STUDENT INVOLVEMENT AND ENGAGEMENT IN THE UNDERGRADUATE LEARNING EXPERIENCE
Prince Sultan University - College for Women (SAUDI ARABIA)
Traditionally, undergraduate students were regarded as passive receptors of knowledge confined to classrooms or the library. This view is now completely rejected as it is widely believed that "the most important factor in student learning and personal development during college is student engagement," (Hu & Ku, 2002, p.555). It is this active participation in college life and activities, whether in class, on campus, or in the community, that helps improve the student's academic attainment and personal development, leading to higher student satisfaction and lower attrition rates.
To enhance the undergraduate student engagement, "institutions should focus on the ways they can shape their academic, interpersonal, and extracurricular offerings to encourage student engagement," (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005, p.2005). This can never happen with a single move or an individual initiative; it rather requires major changes to the culture of learning. The university mission and the whole learning environment must foster student involvement in purposeful educational academic and extra-curricular activities that promote interest, collaboration and active learning.
A useful outcomes-based assessment tool in this respect is the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), administered in hundreds of American and Canadian universities annually ever since 2000. The survey sets 5 main benchmarks for assessing student engagement; (1) level of academic challenge, (2) active and collaborative learning, (3) student interactions with the faculty, (4) enriching educational experience and (5) supportive campus environment. These five benchmarks place great demands on the college faculty who should view academic content as a springboard for further engagement opportunities. They thus need to adopt more cooperative and discovery-based learning methods, and set well-defined plans as to how the content will enhance student involvement in research-projects, community service, student organizations, etc.
The present paper aims to highlight the importance of student involvement and engagement to enhance the undergraduate learning experience. The first part of the paper presents a theoretical background to the topic, including definitions of key terms, review of relevant theories (e.g., Astin, 1993), and listing of numerous benefits for enhanced student engagement. The second part discusses different techniques and strategies to increase student engagement in college life in the light of the NSSE benchmarks. Reference is made to methods, projects and programs implemented in different academic disciplines.