Student engagement and the design of high-impact practices at community colleges



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This study investigates the relationship of student engagement with the design of structured group learning experiences (SGLEs) implemented by increasing numbers of community colleges. Using data from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) and the Community College Institutional Survey (CCIS), I employ Vygotsky's activity systems theory as a framework for interpreting the results of hierarchical linear models where student engagement measures are outcome variables, and the several covariates selected in terms of SGLEs as a social activity system. The results provide evidence that, among 24 different curricular elements of SGLEs, engagement is positively related to only a few of them, in particular co-curricular and community activities (campus or community service project(s), participation in campus activities/events outside the classroom, and service learning). There was limited evidence that engagement is related to duration and intensity of the programs; instead the evidence suggests that the people involved, both the personnel that teach and facilitate the programs, and the characteristics of the student participants, matter most to engagement. Even as this study provides the first views of the contours of student engagement within high-impact practices on a national scale, it also suggests that what may be important for engagement is that the programs bring people together for a purposeful experience at all. The results suggest the need for increased attention to co-curricular and community activities and professional development by practitioners; and for research, they propose hypotheses for further research such as the relative import of participation vis-à-vis program design, and they suggest new conceptual approaches to the study of high-impact practices generally.