How to Measure Student Engagement in Higher Education

There are many ways of measuring student engagement in higher education (HE). From interviews and direct observations to student-led surveys, HE institutions benefit from a wide range of measurement data. 

We can see it as a mix of behavioural and emotional experiences and data - so how do we go about measuring that?

NB: The information represented in this blog will always be updated, meaning it shouldn’t be seen as exhaustive.

Eight Methods of Measuring Student Engagement

In 1993, Skinner and Belmont defined student engagement as “sustained behavioural involvement in learning activities accompanied by positive emotional tone.” While these things sound difficult to measure, it’s possible if you pursue the right methods.

As HE institutions become increasingly technologically-integrated with on-site WiFi, communications services and online platforms that enable student feedback, you now have much more data to use. Access to this data lets you explore your institution's offerings, teaching and support methods, as well as how students are learning and reacting more effectively.

Because of advancements such as these, students are fortunately met with a lot more opportunities to be engaged and provide feedback on how to increase the engagement further. Maureen Mclaughlin, Head of Universities for QAA, states that this was a time where students are ‘at the heart of the system.’ 

Mclaughlin also notes that HE needs to work towards a state of ‘effective representation of the collective student voice at all organisational levels, including decision-making bodies.” Through measuring student engagement being paired with practices such as digital transformation and an increasingly diverse HE environment, we can actively strive towards this place.

Here are ways an institution like yours can go about measuring student engagement in HE. These have been inspired by B. Jean Mandernach, PhD’s report ‘Assessment of Student Engagement in Higher Education: A Synthesis of Literature and Assessment Tools’.

1. Case Studies

Case studies are a good way of getting intricate insights into specific student populations. They work well from subject to subject as each student group will have different needs depending on their courses or teaching methods.

In case studies, large amounts of data can be collected from these select groups of students. This gives a rich picture of behavioural insight, interactions between students and institutions and also contextual factors. 

2. Student Reports

This is where students are tasked with writing about their own experiences. It could be in a survey where they respond to predetermined questions or something less rigid. 

Students can use this method as a way of self-indicating their engagement. It’s an incredibly practical, cost-effective approach that can be given to the majority of students. It’s also one of the better ways of measuring the subjective thoughts and feelings of students, plus other non-observable data.

3. Work Sample Analysis

These are made by assessing samples of students’ work within a specific department, looking for cognitive engagement, understanding of topic and examples of higher-order thinking.

A work sample analysis is a good way of developing insight into a student’s work methodology and how departments are creating engagement through their curriculums.

4. Experience Sampling

Experience sampling is one of the more complex measuring techniques. It’s used to identify engagement ‘flow’ and is done by selecting students to respond to things like current activities, mental state and affect level. 

These responses are given in response to an electronic alarm which sounds at various times. While complicated to carry out, it provides a good contextualisation of engagement levels across time and within specific situations.

5. Rating Scales and Checklists

Checklists or rating scales are simple to construct as they can be sent out in the form of surveys. They help to show student investment in certain target behaviours such as satisfaction with course subject matter.

6. Teacher Ratings

These are the ratings that HE teachers, lecturers or professors can give on the behavioural and emotional attitudes displayed by their students. Of course, they’re limited to which teacher has enough experience with a given student, but they can be highly-detailed. 

7. Direct Observation

Direct observations involve creating an intricate technique for tracking and analysing student behaviour. In this type of measurement, you’re looking for whether students are meeting a prerequisite defined by results a HE provider is looking to achieve. Are students happy? Are they creating top quality work? 

These, amongst other aims, are good ways of structuring an overall framework of measuring student engagement.

8. Interviews

Finally, interviews are possibly one of the most successful ways of determining engagement. They allow for a detailed, individual and considered approach to measurement. They can also help the educational establishment develop context surrounding any overarching issues that may be affecting multiple students. 

Download your free guide to improving student experience in higher education

Items to Measure Within HE Institutions

There are three areas of measurement you can target when it comes to student engagement. These criteria fall under cognitive, behavioural and affective.

Cognitive Assessments

This criteria covers the extent to which students are expending mental effort and displaying higher-order thinking in their learning environments. It can be measured through a number of physical attributes:

  • The actual time spent on projects that require analysis, collaboration and the synthesis of ideas.
  • The practical skills or knowledge implemented when creating coursework.
  • The amount of coursework created that required higher-order thinking.

Behavioural Assessments

Assessing behavioural responses is the extent to which students make active responses to their learning environments, lessons and required projects. This type of data can be represented in very simple terms:

  • How often students ask questions or contribute to lectures or seminars.
  • How often students participate in collaborative work and the extent to which they do.
  • How often students attend events, workshops or extra-curricular activities that may be related to their chosen course.

Affective Assessments

Assessing affective criteria requires data related to students’ emotional states to be captured. This is the type of data that can provide the most in-depth and holistic insight into what students are experiencing during their educational careers. 

It can be represented by many different measurements, such as:

  • How prepared they are for lessons.
  • Effort to meet expectations or requirements.
  • Emotional responses.

With modern technology, these kinds of assessment criteria can be effectively captured and analysed to improve the student experience in HE institutions. These are key methods for creating an improved student experience across the wide environment made up by HE institutions in the UK. 

If you’re looking to discover more on student experience knowledge and practices, we’ve created a great supplement to reinforce your experience strategy and even provide you with some new ideas.

Getting the Most From Student Experience

‘Improving The Student Experience in Higher Education’ covers a wide range of HE-specific knowledge - namely what student experience is like in the UK today, guidelines on creating an effective student experience strategy and improving student support and retention methods.

If you’re interested in your own copy of the guide, click the link below.

Download your free guide to improving student experience in higher education