Student engagement as a dynamic and multidimensional concept
Understanding academic engagement as a
multidimensional and dynamic concept: A case
study of the impact of classroom context factors on
primary school students' engagement
Master's Thesis in Education
Master's Degree program in Learning, Education and Technology
Learning requires engagement and investment of time
and effort from learners. The bigger amount of time
learners are engaged, the higher their achievement is
(Gettinger & Walter, 2012).
Main practical reason for studying engagement: increased
learning (Fredricks et al., 2004).
Student engagement at school predicts such outcomes as
students' academic conduct and emotions about school
and learning (Lam et al., 2012).
Interest is always engaging and motivating, but engagement does not
necessarily imply interest or motivation (Järvelä & Renninger, 2014).
Connell (1990) uses the construct “engagement versus disaffection”. According
to this viewpoint, engagement “is viewed as patterns of action reflecting
acceptance of and commitment to the goals of learning and successful school
performance. Disaffection is defined as patterns of action reflecting a lack of
commitment to these goals” (Connell, 1990, p. 87).
Three types of engagement: behavioral, cognitive, and emotional. They can
differ in their degree.
A lot of overlappings with concepts due to a big amount of research on how
students act, feel and think (Fredricks et al., 2004): problem in establishing
single taxonomy that would reflect all relevant aspects (Ainley, 2012).
Potential as a multidimensional concept: can give a complex picture of
students' perceptions of school (Fredricks et al., 2004)
Classification by Fredricks et al. (2004)
Aim and research questions
The main aim is to better understand the dynamics of individual students'
engagement in a real classroom context
Three major groups of factors are in the centre of attention: task
characteristics, interactions with a teacher, and interaction with peers
– Did students perceive iPads as increasing the attractiveness of the task, and how
did it influence engagement?
– How did students perceive the degree to which they were able to make choice
within the task, and how did it influence engagement?
– How did meaningfulness of the task for an individual student influence
– How did different types of interactions with the teacher (i.e., behavioral regulation,
additional instructions, and assistance) influence engagement?
– What strategies did students use to regulate each other's task engagement, and
how successful were they?
Primary teacher training school, Northern
English language classroom
11 pupils, 10-11 years old
1-month intervention, 6 lessons 45 minutes
Video observations, learning diaries, students'
Dynamic assessment: the main point is to capture
the changes of an individual’s motivation in
connection to the contextual changes, such as,
different periods of classroom activity. During
dynamic assessment such issues as a student’s
reactions to task difficulty, time pressure factors,
obstales and social feedback are taken into
account (Järvelä et al., 2001).
Video observations — central
On-task/off-task method: coding 10-seconds episodes
Based on previous research and own more detailed guidelines for coding
“On-task episode” is the phenomenon that implies student approaching a
task by “attending to the task or presenting task-focused nonverbal signs”
(Järvelä et al., 2008, p. 306).
“Off-task episode” means avoidance of a learning activity, such as “turning
away, approaching other students for telling jokes or other substitute
activities instead of learning” (Järvelä et al., 2008, p. 306).
Learning diaries and students' products — to support the analysis from
different perspectives, qualitative interpretation
Results: Question 1
Students thought iPad made tasks more fun
iPad initiated engagement by causing positive
emotions and situational interest
– Antti: I will take this, I will take this...
– Aleksi: Hey, hey, hey, look who is drawing first, yeah, I
will draw first!
– Jussi: Then me, then me, Aleksi, give it to me after that.
Results: Question 2
Tasks differed in the level of autonomy support
From video observations it was seen that students were eager to
make choices within the task
– Terhi (asking the teacher): With what program?
– Teacher: You can choose yourself with what program.
– Joni (asking the teacher): How many do I need to write?
– Teacher: As many as you find connected to your topic.
– Terhi (asking the teacher): Can I write to the fun part, for example,
– Teacher: Yes.
Results: Question 3
Tasks differed in the level of meaningfulness
Task at Lesson 4 — most meaningful
Results: Question 4
● Three types of interactions with the teacher:
– provision of additional instructions (e.g., answering
students' questions about the task)
– regulation of students' behavior in the group (e.g.,
telling individual students off)
– intensive assistance of an individual student or a
pair (i.e., fulfilling a task with students step by
step) (see Rogat & Linnenbrink-Garcia, 2011)
● Different effect on students' engagement
Results: Question 5
● Most part of students' attempts to regulate each others'
behavior were related to structuring the activity, mainly
by coordinating turn-taking and using task equipment
in a group/pair
– Petri: Close your books! Elina, close your book!
– Laura: You should let Elina draw. Next – to Elina...
● In case when own efforts to structure the activity in the
group were not sufficient, a student would draw the
teacher's attention in order for her to help structure the
– Ville: Aleksi is playing a fool...
– Anna: Antti doesn't begin to do...
Conclusions and discussion
Results go line with previous research findings
Strong sides: sought to establish the source of
engagement, authentic context, detailed
analysis, combination of data sources
Limitations: relatively small data set, limited
period of time — generalization of results is
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(Eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 283–302). New York: Springer.
Connell, J. P. (1990). Context, self, and action: A motivational analysis of self-system processes across the life-span. In D.
Cicchetti (Ed.), The self in transition: Infancy to childhood (pp. 61–97). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence.
Review of Educational Research, 1(74), 59–109.
Gettinger, M. & Walter, M. J. (2012). Classroom strategies to enhance academic engaged time. In S. L. Christenson, A. L.
Reschly & C. Wylie (Eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 653–673). New York: Springer.
Järvelä, S. & Renniger, K. A. (2014, in press). Designing for learning: Engagement, interest, and motivation. In K. Sawyer
(Ed.). Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.
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Lam, S., Wong, B. P. H., Yang, H., & Liu, Y. (2012). Understanding Student Engagement with a Contextual Model. In S. L.
Christenson, A. L. Reschly & C. Wylie (Eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 403–419). New York:
Rogat, T. K. & Linnenbrink-Garcia, L. (2011). Socially shared regulation in collaborative groups: An analysis of the interplay
between quality of social regulation and group processes. Cognition and Instruction, 29, 375–415.
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