Undergraduate student engagement in China and the UK

  • Zhe Zhang

Student thesis: Phd


This research examined student engagement issues at two comparable universities, one in China and one in the UK, and considered three courses: a mathematics course in the UK and a mathematics course and a Chinese course in China. The study derived insights into the characteristics of students' engagement, ways that students and staff conceptualised student engagement, and key indicators that influenced students' engagement. It also developed a better understanding of the influence of subject areas on student engagement.The design adopted was mixed method and data was collected through questionnaires, individual interviews and group interviews. Bronfenbrenner's Person-Process-Context-Time bioecological model provided a useful framework to scrutinise the data as a whole with respect to how students developed in the proximal processes of interacting with the context. In addition, concepts such as identities, positionality, agency and artifacts from Holland et al.'s (1998) sociocultural theory, the Figured Worlds, offered a useful complementary perspective.An exploratory factor analysis identified five factors in the quantitative data: Effective Teaching Practices, Personal Development, Supportive Campus Environment, Reflective & Integrative Learning and Quality of Interactions. On this basis, models of students' engagement and experience were developed using a multi-model building strategy. Analysis of the qualitative data identified a sixth factor - History-in-Person. The three courses were found to share commonality in certain aspects, such as a high level of academic challenge (particularly on the two mathematics courses), a general lack of interaction between students and staff, and school-university transitional issues experienced by students in both countries. There were also differences across the courses, reflected in aspects such as ways of assessment, accommodation arrangement and styles of learning (e.g., collaboration, "shock study").This research contributed to knowledge methodologically by using different ways of collecting data and triangulating data; and the five factors derived from the exploratory factor analysis provided a unified analytical framework across the quantitative and the qualitative datasets to organise the influencing indicators of student engagement. Epistemologically, this research contributed to the conceptualization, knowledge and understanding of student engagement in the UK and China by developing an overarching conceptual framework. Theoretically, the bioecological and socio-cultural perspectives afforded new insights into teaching and learning behaviour and preferences in the two countries.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJulian Williams (Supervisor) & Olwen Mcnamara (Supervisor)

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