It seems to me that there is a lot of talk in Higher Education (and really in education in general) about engagement. I recently had an experience that got me thinking about engagement and how to spot it when it is happening.
As you may know if you read my blog I am a gamer & an educator – and I find my passion at the intersection of those two identities. So, early in the second semester of the 2012-13 academic year, I planned an all day gaming event on campus. Student’s loved it and said they wanted to do it again sometime during the semester. When Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton declared March 30 to be International Tabletop Day – I saw it as the perfect opportunity.
So I recruited some students to help, and we planned another all day event on campus for March 30. The event was awesome. We started at 11am and didn’t wrap up until around 3:30am (that’s not a typo- we where there for 16.5 hours). There were 2 questions I heard students asked that I’ve been thinking about a lot since the event.
The first question is “What time is it?” If you are familiar with the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his concept of flow, then you know that one of the main indicators that people are experiencing flow is a loss of a sense of time passing (or temporal distortion). When students at the International Tabletop Day event asked what time it was – they were often astonished by the answer and responded with declarations like “There is no way that’s right. I haven’t been here for six hours already.” This response is a pretty strong indicator that they were experiencing flow – and highly engaged.
Another way to define engagement involves a sense of ownership. Engaged students feel they own the program. The second question that I heard at International Tabletop Day that indicates students were engaged was, “How can I help?” When students ask how they can help, it tells me that they want to go beyond simple participation and “own” the event. Students helped secure funding, they hung flyers to advertise the event, they helped set-up, they even stayed afterwards to help clean up.
Measuring student engagement is a difficult prospect – but you can feel well assured that if students are asking “What time is it?” and “How can I help?” you are likely creating an engaging experience.