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Digging beneath NSS data: what shapes student engagement? Paul Richter (and Sarah Walsh ) 1 December 2011. NSS 2010 at NU. 100 % to 48 % (Q22) . Student ‘engagement’ – part of the explanation?

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Digging beneath NSS data: what shapes student engagement?Paul Richter (and Sarah Walsh) December 2011

nss 2010 at nu
NSS 2010 at NU
  • 100% to 48%
  • (Q22)
  • Student ‘engagement’ – part of the explanation?
  • Literature: student retention; student success and development; academic achievement; general enrichment of the student experience
    • ‘satisfaction’?
the project an exploration of student engagement among ugs
the project: An Exploration of ‘student engagement’ among UGs
  • What?
  • Why?
  • How?
  • Findings
  • Reflections
  • Discussion
o bjectives
  • identify factors relating to (dis-) engagement from the student pov with a view to individual school and institutional learning
  • deepen understanding of the student experience (as well as the ‘good’/’bad’)
  • provide opportunity for students to articulate their voice
  • provide safe context for students to negotiate/debate issues
  • challenge students to make considered recommendations
  • reflect results back to schools
1 engaging via different learning modes
1. engaging via different learning modes
  • “After about one hour of lectures, everyone becomes ‘disengaged’!”
  • (applied science)




  • Blackboard /ReCap popular (esp. natural and medical science)
  • “He was absolutely brilliant. He let us actually do stuff, make stuff, make it work as [practitioners of the subject], instead of theory, theory, theory.”
  • “And he told us about what he was researching, which was interesting.”
    • (applied science)
  • “I think seminars would work a bit more because a lot of the time they try to incorporate that into the lectures, so we're sitting trying to learn and then at 9 o'clock in the morning the lecturer is, 'Right, what do you think about all this?' and nobody ever answers them and you feel a bit awkward”
    • (humanities)

I think it's really important on our course to do more hands on stuff to do with building, actually with our hands instead of just drawing details etc.

    • (humanities)

practice-based learning

  • lab-work
    • mixed experience of demonstrators
  • fieldtrips

They sort of make your degree seem more worthwhile…Obviously I'm learning [in lectures] but what am I actually paying for?

(natural science)

  • You have more connection with them because they are a lot younger and you can have a bit of a laugh as well as being serious with them.
  • (natural science)

It's great to see the lecturers having fun as well and they really get into it and you can tell it's what they love to do. And I think it's when you've got enthusiastic lecturers, you start getting really enthusiastic about it too.

(natural science)


how more relaxed we'd like it to be between the students and the tutors …and not having this formal thing. I think it's really important for your education because you can learn so much from them…and having discussions everyday…makes the School a happier place. (Agreement)

    • (humanities)

engaging with staff research

  • “[office hours are] a good idea because you feel like you're not inconveniencing them.
  • Yes, like you're not taking their time, it's specific.
  • You're not interfering in their research life
  • Facilitator: Do you feel that - that in some ways you might kind of interfere and that they have busy research lives…?
  • I do. (Agreement).
  • They don't make you feel like that though…
  • obviously a lot of them are research scientists as well as lecturers, as well as marking work, running labs, and so you do feel like, 'Should I email them? Should I make an appointment?' and you don't want to encroach on their time, but I mean, that's not a reflection of them at all.”
    • (natural science)

personal tutor system

  • often seen as quite poor (across subjects)
  • some sessions valuable if activity-oriented (appliedsciencetutor groups)
  • significance may depend on compensating structures?

socialising with staff

  • [our Society] does loads of things…and lecturers actually do involve themselves, and they're having a Ball, where some of the lecturers have actually bought tickets to that as well and there's secretaries as well in the student office [coming]…
    • (natural science)

3. engaging beyond the university

  • desire for engaging with practitioner guests
  • experiencing the real world of practice
  • ...a seminar led by someone in the profession…yeah, just a small group thing where you could ask them questions and stuff
    • (humanities)
  • “Just help with getting work experience, if there was only 40 [students] or whatever, surely it's not that hard to set up some contacts”
  • Facilitator: “So in your second year now, for example?”
  • “Yes.” (Agreement).
  • “We could even do one or two days a week or something. (Agreement).”
  • “They don't really pressure you into doing any formal work experience at all”
  • “Or internships.”
  • “Yes…if they were to promote it more, like, say that you should, then you would”
    • (humanities)

4. engaging with peers

  • union Societies
    • quite low involvement
  • social space
    • appreciated where exist / demanded where absent
  • senior peers
    • mentoring / ‘parenting’ schemes work well where exist

They look like us, they think like us and they're not that much older than us and they appreciate what you need to know…

(medical science)

  • I think it would be really good if we could encourage that, a stronger relationship between the years.
  • it's so vital because you learn [our subject] through experience and those little pieces of advice from the higher level years are completely vital to point you in the right direction
    • (humanities)

5. engaging with student feedback mechanisms

  • staff seen to be willing to listen to/act on student concerns
  • mixed success in modes of eliciting/giving feedback
    • innovative modes (e.g. wall-mounted sheets; focus group)
    • SSCs often less engaging
    • closing of feedback loop welcomed
    • relevance may depend on compensating structures?
  • altruism vs apathy
    • NSS not on their radar (now or on application)

it doesn't really directly affect us…only subsequent years so…you just think, 'Well why should we even bother complaining cos it’s not gonna change our experience…?'

(medical science)

even if they can't do it immediately…you know that it might occur a couple of years down the line and help the year below

(natural science)

characteristics influencing degree of student engagement
characteristics influencing degree of student engagement
  • feeling listened to
  • interesting lectures
  • quality VLE use
  • social activities with peers
  • ‘value for money’
  • ‘good’ staff-student relationship
  • supportive learning-oriented peer relationship
  • practice-oriented/‘hands on’ experiences
  • applies knowledge
  • increases confidence
  • valuable career experience
  • intimacy facilitates closer relationship (even nurturing)
  • relevant assessments
  • ‘value for money’
  • inspires teacher/practitioner passion = enthusiastic students
teacher practitioner student nexus implications
teacher/practitioner-student nexus: implications
  • good news for NU?
  • only vocational subjects?

findings question ‘myths’ about satisfaction factors

(high contact hours; small cohort size; strong identity)

  • Do these data aid triangulation from other sources?
  • Do findings facilitate action? (school engagement workshops well received)
  • Is the NSS an adequate measure of engagement? (NSSE?)