An Investigation of Personal Facilitators of Student Engagement in a Higher Education Context

Vardal Ocaklı Ş., Ok A.

EERA-ECER2020, Glasgow, United Kingdom, 23 - 28 August 2020

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Unpublished
  • City: Glasgow
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


ID: 404

22. Research in Higher Education


Alternative EERA Network: 31. Language and Education Network

Topics: None of these topics seems appropriate for my research.

Keywords: Student engagement, higher education, student engagement in foreign language education, facilitators of student engagement

(2020 ID: 404) An Investigation of Personal Facilitators of Student Engagement in a Higher Education Context

Şermin Vardal Ocaklı1, Ahmet Ok2

1Ankara University, Turkey; 2Middle East Technical University, Turkey

Presenting Author: Vardal Ocaklı, Şermin

Since its first introduction in the 1980s, researchers have attributed different meanings to the concept of student engagement and expressed

different views about its multi-dimensionality. However, the mostly agreed definition is the one that refers to student active participation at

school tasks/activities and embodies three sub-dimensions: behavioural, affective, and cognitive engagement (Appleton, Christenson, Kim, &

Reschly, 2006; Fredericks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Skinner & Pitzer, 2012; Svalberg, 2009).

The first serious discussions on the role of student engagement in education emerged during the late 1980s. Until 2004, engagement was

approached as a remedy to student withdrawal and dropout by various researchers (e.g. Finn, 1989; Connell & Wellborn, 1991). Several

theoretical models were proposed as a way to strengthen the bond between marginal students and school life. However, in 2004, National

Research Council & Institute of Medicine expanded the scope of the concept by approaching student engagement as a requirement for all

learners. Such a change in the perspective inspired various other researchers and paved the way for a more detailed investigation of student

engagement (e.g. Appleton et al., 2006; Skinner, Furrer, Marchand, & Kindermann, 2008; Skinner & Pitzer, 2012).

As the interest on this issue increased, research on student engagement correspondingly gained momentum in the field of language education

(e.g. Dörnyei, 2019; Ellis, 2010; Norton, 2008; Svalberg, 2009). However, studies on this subject were mostly limited to the impact of

engagement on second language education, so its role in foreign language classrooms remained unclear. Besides, researchers mainly focused

on the analysis of its indicators and showed a tendency to make a connection between the indicators and the outcomes of engagement, which

was found questionable by some other researchers (e.g. Sachs & Polio, 2007). Most importantly, there existed an ambiguity about the meaning

of terms ‘facilitator’, ‘indicator’, and ‘outcome’ in the language education literature, which adversely affected the interpretation of the research


After all these observations, it was concluded that more investigation was needed to understand the nature of student engagement in foreign

language classrooms, and as a result, this study was designed to understand how well personal facilitators of student engagement predict

English language learners’ performance in the TOEFL ITP exam, controlling for the student status (new vs repeat student) and the number of

TOEFL ITP exam taken after university enrolment.

As the theoretical framework, the engagement model of Skinner and Pitzer (2012) was preferred, and the personal facilitators of engagement

were investigated in line with the principles of this model. Inspired by their approach, throughout the study, students’ sense of belongingness

was regarded as the facilitator of affective engagement, whereas student self-efficacy and language learning autonomy were considered as the

facilitators of cognitive engagement. Different from their model, language learning strategy use was added to the study as one of the facilitators

of cognitive engagement. In addition to all these, students’ TOEFL ITP scores were secured as their language proficiency score.

Unfortunately, despite all efforts to date, student engagement is still one of the biggest challenges in the 21st century classrooms, which makes

this study more relevant and significant. The investigation of the domain-specific features of student engagement is believed to offer valuable

insight to foreign language education. In addition, providing guidance about the facilitators to (foreign language) teachers, (language) curriculum

designers and (language) teacher education programs and offering them some ways about how to minimize potential risks such as poor

academic performance or life-long resistance to language learning are considered as significant practical contributions.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used

The purpose of the study was to investigate the relevance of student engagement to foreign language learning and achievement. Two research

questions were addressed throughout the study: a) How well does sense of belongingness (the personal facilitator of affective engagement)

predict English language learners’ performance in the TOEFL ITP exam, controlling for the student status and the number of TOEFL ITP exam

taken after university enrolment?, b) How well do self-efficacy, language learning strategy use, and language learning autonomy (the personal

facilitators of cognitive engagement) predict English language learners’ performance in the TOEFL ITP exam, controlling for the student status

and the number of TOEFL ITP exam taken after university enrolment?

In this correlational research, students’ Listening Comprehension (LC), Structure and Written Expression (SWE), and Reading Comprehension

(RC) score in the TOEFL ITP exam were considered as the dependent variables of the study, whereas students’ sense of belongingness

(perceived pedagogical caring, identification with the school), self-efficacy (self-efficacy for receptive skills, self-efficacy for productive skills),

language learning strategy use (planning and organizing the language learning process, monitoring the language learning process, elaborating

on new knowledge), and language learning autonomy (taking responsibility of language learning, associating the language with real life, taking

part in language learning activities) served as the independent variables. In addition, the number of TOEFL ITP exam taken after university

enrolment and the student status (new vs repeat student) were controlled.

All students at the English language preparatory classes of private universities in Ankara, Turkey were regarded as the target population, and

165 students studying at a private university in Ankara participated in the study. The data required were gathered through a demographic

information form and four different scales, which were all piloted and analyzed through exploratory factor analysis: (1) Sense of University

Belonging Scale,

(2) English Self-Efficacy Scale, (3) Language Learner Autonomy Scale, and (4) Language Learning Strategy Use Scale. As the analysis

method, hierarchical multiple regression analysis was preferred, and the alpha was set at .05. Prior to the analysis, the adequateness of the

sample size was checked through the formula N>50 + 8k, where k stands for the number of predictors (Green, 1991). Later, the intercorrelations

between the variables for multicollinearity together with the other necessary assumptions were checked. For each research question, three

different hierarchical analyses were run, and in the first step of each analysis, confounding variables were controlled.

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings

To understand whether personal facilitators of engagement predicted student performance in LC, SWE, and RC parts of the TOEFL ITP exam,

six different hierarchical analyses (three for each research question) were conducted. In the first step of each analysis, confounding variables

were entered, and the results indicated a significant relationship between the first model and all outcome variables, which provided evidence for

their confounding effects. When each variable was analyzed separately, it was discovered that experience in the TOEFL ITP exam positively

changed students’ LC and SWE scores. Moreover, compared to repeat group students, new students received better scores in all parts of the


Another important finding was that students who felt themselves attached to their school received better scores in the SWE part of the exam.

Particularly, perceived pedagogical caring was positively related with student performance. When it comes to the contribution of self-efficacy, it 2/2

was discovered that when students felt themselves competent at language learning, they displayed better performance in the LC and SWE parts

of the exam. Especially those having higher self-efficacy for receptive skills were better at listening, and those with high self-efficacy for

productive skills had better scores in the SWE part. In addition to self-efficacy, the facilitative role of learner autonomy was questioned and

surprisingly, the results pointed at non-significant links. In other words, whether students were autonomous did not contribute to their

performance in the TOEFL ITP test. With regard to the impact of language learning strategy use, the analysis showed that those who tended to

use language learning strategies displayed better performance in the RC part of the exam. Specifically, students monitoring the learning process

had better scores. Nevertheless, those using the elaboration strategies received lower scores.


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