Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Projects 2014/15

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Exploring learner disengagement

Prof Mark Langan and Dr Nicola Whitton

This project aims to gain insights into the reasons that students elect not to engage with available learning opportunities, and consider strategies for addressing disengagement and improving the learner experience.
In this case, the idea of disengagement is based on:

  1. Lack of active participation in learning activities and opportunities (face-to-face and online, formal and informal).
  2. Lack of commitment to the process, and appreciation of the value, of learning in Higher Education.

This project aims to consider the following research questions:

  1. What are learner motivations for attending university and their expectations from a university education?
  2. What do learners perceive adds value to a university education?
  3. Why do learners elect not to take part in learning opportunities and what factors influence these decisions?
  4. What are the barriers to active participation and commitment to learning?
  5. What is the impact of disengagement on learner experience and progression?
  6. What strategies could be adopted to address learner disengagement?

To answer these questions we will carry out a combination of primary data gathering (thematic analysis of interviews with learners carried out by student researchers) and secondary research (document analysis, literature review, quantitative analysis of the relationships between attendance data, Moodle VLE interaction data, and achievement data).

Understanding Learning Disengagement: Interim Report

We undertook interviews in three areas of the university (n=47), each of which provided a variety of subject areas and two campuses. The average interview length was approximately 30 minutes. These areas were:

  • Business (n=16; March 2015),
  • Psychology (n=16; March 2015)
  • Combined Honours at Crewe (n=15; April 2015).

The interviews were conducted in collaboration with five student researchers who were recruited via Jobs4Students and underwent an initial 3-hour training session run by the project leads in March 2015. The student researchers also contributed to the design of the interview schedule. The interview recording are currently being transcribed and we expect to carry out analysis over the summer.
Issues that arose during this period include:

  • Organisation difficulties with co-ordination of project leads, student researchers and students on campus.
  • Students attending pre-booked interviews (over 50% of those scheduled did not turn up).

This highlights and interesting theme emerging from the research, which is how can we engage those who are disengaged with the process of research and avoid the inevitable biases of a self-selecting sample.

Mark Langan and Nicola Whitton
11 June 2015

Project Update: January 2015

  • Literature review on conceptions of engagement complete.
  • Potential candidates for student co-researchers recruited with interviews scheduled for mid-January.
  • Planning for analysis of engagement in policy documents and quantitative analysis in progress. 

Mark Langan and Nicola Whitton, Jan 2015