Engaged or Just Compliant? A Person-Centred Investigation of the Dimensionality and Structure of Student Engagement and Motivation

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Copyright: Kingsford-Smith, Andrew
Researchers commonly model student engagement to consist of three dimensions: behavioural (e.g., participating in activities), cognitive (e.g., making summary notes), and emotional (e.g., showing interest and enjoyment). Recent research has introduced a fourth dimension—agentic engagement (e.g., asking questions and expressing interests/needs to the teacher)—which is an important component that can help students feel more supported by their teachers. This fourth dimension is particularly relevant to self-determination theory (SDT), a theory of human behaviour that evaluates the motivational consequences of autonomy-supportive versus controlling interactions within social environments. While SDT research has identified that the four dimensions of engagement are positively associated with student motivation and academic achievement, it is not well known whether each dimension is necessary for optimal learning. To examine relationships between motivation, engagement, and learning, this study investigated the dimensionality and structure of student engagement in the classroom (i.e., agentic, behavioural, emotional, and cognitive engagement) and grouped students into profiles based on these dimensions. The study used latent profile analysis (LPA) to analyse the self-reported measures from high school students in Years 7-10 (N = 1,199) in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The analysis revealed three distinct student profiles: (1) “disengaged” students (24% of the sample) with overall low participation across the dimensions; (2) “compliant” students (32% of the sample) who exert effort and attention (i.e., behavioural engagement) but do not use other proactive learning strategies (i.e., low in the other dimensions); and (3) “engaged” students (44% of the sample) with high engagement across all measures. The engaged profile had the highest motivation levels and was the only group to report greater autonomous motivation than controlled motivation. These engaged students also had higher expected and school-reported academic achievement and wanted to continue taking their subjects in the future. These results suggest compliance through mere behavioural engagement is sub-optimal compared to multidimensional engagement. Further, the lower autonomous motivation of the compliant and disengaged groups may be a contributing factor to their lower engagement and academic achievement. These findings suggest the importance of supporting all four dimensions of engagement in the classroom.
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Kingsford-Smith, Andrew
Evans, Paul
Jung, Jae Yup
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Masters Thesis
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