Measuring student engagement: Using ‘flow’ theory to guide question development

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 33 : Reshaping Higher Education

July, 2010, 654 pages
Published by
M. Devlin, J. Nagy and A. Lichtenberg
0 908557 80 9

In December 2009 the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) issued a discussion paper, ‘An Indicator Framework for Higher Education Performance Funding’, with the purpose of contributing to the development of indicators for guiding ‘compact’ negotiations between Australian universities and the government. The discussion paper makes it clear that ‘student experience’ will be an important part of the indicators and discusses the possibility that the Government will develop a new questionnaire to investigate the engagement and satisfaction of students in their first year of study. This paper contributes ideas to assist the development of such an instrument, particularly for the measurement of student engagement. We discuss problems with the predictive validity of existing instruments and argue that predictive validity may be improved by a focus on highly engaging ‘flow-type’ activities. Specifically, we investigate flow activities in the context of online learning. Our findings suggest that some of the current questions from the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) do appear to capture flow activities. We also identify gaps in the AUSSE. Finally, we make recommendations about the inclusion of additional items that capture highly engaging, flow activities for either the AUSSE or the Government’s proposed new instrument.

Keywords: student engagement, flow theory, AUSSE