Conceptualising and measuring student engagement through the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE): a critique

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Northeastern University]On: 15 November 2014, At: 20:48Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Assessment & Evaluation in HigherEducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/caeh20

    Conceptualising and measuring studentengagement through the AustralasianSurvey of Student Engagement (AUSSE):a critiquePauline Hagel a , Rodney Carr a & Marcia Devlin ba Faculty of Business and Law , Deakin University , 221 BurwoodHighway, Burwood, Melbourne 3125 , Australiab Higher Education Research Group , Deakin University , 221Burwood Highway, Burwood, Melbourne 3125 , AustraliaPublished online: 25 Mar 2011.

    To cite this article: Pauline Hagel , Rodney Carr & Marcia Devlin (2012) Conceptualisingand measuring student engagement through the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement(AUSSE): a critique, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37:4, 475-486, DOI:10.1080/02602938.2010.545870

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  • Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education2011, 112, iFirst Article

    ISSN 0260-2938 print/ISSN 1469-297X online 2012 Taylor & Francis

    http://www.tandfonline.com

    Conceptualising and measuring student engagement through the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE): a critique

    Pauline Hagela*, Rodney Carra and Marcia Devlinb

    aFaculty of Business and Law, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Melbourne 3125, Australia; bHigher Education Research Group, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Melbourne 3125, AustraliaTaylor and Francis LtdCAEH_A_545870.sgm10.1080/02602938.2010.545870Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education0260-2938 (print)/1469-297X (online)Article2011Taylor & Francis0000000002011PaulineHagelpauline.hagel@deakin.edu.au

    Student engagement has rapidly developed a central place in the quality agenda ofAustralian universities since the introduction of the Australasian Survey ofStudent Engagement (AUSSE). The AUSSE is based on one developed in theUSA. The main arguments given for adopting this survey in Australia are that itprovides a valid instrument for measuring engagement and that it enablesinternational comparisons. However, the survey instrument and scales have beenadopted with little scrutiny of these arguments. This paper examines thesearguments by considering different perspectives of engagement, examining theimportance of contextual differences and evaluating the AUSSE engagementscales in the light of both. The paper concludes that the AUSSE results should beused by universities and policy-makers with caution.

    Keywords: student engagement; AUSSE; NSSE; learner engagement; time ontask; post secondary education

    Introduction

    Student engagement has quickly developed a central place in the quality agenda ofAustralian universities since the introduction of the Australasian Survey of StudentEngagement (AUSSE) in 2007. Forty-five institutions in Australasia are expected toparticipate in the 2010 survey (ACER 2010). While the speed of its acceptance hasbeen remarkable, the AUSSE has pedigree. It is based on a survey developed over adecade ago in the USA: the North American Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

    The AUSSE is one of several surveys used to assess student outcomes in Austra-lian higher education. The use and reporting of the AUSSE is not mandatory forAustralian universities. However, its use was recommended by the Australian govern-ments major review of higher education completed in 2008. The government subse-quently signalled its intention to instigate a survey to investigate the engagement andsatisfaction of first-year students and to include measures of student engagement infunding arrangements for Australian public universities (DEEWR 2009a). Conse-quently, Australian universities are participating in the AUSSE in the expectation thatthey will be held accountable by the government for their performance in relation tostudent engagement. The Australian Centre for Educational Research (ACER) haslead and promoted the adoption of the AUSSE to measure student engagement inAustralasia.

    *Corresponding author. Email: pauline.hagel@gmail.com

    Vol. 37, No. 4, June 2012, 475486

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2010.545870

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  • 2 P. Hagel et al.

    The main arguments given for using the AUSSE are that it provides a valid instru-ment for measuring engagement (Coates 2010) and that it enables internationalcomparisons (ACER 2008a). However, this paper contends that there are limitationsin the way the AUSSE conceptualises and measures engagement that warrants cautionin the use of its results. After providing a brief overview of the AUSSE instrument,the argument of the paper is developed in two main stages. First, the paper identifiesand discusses alternative conceptions of engagement and considers the implications ofdifferences between the US and Australian contexts for conceptualising and measur-ing student engagement. Second, this paper evaluates the AUSSE scales in relation toconceptions of engagement and contextual differences. The paper concludes byconsidering some implications for research and practice.

    Overview of the AUSSE

    The AUSSE surveys undergraduates to determine the extent to which they areinvolved with activities and conditions likely to generate learning (Coates 2010, 3).It targets onshore, first- or final-year students who have not previously completed orbeen enrolled in a university degree (Coates 2010). The survey uses a questionnaire(the Student Experience Questionnaire) that asks students about how often and/orthe extent to which they have experienced certain activities and conditions while atuniversity. The AUSSE also includes some outcome scales: higher-order thinking,general learning outcomes, general development outcomes, average overall grades,departure intentions and overall satisfaction. However, this paper is concerned onlywith the engagement scales of the AUSSE. (A copy of the full questionnaire can befound in ACER 2010.)

    There are 48 questions in the AUSSE that are grouped into six engagement scales:

    academic challenge; active learning; student and staff interaction; enriching educational experiences; supportive learning environments; and work-integrated learning.

    The first five of these scales were adopted from the NSSE with some minor changesin wording. The work-integrated learning scale was developed by the ACER for theAUSSE. These scales are proposed as benchmarks of effective educational practice(Kuh 2009). Combined the six scales provide a conception of student engagement butwhich theory of engagement does it reflect and whose conception is it?

    Alternative conceptions of engagement

    In discussing engagement in pre-tertiary education, Vibert and Shields (2003) high-light three different ideological perspectives. First, from the rational/technicalperspective the role of education is to prepare students for life after formal education.Therefore, student engagement is a matter of involving students in useful andproductive activities determined by educators and guided by government policy orsocietal expectations. From this perspective, engagement should be and is measurableusing objective survey instruments such as the AUSSE. Second, the interpretive/student-centred perspective suggests that engagement means more than just dutiful,

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  • Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 3

    busy and compliant behaviour on