Which classroom practices are critical for creating an engaging learning environment? UiS researchers from different disciplines are collaborating to find the answer to this, in a new, large research project.
In their first years in school, most children approach learning with an engaged and interested attitude. However, during their primary and secondary school years, the students’ initial engagement tends to decline. It is a well-known fact that student engagement is essential for deep learning. According to the OECD, the problem with declining engagement therefore poses a big challenge for schools and education authorities worldwide.
An engaged attitude to learning is characterised by being actively involved in the schoolwork and learning activities. School engagement is expressed through participation, dedication and persistence. Disengaged students, on the other hand, tend to withdraw from the situation, and invest little in reading and learning situations.
“Disengaged students tend to give up quickly. They also tend to use more superficial and randomly selected learning strategies. In other words, being disengaged leads to less, and more superficial, learning”, explains professor Oddny Judith Solheim at the National Reading Centre, University of Stavanger.
A jigsaw puzzle
Researchers from different disciplines at the University of Stavanger are now collaborating in finding new understandings on how to support teachers’ enactment of classroom practices critical for student learning engagement. Thereby, students’ emotional and academic development will also be enhanced.
Teachers from 120 Norwegian schools will participate in Enact: Supporting teachers’ enactment of classroom practices critical to students’ learning engagement, which is funded by the Norwegian Research Council, and has a total budget of 33.6 million NOK. Solheim is leading the project together with professor Mari Rege at the UiS Business school.
The researchers in Enact come together from such different disciplines as psychology, educational science and behavioural economy. This interdisciplinary collaboration is vital when investigating an area Solheim explains can be described as a jigsaw puzzle:
“You need every piece of the puzzle in order to see the whole image. In Enact, each of the different disciplines provide important pieces, and they are all necessary in order for the teacher to succeed in strengthening and maintaining student engagement.”
Comparing two different approaches
The teachers participating in the project will test out different approaches. Some will learn about classroom practices that are known to be important in order to strengthen student learning engagement. Others will receive support in integrating new knowledge in their day-to-day instruction. A third group of teachers will receive a combination of these two measures.
“We want to investigate the effect of the respective measures on the teachers’ practice and the students’ mindset, engagement and academic achievements. We also want to study the combined effect of receiving both of these measures,” Solheim says.
The first study of its kind
Enact is the first randomised controlled study (RCT) that investigates whether developing teachers’ competence can have an impact on student engagement. Enact is also the first study investigating whether focusing on teacher practice can have an impact on the students’ mindset.
“Just like it is hard for us to change our behaviour when it comes to exercising or making healthier food choices, a number of studies show that it is hard for teachers to change their practice in the classroom. Enact gives us time and space to combine insights from several disciplines in our search for new knowledge,” says Solheim.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are experimental studies performed to examine the effect of specific measures or treatments. RCTs are often performed on two groups, where participants are randomly distributed (randomised) into either treatment or control groups. Since random distribution to the groups ensures that the groups are just before the measures are introduced, differences between the groups after the measures will say something about the effect of these. This method is considered the "gold standard" for examining the effects of measures or treatment. (Source: Store norske leksikon)
In 2021, the Research Council of Norway announced funding for large, interdisciplinary research projects. The goal is to move the research front through interdisciplinary projects with larger grants. NFR supports researchers from different disciplines who together will produce new knowledge that would not have been possible to achieve without interdisciplinary collaboration. The call was open to all subject and research areas, and the applicants must have shown the ability to carry out research of high scientific quality. (Source: NFR)