How many books do we have in our library?
How many citations do our academics pick up in an average year?
How many square meters are our classrooms and lecture halls – and how many learners do we manage to squeeze into each one? OK. That last one was a bit “mean” – but you would be amazed how many institutions still use it as a “quality indicator” – albeit under the nom de plume of “classroom utilisation figures”. Seriously! I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news – I feel I just simply have to “pop that little bubble”.
Engagement is closer to what Carl Rogers said of the “significant learning” we should all aim to produce in our learners:
……learning which is more than an accumulation of facts. It is learning which makes a difference – in the individual’s behaviour, in the course of action (s) he chooses in the future, in (her) his attitudes, and in (her) his personality.
I want to talk about learning. But not the lifeless, sterile, futile, quickly forgotten stuff that is crammed in to the mind of the poor helpless individual tied into (her) his seat by ironclad bonds of conformity! I am talking about LEARNING - the insatiable curiosity that drives the adolescent boy (girls) to absorb everything (she) he can see or hear or read about gasoline engines in order to improve the efficiency and speed of (her) his 'cruiser'.
I am talking about the student who says, "I am discovering, drawing in from the outside, and making that which is drawn in - a real part of me". I am talking about any learning in which the experience of the learner progresses along this line: "No, no, that's not what I want"; "Wait! This is closer to what I am interested in, what I need"; "Ah, here it is! Now I'm grasping and comprehending what I need and what I want to know!"Engagement is today seen as having two key components:
The amount of time and effort students put into their studies and other activities that lead to the experiences and outcomes that constitute student success
The ways in which an institution allocates its human and other resources and organises learning opportunities and services to encourage students to participate in and benefit from such activities. We, as teachers and educators, can have a direct and profound impact on the first of these – our institutions can do the same by putting learning at the heart of their decision-making processes. The bottom line is: the more engaged learners are, the better the chances that learning will take place. It always seemed to me that the best way to try and measure the level of student engagement is not to ask:
How many books are in the library?
Do your teachers and lecturers "teach" well? But rather questions like:
How many books have you read this month?
How much work do you do with other learners outside of class?
What types of real-world problem solving projects have you been assigned?
How often have you been on field trips to art exhibits or other cultural events?
Which are you required to do more of in class - memorise facts or analyse ideas?
How often do you teach or tutor other students – in or out of class?
How frequently do you use e-mail or other forms of social media to communicate with your teachers?
How often do you work with teachers and lecturers on activities other than coursework (community projects, school committees, college events, etc?Am I just being dumb? A dreamer, perhaps? No. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE - pronounced "nessie"), an annual questionnaire by Indiana University researchers, does just this – and MORE!