Computer-based technology and student engagement
Computer-based technology has infiltrated many aspects of life and industry, yet there is little understanding of how it can be used to promote student engagement, a concept receiving strong attention in higher education due to its association with several positive academic outcomes. The purpose of this article is to present a critical review of the literature from the past 5 years related to how web-conferencing software, blogs, wikis, social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter), and digital games influence student engagement. We prefaced the findings with a substantive overview of student engagement definitions and indicators, which revealed three types of engagement (behavioral, emotional, and cognitive) that informed how we classified articles. Our findings suggest that digital games provide the most far-reaching influence across different types of student engagement, followed by web-conferencing and Facebook. Findings regarding wikis, blogs, and Twitter are less conclusive and significantly limited in some studies conducted within the past 5 years. Overall, the findings provide preliminary support that computer-based technology influences student engagement, however, additional research is needed to confirm and build on these findings. We conclude the article by providing a list of recommendations for practice, with the intent of increasing understanding of how computer-based technology may be purposefully implemented to achieve the greatest gains in student engagement.
Our review aims to address existing gaps in the student engagement literature and seeks to determine whether student engagement models should be expanded to include technology. The review also addresses some of the organizational barriers to technology integration (e.g., faculty uncertainty and skepticism about technology) by providing a comprehensive account of the research evidence regarding how technology influences student engagement. One limitation of the literature, however, is the lack of detail regarding how teaching and learning practices were used to select and integrate technology into learning. For example, the methodology section of many studies does not include a pedagogical justification for why a particular technology was used or details about the design of the learning activity itself. Therefore, it often is unclear how teaching and learning practices may have affected student engagement levels. We revisit this issue in more detail at the end of this paper in our discussions of areas for future research and recommendations for practice. We initiated our literature review by conducting a broad search for articles published within the past 5 years, using the key words technology and higher education, in Google Scholar and the following research databases: Academic Search Complete, Communication & Mass Media Complete, Computers & Applied Sciences Complete, Education Research Complete, ERIC, PsycARTICLES, and PsycINFO. Our initial search revealed themes regarding which technologies were most prevalent in the literature (e.g., social networking, digital games), which then lead to several, more targeted searches of the same databases using specific keywords such as Facebook and student engagement. After both broad and targeted searches, we identified five technologies (web-conferencing software, blogs, wikis, social networking sites, and digital games) to include in our review.
We chose to focus on technologies for which there were multiple studies published, allowing us to identify areas of convergence and divergence in the literature and draw conclusions about positive and negative effects on student engagement. In total, we identified 69 articles relevant to our review, with 36 of social networking sites (21 for Facebook and 15 for Twitter), 14 on digital games, seven about wikis, and six about blogs and web-conferencing software respectively. Articles were categorized according to their influence on specific types of student engagement, which will be described in more detail below. In some instances, one article pertained to multiple types of engagement. In the sections that follow, we will provide an overview of student engagement, including an explanation of common definitions and indicators of engagement, followed by a synthesis of how each type of technology influences student engagement. Finally, we will discuss areas for future research and make practice recommendations.
Student engagement is a broad and complex phenomenon for which there are many definitions grounded in psychological, social, and/or cultural perspectives (Fredricks et al., 1994; Wimpenny & Savin-Baden, 2013; Zepke & Leach, 2010). A review of definitions revealed that student engagement is defined in two ways. One set of definitions refer to student engagement as a desired outcome reflective of a student’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about learning. For example, Kahu (2013) defines student engagement as an “individual psychological state” that includes a student’s effect, cognition, and behavior (p. 764). Other definitions focus primarily on student behavior, suggesting that engagement is the “extent to which students are engaging in activities that higher education research has shown to be linked with high-quality learning outcomes” (Krause & Coates, 2008, p. 493) or the “quality of effort and involvement in productive learning activities” (Kuh, 2009, p. 6). Another set of definitions refer to student engagement as a process involving both the student and the university. For example, Trowler (2010) defined student engagement as “the interaction between the time, effort and other relevant resources invested by both students and their institutions intended to optimize the student experience and enhance the learning outcomes and development of students and the performance, and reputation of the institution” (p. 2). Similarly, the NSSE website indicates that student engagement is “the amount of time and effort students put into their studies and other educationally purposeful activities” as well as “how the institution deploys its resources and organizes the curriculum and other learning opportunities to get students to participate in activities that decades of research studies show are linked to student learning”