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Engagement in teaching and Learning is it enhanced by the F-Factors?

Christine Challen

We are all familiar with the term engagement when couples become betrothed but recently along with facilitated and flipped learning it has become another “buzz word” in education. More worryingly is the idea that “engagement appears to be a false prophet of education increasingly seen as the goal itself” @profDanielMuijs, in particular it can be a defining factor in determining observation grades possibly because “it is easier to observe than learning.”

Examples of my own feedback include not enough engagement, too much tutor led teaching. I brace myself and bravely ask the observer what they mean. A vague response follows along the lines of “the students were not busy or involved in their learning” not enough “facilitated learning” by which time my blood has reached boiling point!

So does student engagement equate to being busy or is there more to it than this?

How do we enhance engagement?

Last but by no means least how do we know students are engaged?

It is easy to define engagement as an activity where students are occupied throughout a lesson. However that is an oversimplification and I agree with the recent views of Lofthouse (2016) where she states that “we need to improve our definition of engagement as it’s not the same as keep busy or show an interest” so how do we prove this!

There is much debate as what student engagement is and it’s an important topic in higher education (HE). The present financial climate where student entry numbers, retention, marketing and institutional quality are all driven by levels of student engagement means it needs to be revisited and strategies devised to enhance it and fast!

Astin (1984) defined student engagement as “the amount of physical and psychological energy a student devotes to their academic experience.” However now with it directly linked to institutional quality, student engagement needs to also include “approaches to learning allow both surface and deep.” Holmes (2016)

So how can we do this?

I have always followed the ARCS principal when trying to encourage student engagement



C-Confidence and autonomy


Similar strategies are also supported by in addition to embracing collaborative learning and establishing positive student-teacher relationships. However the idea of social/collaborative learning is not new as it reflects the ideologies of the social development theory. The real impact of this has recently been shown in Kalanathi’s book where he states that “human knowledge is never contained in one person it grows from relationships we create between each other,” further it highlights how much he valued social learning and the power of language in building trust. Trust like respect is earned and its focus in leadership and education is well documented. Therefore if this can be part of a students’ learning journey then we as educators are not only engaging academically but pastorally and preparing them for employability and leadership roles in society.

All good stuff!

However in addition to such invaluable techniques student engagement is also linked to “two important metrics in learning: student satisfaction and the quality of the student experience.”

This can be achieved through “careful curriculum design,” I have found using “real time” case studies eg Mr Terrified’s Molar Extraction to help teach carbohydrate metabolism is an excellent proven way of engaging students. My mentor’s feedback comments included “Good engaging activities planned to motivate learners.”

The advantage of using these to enhance engagement is that they “encourage students to think and take a position” through promoting higher order, deep thinking and discussions embracing social learning. They also provide an easy way of formative assessment.

Other strategies include flipped and facilitated learning, flipped at its simplest is “video lectures are viewed at home and class time is devoted to exercises or discussions,”  facilitated is “hands off teaching guiding or steering students as they learn.” Culshaw (2016). However while these approaches sound simple in theory both face huge challenges practically. Flipped learning depends on students having internet access and motivation, while in my view effective facilitated learning is a fine balance between tutor led and student directed.

So the fifty million dollar question is how do we know students are engaged?

Johnson  gives us some indicators including “reading critically, planning & debating,” certainly not just keeping busy or showing an interest!

So while case studies along with the f-factors do enhance engagement further research and careful curriculum planning needs to be done to fully make us aware of what and how to enhance and show engagement the end is not yet nigh!


Astin, AW (1999) Student Involvement: A developmental Theory for Higher Education. Journal of college Student Development 40(5):518-529 {accessed 01/04/16}

Kalinithi,P (2016) When breath becomes air {accessed 01/04/16}