Upper Secondary School Student Engagement and Disengagement : in Blended Learning

Abstract: The present research approaches Swedish upper secondary school students’ engagement and disengagement in Technology-enhanced Learning (TEL). To date, research on engagement in TEL have mainly focused on university-level students and have overlooked the dimension of disengagement. The aim of the thesis is to explore how to facilitate students’ academic engagement in TEL by considering both student engagement and disengagement when students learn with digital technologies. While a mixed-methods approach was adopted across all sub-studies, sub-studies I-III emphasised qualitative methods, and sub-studies IV-V were more quantitatively orientated.Results revealed that teachers’ orchestration of digital technologies for learning varied more between the individual teachers than the subjects taught, and that the orchestration of digital technologies and the design of learning activities covaried with the observed and self-reported levels of student engagement. A Design-Based Research intervention showed that teachers could orchestrate digital technologies and design learning activities that increase student engagement in TEL, but may find it challenging to sustain the practice without support. A student evaluation showed that only the students with the highest engagement levels reported interest as their reason to engage. Instead, the most common reasons to engage were related to the social dimension of engagement. Building on the results of this intervention, design principles that facilitate student engagement when designing for engagement in TEL were identified.After the intervention, the focus was expanded to include student disengagement along with engagement and The Learner-Engagement-Technology (LET) instrument was developed using interviews and theory. The LET instrument was tested and validated to reflect multi-dimensional aspects of upper secondary school student engagement and disengagement in TEL. The LET-instrument revealed that low-, average- and high-performance students engage and disengage differently in TEL; that students’ IT skills played a role for engagement in TEL, but are not sufficient to redeem disengagement and that a majority of students use digital technologies to escape when the lesson is perceived to be boring. The results also showed that indicators of disengagement in TEL do not have a natural opposite in the engagement scale; that is; disengagement in TEL is more than the mere absence of, or lower levels of, engagement in TEL. Overlooking disengagement, when students learn with technologies, might fail to uncover critical insights that hinder student engagement.The main contributions of this thesis are: (i) derived design principles and practical insights on conditions related to student engagement and disengagement in TEL that may inform designs of learning activities to facilitate engagement (ii) a methodological contribution that reflects an attempt to combine critical realism and Design-Based Research, and (iii) a theoretical contribution that suggests how engagement and disengagement may be understood and conceptualised in TEL. Future research should explore engagement and disengagement in TEL, relating to the uptake of digital technologies in earlier school years, and other school forms. The thesis is relevant for teachers, decision makers, researchers and others interested in understanding the challenges and possibilities that may affect students in a digitalised school.