Does subject matter, matter? - a comparison of student engagement in culturally diverse classrooms in urban, cosmopolitan higher education institutions in the UK

Bamford, Jan, Djebbour, Yaz and Pollard, Lucie (2014) Does subject matter, matter? - a comparison of student engagement in culturally diverse classrooms in urban, cosmopolitan higher education institutions in the UK. Investigations in university teaching and learning, 9. pp. 26-35. ISSN 1740-5106


The issue of students’ engagement in their learning in higher education can be seen to be at the very heart of the contemporary higher education debate in the UK. We sought to understand this engagement in the context of culturally diverse classrooms with a comparison made across two institutions with arguably similar student recruitment and generally similar learning, teaching and assessment practices. Barkley (2010) highlights that student expectations of classroom engagement have become more challenging in recent years. Tutors need to address the challenges posed by the availability of technology and different communication patterns amongst student groups. Although there is a plethora of studies on how to encourage students to become active learners and to become more involved in their learning process, the challenges presented by the ‘fast technology’ environment (Land, 2013) and the challenges of facilitating interaction between students from culturally diverse backgrounds (Arkoudis et al, 2013) demand practical attention and solutions.

Our intention was to explore the student engagement discourse within a culturally diverse classroom context by means of an institutional comparison of student engagement. The project used a mixed methods approach to the collection of data and the focus for this discussion is the undergraduate survey responses from each institution. Our sample size (N=393) of students was chosen from two different course types at similar London institutions. The students were studying in two different Faculties, that of business and science. This is one of the few studies that have considered the issue of internationalisation from the perspective of higher education students’ engagement in their studies using items from the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) instrument combined with intercultural inventory measurement items (Deardorff, 2006). As a measure of students’ engagement, the NSSE instrument has gained an increasing level of prominence amongst educationalists in the USA. Unlike the NSS, which measures students’ satisfaction, the NSSE has rarely been used in the UK context (to our knowledge) and particularly in re culturally diverse students. The survey was essentially partitioned in four factors namely, “engagement”, “relationship to others”, “emphasis on other academic aspects” and “the amount of reading and writing”. We have looked at each of the factors.

We wanted to identify which specific items of engagement, if any, are important and consistent in students’ minds in culturally diverse higher education classrooms and we tested the engagement items that are seen to be associated to specific students’ profiles. The data was collected from a sample (n = 395) of students.

InvestigationsInUniversityTeachingAndLearning v9 p26-35.pdf - Published Version

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