In addition to curriculum shifts, educators are consumed by the desire to improve student engagement. Previously, educators deemed a student as ‘engaged’ if they showed up to class on time and sat quietly through a lesson listening intently to the teachers every word. A new study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh explored the notion of student engagement using much different criteria than previous studies. measuring student engagement, this study looked well beyond completed assignments and attendance. Instead, this study focused on data points like emotional and cognitive involvement with course material in addition to the more traditional units of measure. By focusing on these elements, researchers were able to paint a much clearer picture of what student engagement is and how teachers can improve student engagement in the classroom.

“When we talk about student engagement, we tend to talk only about student behavior,” Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor of psychology in education in the School of Education and of psychology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences at Pitt, said in a statement. “But my coauthor and I feel like that doesn’t tell us the whole story. Emotion and cognition are also very important.”

Coauthored by Jacquelynne S. Eccles of the University of Michigan, the researchers have put together the first pieces of empirical research that link a student’s perceptions of the school environment with behavior.

The results suggest that student engagement is malleable, and can be improved by promoting a positive school environment. The researchers say this could pave the way future work to offer educators a diagnostic tool for recognizing disengagement as well as strategies for improvement.

“Enhancing student engagement has been identified as the key to addressing problems of low achievement, high levels of student misbehavior, alienation, and high dropout rates,” Wang said.

According to the authors, students who felt that the subject matter being taught and the activities provided by their teachers were meaningful and related to their goals were more emotionally and cognitively engaged than were their peers.

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