From “Loving It” to “Freaking Out” and Back Again: The Engagement of a Mature-Aged Distance Student in their First Semester at University.

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School of Psychology, Massey University
Student engagement is a student’s emotional, behavioural, and cognitive connection to their studies. Evidence suggests engagement is vital to both success and satisfaction at university. A conceptual framework of student engagement, developed from research in psychology, sociology, and education, argues that engagement does not occur in isolation; rather it is embedded within a complex network of antecedents and consequences. This paper presents a case study of a 47 year old solo mother’s first semester at university. An interpretive analysis uses the framework to illuminate how student engagement changes throughout the semester and how the various university and student factors influence that process. Interviews at each end of the semester plus fortnightly video diaries were used to collect rich detailed data about the student’s experiences. The embedded nature of student engagement is apparent, with emotion as a key mechanism by which student and university factors influence engagement. In particular, the student’s interest in the topic triggers a high level of engagement resulting in deep integrated learning. At other times, difficulties with university processes and poor support from staff trigger negative emotions that reduce engagement.
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Student engagement, Mature students, Distance learning