Student Engagement and Good Practices in Undergraduate Education

Student Engagement

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) documents dimensions of quality in undergraduate education and provides information and assistance to colleges, universities, and other organizations to improve student learning. Its primary activity is annually surveying college students to assess the extent to which they engage in educational practices associated with high levels of learning and development. The annual report is available online.

In 2014 NSSE changed the structure used to assess student engagement from establishing benchmarks, to describing engagement indicators and high-impact practices. The full report is available on the NSSE website.

Below is a summary from the NSSE website of the four themes used in the survey and the engagement indicators associated with each theme. Consider integrating these concepts in your course in order to create an engaging learning experience for students.


Engagement Indicators

Higher-Order Learning 
Challenging intellectual and creative work is central to student learning and collegiate quality. Colleges and universities promote high levels of student achievement by calling on students to engage in complex cognitive tasks requiring more than mere memorization of facts. This Engagement Indicator captures how much students’ coursework emphasizes challenging cognitive tasks such as application, analysis, judgment, and synthesis. Items include:

Reflective & Integrative Learning 
Personally connecting with course material requires students to relate their understandings and experiences to the content at hand. Instructors emphasizing reflective and integrative learning motivate students to make connections between their learning and the world around them, reexamining their own beliefs and considering issues and ideas from others’ perspectives. Items include:

Learning Strategies 
College students enhance their learning and retention by actively engaging with and analyzing course material rather than approaching learning as absorption. Examples of effective learning strategies include identifying key information in readings, reviewing notes after class, and summarizing course material. Knowledge about the prevalence of effective learning strategies helps colleges and universities target interventions to promote student learning and success. Items include:

Quantitative Reasoning 
Quantitative literacy—the ability to use and understand numerical and statistical information in everyday life— is an increasingly important outcome of higher education. All students, regardless of major, should have ample opportunities to develop their ability to reason quantitatively—to evaluate, support, and critique arguments using numerical and statistical information. Items include:


Collaborative Learning 
Collaborating with peers in solving problems or mastering difficult material deepens understanding and prepares students to deal with the messy, unscripted problems they encounter during and after college. Working on group projects, asking others for help with difficult material or explaining it to others, and working through course material in preparation for exams all represent collaborative learning activities. Items include:

Discussions with Diverse Others 
Colleges and universities afford students new opportunities to interact with and learn from others with different backgrounds and life experiences. Interactions across difference, both inside and outside the classroom, confer educational benefits and prepare students for personal and civic participation in a diverse and interdependent world. Items include:


Student-Faculty Interaction
Interactions with faculty can positively influence the cognitive growth, development, and persistence of college students. Through their formal and informal roles as teachers, advisors, and mentors, faculty members model intellectual work, promote mastery of knowledge and skills, and help students make connections between their studies and their future plans. Items include:

Effective Teaching Practices
Student learning is heavily dependent on effective teaching. Organized instruction, clear explanations, illustrative examples, and effective feedback on student work all represent aspects of teaching effectiveness that promote student comprehension and learning. Items include:


Quality of Interactions
College environments characterized by positive interpersonal relations promote student learning and success. Students who enjoy supportive relationships with peers, advisors, faculty, and staff are better able to find assistance when needed, and to learn from and with those around them. Items include:

Supportive Environment
Institutions that are committed to student success provide support and involvement across a variety of domains, including the cognitive, social, and physical. These commitments foster higher levels of student performance and satisfaction. This Engagement Indicator summarizes students’ perceptions of how much an institution emphasizes services and activities that support their learning and development. Items include:

Good Practices in Undergraduate Education
Although published in 1987, Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education by Chickering and Gamson has stood the test of time and parallels many of the high-impact practices currently outlined in the National Survey of Student Engagement results. The seminal work by Chickering and Gamson distilled findings from decades of research on the undergraduate experience into seven guiding principles. These principles can be used to shape both course development and teaching actions.

  • Encourage Contact Between Students and Faculty
    Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students’ intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans.
  • Develop Reciprocity and Cooperation Among Students
    Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort that a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one’s own ideas and responding to others’ reactions sharpens thinking and deepens understanding.
  • Encourage Active Learning
    Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.
  • Give Prompt Feedback
    Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. When getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.
  • Emphasize Time on Task
    Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Learning to use one’s time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Students need help in learning effective time management. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty. How an institution defines time expectations for students, faculty, administrators, and other professional staff can establish the basis of high performance for all.
  • Communicate High Expectations
    Expect more and you will get more. High expectations are important for everyone – for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations for themselves and make extra efforts.
  • Respect Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning
    There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learn in new ways that do not come so easily.

Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson
Adopted from the March 1987 AAHE Bulletin