on higher education studies places emphasis on quality educational practices. This is especially true in a country such as Lebanon, which has experienced rapid growth in the number of institutes of higher education, and, in parallel, the number of university students. Engaging undergraduate students has been one major area of focus since research has shown engaging educational activities enhance the educational process and setting. Engaged students learn more material and learn it more effectively. Benchmarks and techniques have been established in order to engage the disengaged members of a student body. Training academic faculty and staff in the area of engagement, and the application of engaging techniques presents institutes of higher education with new possibilities for enhancing the quality of education. 116 Lebanese students completed an engagement survey in a preliminary study on variables which may correspond to levels of engagement. The study found that gender and years at university were significantly related to higher levels of engagement.

1 Introduction

According to Hu and Kuh [1] student engagement is the most important factor of higher education in terms of learning and development. They define engagement as the quality of student effort devoted to educationally purposeful activities. Their research has revealed that academic performance improves as a result of challenging goals in the classroom environment. They also found that students want to both find and master challenges in and out of the classroom environment. However, a great number of students do not believe they are being adequately challenged to meet their academic needs. Many students also report they are not participating in activities that are known to be engaging.

1.1 Student Disengagement

Research conducted at the University of California at Santa Barbara [2] showed an emerging "culture of disengagement." This is due to several societal factors. Flacks and Thomas[2] believe that, in an effort to accommodate higher numbers of students, scholastic quality has been compromised. The amount of time students spend studying and participating in on-campus activities has decreased as they spend more time working and socializing off campus. Students seemed to be less prepared academically when they start college courses; therefore they are unable to avail themselves of all the university experience has to offer. Consequently, they are less engaged [3].

Boyer [4] believed that higher education is increasingly a part of the problem of student disengagement as opposed to being a part of the solution. Some institutes of higher education have become places students are credentialed rather then fostered to address the problems of their societies. In order to facilitate the scholarship of engagement, academia must connect the rich resource of our students to the responsibility thereof and address the social, civic, and ethical problems of civilization. In doing so, the scholarship of engagement will show its worth and service to a worldwide audience [4].

1.2 Engagement

Current research and literature show student demographics, habits and interests have changed over time [5, 6, 7]. This new campus culture has led to changing student expectations as well. Students want to be challenged and they want to know that their instructor is available to them both in and out the classroom. Students prefer instructors that motivate them to engage with classroom content [8, 9].

Creating activities related to student habits would better engage students in classroom content. For example, Kuh [9] found that surfing the internet was the leisure activity which demonstrated the greatest increase from 1996 until 2001. Students also spent more time listening to music, and watching movies than in previous years. Institutes of Higher Education should accommodate the needs and expectations of these 'new' students. Emerging technology has necessitated the inclusion of interactivity, more involvement with the teacher as facilitator, and a greater emphasis on technology as a learning tool into traditional models of learning and course design. Educationally purposeful activities using information technology, such as emailing faculty or students about assignments, encouraged collaboration and increased contact with other students and faculty. Using information technology had a strong positive relationship with students' overall measure of engagement. [9]

An engaging classroom results in students engaged with classmates, instructor, and subject content. Additionally, faculty and student interaction seems to be a significant factor of quality student engagement and satisfaction. Studies have shown a positive correlation exists between engagement scores and faculty availability and access outside of class. [7, 6]

Hu and Kuh [1] found student engagement to be a function of the interaction of students and various institutional characteristics. Students who had more positive views of their college or university campus were more likely to have higher engagement scores [10].

Kuh and Hu [11] used data from the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ) database to compare undergraduate student experiences at research institutions and their counterparts in other college classifications. This study suggests that student engagement is varied among the different types of institutions. They found liberal arts colleges tended to score better in student engagement than other classifications of colleges. The variance of engaging institutions is related to the institution's mission rather than classification. The belief that small, private liberal arts colleges are more engaging institutions was not supported by the study[11]. However, liberal arts colleges consistently excel in the benchmarking for faculty-student interaction. It is presumed that since classes are smaller there is greater opportunity for faculty-student contact [7].

Defining institutional excellence is only successful in terms of the institution's effective educational practices or processes. The most important indicators of excellence, in the university setting, include quality and focus of instruction, faculty and peer interaction, writing experiences, and active involvement in course work. In an engaged university, the student is highly involved in the culture of the institute both in and out of the classroom. Increased engagement leads to increased acquisition of knowledge, skill development, and higher student graduation (retention) rates [12].

Pike and Kuh [13] compared first- and second-generation college students in levels of engagement and intelligence development. On average, first-generation college students were less engaged, and do not engage in activities associated with success in college, such as living on campus and participating in extra-curricular activities. Low levels of engagement are not related to intelligence but rather to being the first family member to attend college, financial hardships, or living at home. The groups found to be more engaged overall included students living on campus, females, minority students, and students planning to pursue advanced degrees. These students also reported greater perceived gains in their intellectual development and learning performance [13].

Engagement literature suggests that an engaging institutional environment positively affect learning productivity. These institutions not only attempt to engage students in class, but in college life, via social and civic organizations, intramural activities, sports events, and living in the campus community. The commitment to engaging students should be apparent in the institution's mission, vision, and philosophy. The members of the university faculty, staff, and administration must create an environment that engages students on campus and in the classroom [14].

1.3 Teaching in the classroom

If engagement is to be fostered and encouraged in the university setting, it is important to examine the learning environment instructors create. A study by Kuh [8] found that engaged students want prompt feedback. Teacher-student relationships of respect, as opposed to friendship, were also more conducive to learning [6, 7, 8].

One standard of teaching in institutes of higher education is lecturing. Few students possess this type of intelligence and therefore this method is not conducive to an engaging classroom environment. According to The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) annual reports students find methods, such as lecturing and note taking, to be less than engaging [6, 7].

Active learning is student learning via reading, writing, and participating in activities which apply learned concepts in an engaging manner [6, 7]. Engaging activities include class discussions, faculty and peer interactions, socialization in the college context, and interactive assignments [5, 6, 7].

Student affect, a mental and emotional reaction toward learning, demonstrates engagement. Cues, such as student questioning or cognitive or emotional excitement of learning concepts, are examples of positive student affect. Kuh [9] found students with higher levels of affect, displayed more engaging learning behaviors. Teachers who make eye contact, use gestures and humor, and personalize examples in class stimulate higher levels of student affect. Equally important were instructors who develop engaging, active learning while communicating high standards of expected academic performance. [15]

Research[14] shows teachers who are successful, as measured by student engagement in the classroom, create an interesting and engaging learning environment. Research also revealed that outstanding teachers employ many types of strategies and methodologies. No single technique or specific delivery methodology yielded a greater number or percentage of engaged students. [14]

Henning [16] reported improvement in engagement when there were open classroom discussions, creative questioning, and important and relevant material. One methodology to make course content interesting and relevant is called rhetoric skill. The instructor begins with a narrative open to discussion. The instructor then elicits a more conceptual understanding of the topic as student participation increases. Students are encouraged to actively participate in debate and inquiry until they control the discussion. [16]

Similarly, Socratic questioning and responding deepens understanding of concepts that encourage student engagement. Effective teachers create a 'natural' learning environment where students feel safe to express their opinions in a nonjudgmental, unbiased atmosphere. Engagement also increases when students work collaboratively to solve problems. Finally, teachers who create diverse learning experiences will have more engaged and interested students overall [10].

Regardless of methodology, it is important for teachers to emphasize clarity and important points, use relevant examples, and speak intelligibly. To create highly engaged students, teachers must be aware of, and use, many teaching strategies. They should teach from within and become equal participants in the learning process. [17]

2 The case of Lebanon

Opportunities for higher education in Lebanon today have reached levels unparalleled in Lebanese history. The first institutes of higher education in Lebanon were the American University of Beirut (formerly the Syrian Protestant College), founded in 1866 and Saint Joseph University, founded in 1875. It wasn't until 1953 that the public university, Lebanese University, was opened. [18] A private university education at that time was only for the elite.

After the Lebanese civil war came to an end, and the country began to stabilize, the demand for higher education began to grow. In 1996 the Ministry of Higher Education [18] set new licensing regulations for institutes of higher education. By 2000, 23 institutions (referred to as new universities) had been established. Lebanon currently boasts 41 institutes of higher education [19]. These are divided into 1 public university, 26 private universities, 7 university institutes, 3 university institutes of technology and 4 university institutes for religious studies. [18]

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics [20] released a set of gross enrollment ratios on education in Lebanon from in 2008. This shows that more and more females are continuing into higher education. By 2008, 52% of tertiary age students were in tertiary education (46-male: 57-females) [20]. Quantity was not the equivalent of quality, and only 7 of Lebanon's universities were labeled as excellent [21].

Lebanon is currently facing a restructuring in the area of higher education. In order to maintain its role as a leader of excellence in education in the Middle East, institutes of higher education must focus on the quality of their students as opposed to the quantity[21]. Quality assurance programs have become critical to Lebanese academics and educational institutes. The Trans-European Mobility Scheme for University Studies (TEMPUS) project, Quality Assurance for Higher Education in Lebanon (QAHEL) is one example. This project is to raise awareness of European models of quality in higher education among Lebanese higher education institutions. [19]

3 The Study

The questionnaire was established by Ahlfeldt, Mehta and Sellnow [17] in their research studies of classroom engagement. The questionnaire was proven in their research as both a valid and reliable measure of engagement with an alpha reliability of 0.84. Therefore the researchers felt that this was an appropriate tool of measure for levels of engagement in MUBS classrooms.

3.1Research Questions

Are females more engaged than males?

Are students who self reported higher GPAs more engaged than those with lower GPAs?

Does age play a role in level of engagement?

Does the level of student engagement differ according to the number of years at university?

3.2 Sample

The researchers administered the questionnaire to 116 English communication skills students at The Modern University for Business and Science (MUBS). MUBS, a 'new' university, was established in 2000 and strives to maintain a quality oriented institute of higher education, in a highly competitive market.

In order to establish equal representation in the sample, in terms of the variables tested (gender, GPA, age and years at university), and the majors available at the university, the questionnaire was administered during English communication skills classes during the 1st week of the spring 2010 semester.

MUBS doesn't offer a English as a major of study at the university. English communication skills courses are general requirements for all M.U.B.S students, regardless of major, when their language of instruction is English.

4. Results

Correlations were run on the variables which were supposed to affect student levels of engagement. These variables were gender, self reported GPA scores, age and years at university.

The relationship between gender and engagement was assessed using a paired-samples T-test. A significant relationship was found in the relationship between gender and student perceptions of engagement. On average females showed significantly greater levels of engagement, (F = 79.029, SE 1.428), than males (M= 70.407, SE 1.502), t (116) = -66.162, p<.001, r = .987.

In order to assess the relationship between age and engagement, a bivariate correlation was used. There was no significant relationship between the age of students and engagement, r = -.069, p (one-tailed) >.05.

In order to assess the relationship between self reported GPAs and engagement, a bivariate correlation was used. There was no significant relationship between the self reported GPAs of students and engagement, r = -.072, p (one-tailed) >.05.

In order to assess the relationship between years at university and engagement, a bivariate correlation was used. There was a significant relationship between years spent at the university and engagement, r = .243, p (one-tailed) <.01.

5. Conclusions:

The research on MUBS students coincided with the literature on student engagement. Female and senior students were found to be more engaged than their peers. Age and GPA showed no significant correlations to levels of student engagement. This could be true for a number of factors. First of all women in Lebanon are slowly working to close the gender gap. Yet they may still feel they have to work twice as hard as men to succeed. The other factor which may explain higher engagement among women is directly related to stressors of society. In general there is the notion that girls can't go out as often or stay out as late as boys. Boys are allowed to 'be bad' while girls must be angelic in behavior. These ideas may transfer over into the academic arena. With boys who don't mind achieving less since they are not held accountable. A 'boys will be boys' mentality.

In terms of senior student engagement levels, these students are not older and wiser, but rather have more university experience. They know what their teachers expect and meet those expectations readily. Seniors take part in more major courses, are assigned a senior project, and are closer to completing their education and entering the 'real world'. As they race towards graduation they are pushing harder to ensure they graduate on time. This includes a stipulation at the university of a minimum Accumulative GPA of 2.0 in order to graduate. Such factors may account for higher levels of engagement in senior students.

One interesting factor was noted on 3 separate questionnaires from the Damour branch. 3 students added notes to their questionnaires. These notes stated that the only time they completed these activities (activities of engagement) was during English sessions. This might be beneficial to future MUBS engagement research.

5. Limitations of the Study and Implications for Future Research

The questionnaire was administered in order to complete a preliminary study on student engagement at MUBS. In order for a total quality initiative to take place the class room questionnaire should perhaps be replaced with an NSSE questionnaire. A larger sample size should be tested.

Also, Damour students take classes before 2 p.m, in the Hamra branch many courses begin after 2 and some classes continue until 7 or 8 p.m. This study does not take this into consideration.

Previous studies on students have shown that the proportion of different religions at MUBS is not representative of a Lebanese sample. This is another limitation to the study.

Another factor not tested for, but which may have affected the outcomes, is the idea of urban vs. rural student. Many of the students at MUBS live in villages and travel to university in the city and then back up to their villages in the mountains. They are 'country' folk. This may also have skewed the results.

There are also key variables the literature focuses on, and institutional characteristics which may be relevant to the MUBS study. Some of these are number of credits, branch of university, am-pm classes, first generation college student, socio-economic status, religion, choice of major and transfer students.