Creating a culture of student engagement

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TERESITA TANHUECO-TUMAPON

Part 2
WITH President Duterte having signed into law RA10931, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, providing for free tuition and other school fees in state and local universities as well as technical vocational institutions and corresponding scholarships in private HEIs, fellow educators would wish that there would be less college dropouts now. In last week’s column, we sought the latest statistics the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has on college dropouts. For 2003-20004, CHED’s Higher Education Statistical Bulletin, reports that “less than half of those who enter college/university reach senior year, resulting in an average survival rate of 49 percent. Only 3 out of every 5 students in the fourth year of study actually graduate within the senior year resulting in an average graduate rate of 61 percent. The overall completion rate therefore for the HE system is about 30 percent….<http://www.fnf.org.ph/downloadables/State%20of%20PH%20Higher%20Education.pdf> The more recent source is from the explanatory note to Senate Bill 3369 introduced by Sen. Edgardo J. Angara during the 15th Congress in 2012 which presented CHED data on HEI enrollees from 2001-2012 to have reached “2.56 million; the dropout rate reached an alarming 83.7 percent.” This means that 2.13 million are college dropouts. Annually, only half a million do graduate from college. <ph.news.yahoo.com/college-education-poor-students-090706071.html>

Student engagement defined. Educational literature tells us that dropping out of college is due not only to financial, personal or family problems. A lack of student engagement is, as well. What then is student engagement? A recent (February 2016) definition says that “student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.”
<http://edglossary.org/student-engagement/>. This definition implies that much as what instruction should be, it is not only from the mentor’s end nor of the curriculum but also of the total culture within the academic environment of students—which is the HEI itself. Student engagement shows when students are actively involving themselves in both curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities of their school. They are involved with the life of their institution. Their enthusiasm shows in their academic performance such as in licensure examinations and in broader forms of student engagement. “Illustrative examples include school-supported volunteer programs and community-service requirements (engaging students in public service and learning through public service), student organizing (engaging students in advocacy, community organizing, and constructive protest), and any number of potential student-led groups, forums, presentations, and events (engaging students in community leadership, public speaking, and other activities that contribute to ‘positive youth development’).”<https://www.coursehero.com/file/20345009/In-education/>.<edglossary.org/student-engagement/>.

Student engagement also means having a sense of belonging. As an institutional policy, and which compliance must be evident down to the smallest academic unit such as an academic department (history, sports, chemistry, etc.) or of an academic support (such as student services, libraries, guidance counselling, etc.)—all should “nurture a culture of belonging through the way they function and relate to people.”

<https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/what_works_summary_report_0.pdf>. A person who happily engages in an activity feels he/she belongs. Do these terms mean the same? Goodenow describes students “belonging in educational environments” as “students having a sense of being accepted, valued, included, and encouraged by others (teacher and peers) in the academic classroom setting and of feeling oneself to be an important part of the life and activity of the class. More than simple perceived liking or warmth,” such an environment “also involves support and respect for personal autonomy and for the student as an individual.”
(Goodenow 1993 p.25) <https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/whatworks _summary_report_0.pdf>.
Is there a fixed brand of student engagement? No specific recommendation, educationists note, can be preferred over another to foster student engagement. Situations vary from institution to institution considering the diversity in the mix of students, their parents and stakeholders and what they need and what they value.
Every institution would have its own brand of student engagement. One university would have student involvement more on academic matters such as a practice of having students participate in determining learning outcomes of a course enrolled in. Likely, if there is a mix of student background in a class, such as some of them are in business, others in education, etc., students would wish to have learning gains valuable to their respective fields of interests.

Fostering intellectual engagement. One practice is to have students participate in finalizing a syllabus. This gives them a sense of ownership of what they have to learn. I tried to spark student engagement through a negotiated syllabus. Negotiated, because I had my doctoral class in Intercultural Leadership and Global Perspectives participate in finalizing some parts of the syllabus such as Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), mode of assessment, references, etc. during the first session of the course.<www.ijonte.org/FileUpload/ks63207/File/04.ozturk.pdf>.Due to the students’ different backgrounds, interests and majors (human resource, business, education, information technology etc.) they had different preferences of SLOs as well as of global perspectives. Considering personal and professional interconnections of people, this mix of disciplines provided the students a window to what globalization is. We discussed what assessment requirements would best demonstrate their learning gains; specified which would be through essays and which, through a symposium. Such an exercise exemplifies intellectual engagement. It provides students cognitive involvement as well as a sense of social acceptance. In the 1990s, I did something similar with juniors in education majoring in literature. (Next week: evidence-based successful student engagement practices.)

Email: ttumapon@liiceo.edu.ph

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