Defining Student Engagement


Student engagement has more looks and destinations than a supermodel during Fashion Week. When I think of student engagement I see a student who challenges fixed beliefs and typical ways of being in order to break through to some new way of understanding and operating in the world. Barkley, 2010 defines student engagement as “a process and a product that is experienced on a continuum and results from the synergistic interaction between motivation and active learning” (Loc. 425). A mouthful, right? But how can the average teacher employ this definition?

At first I found Barkley’s definition difficult to access. Then words like, community, support, challenge, and understanding came to mind. I think the things those words stand for need to be present, especially the challenge part. There also has to be an understanding of the struggle students face when they take on a big challenge. For example, I recently gave a very quiet student the task of leading a training session. I began by giving her “bite-sized” public speaking challenges. I stood by as a resource while she struggled with these challenges and provided something I like to call, “tough understanding.” Tough understanding is about acknowledgement of the struggle without providing an exit from it. We are still in a student-teacher relationship, so I can’t say yet how she will fare, but I think she’ll come out of it alive.

I love “Top Ten” lists. This one I found on Faculty Focus starts to get at what I think Barkley is trying to say about student engagement. I think that 10 Ways to Promote Student Engagement is a solid starting place for taking Barkley’s definition of student engagement off the ground.


10 Ways to Promote Student Engagement. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.


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