Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

The Art and Science of Fostering Engaged Learning

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

The Art and Science of Fostering Engaged Learning

Article excerpt


Academic engagement is a meta-construct which integrates theories of learning and motivation into a useful model that extends our thinking about ways in which teaching and learning may be enhanced. Engagement has been recognized as a crucial issue in learning and academic success at the university level (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2006; Carnegie Curricular Engagement Classification, 2006), at the program level (AACSB International Standards 13 & 14, 2006), as well as at the individual student level (Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992). This concept is important because empirical evidence suggests engagement is related to critical thinking, persistence, grades (Carini, et al., 2006; Kuh et al., 2007), dropout rates (Ekstrom, et al.,1986), as well as binge drinking and drug abuse (Magna Publications, 2005). Representing a possible antidote for passive, disaffected students who rely on short-term surface learning strategies, display little personal initiative, and who lack enthusiasm for learning, engagement is thought to be responsive to environmental changes (Finn & Rock, 1997). Academically engaged students are characterized by positive conduct, class participation, involvement in the learning task, high effort and persistence, positive attitudes, and selfregulation of their learning. Thus, understanding how students think, feel, and behave in response to curricular interventions could provide guiding principles for creating engaging learning environments and developing more effective pedagogies.

This article reviews the definition and measurement of academic engagement and examines environmental antecedents that foster or discourage each of the dimensions of engagement. First, we present a literature review of academic engagement, in addition to an overview of the academic learning environment utilizing self-determination theory and Karasek's (1979) demand/control/support model of job context. Next, we explore the empirical relationships between environmental effects, engagement, and academic achievement by presenting a study utilizing secondary data collected at the university level. These findings lead to recommendations for developing learning environments and pedagogies designed to foster increased levels of engagement.


At the broadest level of academic engagement towards school, or education in general, both curricular and extra-curricular objects should be included and measured. However, when focusing on the classroom or on teaching interventions, specifying the relevant curricular object(s) of engagement is necessary for a clearer understanding of the primary effects on engagement and subsequently on learning. Therefore, curricular engagement refers to engagement towards targets or objects related to teaching and learning pedagogies; whereas, extra-curricular engagement refers to targets of engagement normally outside the classroom, such as student clubs, athletics, musical events, etc. The role extra-curricular engagement might play in the development of students' professional business capabilities is yet to be fully understood; however, findings reported by Peltier et al. (1995 & 2008) suggest significant opportunity for professional skill development. The focus of the secondary data analysis in this investigation is on the classroom aspect or curricular engagement as depicted in Figure 1, and therefore, we do not elaborate on extra-curricular engagement in this article.

Curricular engagement in school refers to the intensity and emotional quality of students' involvement in initiating and carrying out learning activities (Skinner, 1991). This definition incorporates two distinct perspectives recognizing both the affective or emotional component of engagement as well as the behavioral aspect of engagement. Affective engagement refers to students' emotional reactions towards the learning task, the content, and/or the learning context (Skinner & Belmont, 1993) as well as identification with school (Voelkl, 1997) and the liking or disliking of school (Epstein & McPartland, 1976). …

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