Engaging students through the use of ICT: the causal mechanisms involved

Kevin W K Chu
The Open University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

Student engagement is emerging as a key focus in higher education, as a growing body of literature has pointed to its positive effects on student success and development, including satisfaction, persistence, social engagement and academic achievement. While most of the research discussed has assumed that the use of information and communication technology (ICT) promotes student engagement, little attention has been given to the causal mechanisms involved.

In this paper, it is argued that — no matter how well intentioned — simply embedding ICT in practices in and outside the classroom without a grounded concept of ‘student engagement’ is insufficient to engage students. Student engagement can be operationalized, validated and improved. The Biographic Narrative Interpretative Method (BNIM) was adopted to investigate the extent to which the use of ICT succeeds in increasing students’ investment of their time, effort and other resources in their learning. Cross-case analysis of students’ learning experiences using ICT at a Hong Kong university reveals a number of such potential key drivers of engagement: students’ perceived usefulness of learning tasks, their view of intelligence and study competence, intellectual excitement, social networks, and a sense of pride and empowerment. Drawing on the findings of this study, the paper proposes a student engagement framework with identified key drivers, which hopefully can shed some light on the casual mechanisms relating ICT integration into learning and student engagement. The paper ends with a call for research to examine further the relative strength of each driver in different contexts to inform policy-makers, ICT designers and front-line teaching professionals about the ways of maximizing the engagement effects of new pedagogical practices with ICT.