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Blog 82

Blog 82

January 2018 Journal Club 

Barbara Kerr, Teaching Commons

The Teaching Commons hosted the January meeting of the Journal Club on January 16, 2018 to discuss a topic that is on the minds of many York instructors, and is in fact the theme of this year’s Teaching in Focus (TIF) conference – student engagement. The article that structured our discussion was a report of two syntheses of research literature on student engagement by Zepke and Leach (2010) entitled Improving student engagement: Ten proposals for action. Zepke and Leach synthesized 93 research studies from ten countries to identify four perspectives that emerged from the student engagement literature: student motivation; transactions between teachers and students; institutional support; and engagement for active citizenship. They further synthesized the findings from these perspectives as ten proposals for action as shown in the table below:

Research perspectivesProposals for action
Motivation and agency (Engaged students are intrinsically motivated and want to exercise their agency)
Transactional engagement (Students and teachers engage with each other)   Institutional support (Institutions provide an environment conducive to learning)
Active citizenship (Students and institutions work together to enable challenges to social beliefs and practices)
Enhance students' self-belief
Enable students to work autonomously, enjoy learning relationships with others and feel they are competent to achieve their own objectives
Recognize that teaching and teachers are central to engagement
Create learning that is active, collaborative and fosters learning relationships
Create educational experiences for students that are challenging, enriching and extend their academic abilities
Ensure institutional cultures are welcoming to students from diverse backgrounds
Invest in a variety of support services
Adapt to changing student expectations
Enable students to become active citizensEnable students to develop their social and cultural capital

Zepke and Leach (2010), pg. 169. 1

Not surprisingly given the research literature on student engagement, we saw parallels with Chickering and Gamson’s  (1987) “Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE ). Although Lizzio’s Five-Senses Model was not referred to in this study, it also speaks to many of these proposals. We spent quite a bit of time discussing the importance of enhancing students’ self-belief, or as Lizzio puts it “a sense of capability”, and the need to provide students with effective and timely feedback and scaffolding where necessary. We also noted the challenge of enhancing students’ self-belief (proposal 1) while at the same time creating educational experiences for students that are challenging, enriching and extend their academic abilities (proposal 5). Experiential education seems to hold potential for achieving both of these goals.

One proposal that had not been evident in the Principles of Good Practice or NSSE was “Enable students to become active citizens” (proposal 9). Zepke and Leach (2010) found that some researchers thought the engagement discourse to be too focused on preparing students to be work ready. They note McMahon and Portelli’s (2004) critique that a narrow interpretation of engagement could focus on learning that lacks social context and what is needed is a conception that includes not only academic achievement but also success as an active citizen.

I was reminded of a course in the Global Health (FoH) program entitled “Agents of Change in a Global World”. As the global Health website ( ) explains,  “The only undergraduate course of its kind in Canada, Agents of Change in a Global World examines effective change processes and the attributes of those who lead them. Students reflect on the question Can one person make a difference?” I suspect that there are many other courses at York that are empowering and encouraging students to become active citizens. Let’s hear about them!

By the end of our discussion, we came to the conclusion that this article provided a pragmatic list of actions to enhance student engagement in addition to providing an extensive list of valuable references. We would like to hear your thoughts on student engagement in the York context.

Please join the conversation using the comments box below.

The Journal Club is an opportunity for colleagues interested in exploring innovation in teaching and learning to collaboratively read and discuss literature in the field. Participants are provided with a journal article identified as a topic of potential interest to be discussed in an informal gathering at the Teaching Commons.

Do you have an article to share or a topic you would like to discuss? Are you interested in leading a conversation of the Journal Club? Contact Lisa Endersby, Educational Developer (