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Engagement in Language Learning: A Systematic Review of 20 Years of Research Methods and Definitions



VIDEO: - PUBLISHED PAPER: - ABSTRACT: At the turn of the new millennium, Dörnyei and Kormos (2000) proposed that ‘active learner engagement is a key concern’ for all instructed language learning. Since then, language engagement research has increased exponentially, becoming a new strand of PLL research. In this talk, we present a systematic review of 20 years of language engagement research. Our first aim was to look back at the methodological characteristics of previous empirical L2 engagement research to note trends and tendencies in designs and analytical choices. We were also interested in the definitions and operationalizations of engagement across subdomains of language education. We searched 21 major journals on second language acquisition (SLA) and applied linguistics and identified 112 reports satisfying our inclusion criteria. The results of our analysis of these reports highlighted the adoption of heterogeneous methods and conceptual frameworks in the language engagement literature, as well as indicating a need to refine the definitions and operationalizations of engagement in both quantitative and qualitative research. Based on these findings, we attempt to clarify some lingering ambiguity around fundamental definitions, and to more clearly delineate the scope and target of language engagement research. We also discuss future avenues to further advance understanding of the nature, mechanisms, and outcomes resulting from engagement in language learning.
Engagement in Language Learning: A
Systematic Review of 20 Years of
Research Methods and Definitions
Phil Hiver, Ali Al-Hoorie, & Joseph S. Yamazaki
1. look back at the methodological characteristics of previous empirical L2
engagement research in SLA and applied linguistics
Objectives of this systematic review:
2. explore whether there were limitations and potential areas to clarify lingering
ambiguity around fundamental definitions of L2 engagement
Engagement is “the holy grail of learning(Sinatra et al., 2015, p. 1)
Specifically in language learning, learner action for learning
(e.g., language use, interaction) is critical for language development.
Engagement: Characteristics & Dimensions
1. Action
2. Context-dependent
3. Object
4. Dynamic
1. Behavioral engagement
the amount and quality of learners’ active participation in learning
(e.g., time on task, voluntary involvement in speaking)
Engagement: Characteristics & Dimensions
2. Cognitive engagement
learners’ mental effort and mental activity in the process of learning
(e.g., language-related episodes, private speech)
3. Emotional engagement
learners’ personal affective reactions as they participate in target language-
related activities or tasks (e.g., enjoyment, enthusiasm)
4. Social engagement
social forms of activity and involvement that are prominent in communities of
language learning and use (e.g., turn-taking, willingness to listen to others)
Importance of Engagement for Language Learning
Engagement is a meta-construct that unites many separate lines of research
e.g., awareness, attention, interaction
Engagement is intertwined with many other individual and situational factors
e.g., persistence, achievement, dropout rate
Engagement brings together teaching and learning perspectives
Research Questions
1. What are the methodological characteristics of engagement studies in
the field (including trends in study design and analytical choices)?
2. What conceptual definitions and operationalizations of engagement are
adopted in empirical reports?
3. What, if any, areas for improving engagement study quality are
over 20 years (2000-2020) of published work
Report Pool Criterion
Ambiguous L2 engagement report (k= 73)
Bona fide L2 engagement report (k= 39)
ambiguity or no specific information regarding how engagement is
conceptualized, operationalized, and/or measured
a low bar concerning what forms of learner participation/behavior are
indicative of ‘engagement’ or ‘engaging’
adopts a specific definition of engagement as deliberate attention to and
volitional action for language learning that is operationalized and measured
through (among others) behavioral, cognitive, affective, or social indicators
Descriptive markers for coding
e.g., study aim, unit of analysis, indicators included in operational measurement
RQ1: Methodological Characteristics
RQ1: Methodological Characteristics
RQ1: Methodological Characteristics
RQ1: Methodological Characteristics
Discussion: Methodological Issues
The inclusion of multiple measurements and complementary data sources
Group-based and cross-sectional designs
1. skill- and domain-specific measures
2. dynamics of engagement
3. implicit measures
4. big data
Research potential
Research potential
1. individual-based work (e.g., intra-individual variability)
2. fine-tuning the level of granularity (agent, task, time)
Discussion: Methodological Issues
Very little work on the malleability of engagement, the dynamics of its
development, and re-engaging disengaged and disaffected students
1. investigating the role of teachers, peers, and learning tasks on the
development of engagement over time
2. examining how classroom learning opportunities, assessments, and
extramural interests and experiences influence learners’ engagement
Example design
Discussion: Operational & Definitional Issues
fewer than 35% of studies reviewed featured a clear definition and/or
operationalization of engagement
unable to ascertain which operational domain of engagement had
been adopted or was the area of focus in over 15% of reports
only roughly 20% of the measures adopted were skill- or language
e.g., preparation, sense-making ??
Discussion: Operational & Definitional Issues
distinction between engagement and other constructs
engagement = the intensity and the quality of student involvement in the
learning activity or environment
many indicators of engagement were ambiguous and fell outside
the scope of the engagement construct
e.g., goal-directed behavior = goal-setting (cognitive) + strategic pursuit (behavioral)
e.g., satisfaction, interest vs. flow
e.g., engagement vs. motivation
motivation = the forces that energize and direct that behavior
Pedagogical Implications
language pedagogy must sharpen its focus on the necessary
conditions for engagement
establishing clear definitions and toolkits for assessment
e.g., task characteristics (support provided, sequencing)
use of technology
e.g., video games, CMC, social media
identifying disaffected learners and disengaging learning environments
Areas to be addressed in future research
The purpose was to take stock of empirical work in the field and
draw conclusions across the subdomains of language education
1. longitudinal and individual-based investigation
2. uncover the dynamic nature of engagement
3. conceptual and definitional precision
Learners tend to engage in task-based language learning from behavioural, cognitive, and emotional dimensions, and their engagement has overall positive influences on language development. Recently, digital game-based vocabulary learning (DGBVL) has been increasingly investigated and implemented. However, research remained insufficient on how learners engaged in DGBVL and how their engagement influenced their vocabulary knowledge. Since an in-depth understanding of learner engagement is essential for designing language learning tasks, it appears valuable to research this topic in DGBVL. Hence, we developed a DGBVL programme and conducted a mixed-method study to explore learner engagement therein and its effects on vocabulary development. Fifty Chinese EFL university students participated in the programme, completing pre-post-delayed vocabulary tests, questionnaires and interviews. Their eye movements during DGBVL were collected via a Tobii eye-tracker. The findings indicated learners’ overall active engagement in DGBVL behaviourally, cognitively, and emotionally. The three dimensions of engagement in DGBVL had different patterns, fluctuating degrees, and interdependent relationships. Statistically significant, positive effects of learner engagement in DGBVL were identified on vocabulary development, while engagement from different dimensions had different influences. Based on the results, we analysed the mechanism underlying learner engagement and the interactions among the three dimensions of learner engagement in DGBVL.
Learners may find it challenging to effectively engage with teacher feedback due to lacking peer support, especially in solitary engagement activities and learners’ inadequate feedback literacy. Therefore, the current study attempted to overcome these challenges by engaging 15 dyads of Saudi EFL learners in technology-mediated peer dialogue around teacher feedback at the review stage of collaborative writing of argumentative essays over one semester. The study analyzed dyads’ screencast records of immediate peer dialogue in the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, argumentative essays in Google Docs and follow-up interviews. The collaborative approach enticed learners to cognitively, socio-affectively and behaviorally engage with teacher’s Google Docs-based feedback on their writing. Despite the dyads’ varying collaborative engagement according to the interaction of feedback manner and nature of errors and the interaction of cognitive processing and socio-affective relations, the learners’ reflection on the activities indicates that collaborative technology-mediated engagement sustained the opportunities for learners to appreciate feedback, make evaluative judgments and manage their negative affects. The study offers useful pedagogical implications for EFL writing instructors in promoting learners' engagement and feedback literacy with educational technology as a productive facilitator.
The present systematic review assessed the existing and growing literature in metadiscourse and L2 English writing by focusing on using voice in students' writing. Empirical studies in this field were retrieved and coded for their research design, study types, data sources, software tools, corpora characteristics, study context, analytical tests and reporting practices. Prominent adoption of mixed methods and triangulation approaches was found. Hyland's metadiscourse model (2005) was utilised by most reviewed studies, while models proposed by other researchers were also found in this review, which provide more feasible choices for future studies. A shortage of longitudinal studies of voice and L2 English writing was found, and more evidence from diachronic corpora was spotlighted. Most reviewed studies were corpus-based; however, some studies showed that reporting corpora features remained insufficient. Implications and suggestions for further research of voice markers and L2 English writing were provided based on the review.
Although it has been well noted that peer interaction can affect language learning outcomes, how it specifically impacts the learning process in group reading tasks remains underexplored. This article reports on a longitudinal case study, examining how peer interactions influence the engagement of five first-year university students in collaborative academic reading tasks and tracing the changes of peer effects on learner engagement over one academic semester. Data from multiple sources were collected, including audiotaped recordings of group discussions, peer feedback forms, and semi-structured interviews. The findings suggest that peers exerted influences on learners' behavioral, cognitive, social, and emotional engagement in the collaborative academic reading tasks. Throughout the semester, the participants demonstrated a developmental change of peer effects on different dimensions of their peers' engagement, veering their influence on each other from behavioral engagement to cognitive engagement and social engagement. Peer effects on each other's emotional engagement remained stable. This study identifies that students' metacognitive knowledge, familiarity with group members, and leadership play a critical role in shaping learner engagement. The findings provide important insights for researchers and teachers on the connection of students' peer influence with learning process in collaborative learning tasks.
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While second language (L2) engagement has gained increasing attention in recent years, most empirical research to date has examined this construct in the context of single tasks and under laboratory conditions. Given the ecologically situated and dynamic nature of engagement, there has been a growing call for research investigating this construct beyond isolated tasks and in authentic language classroom (Hiver, Mercer, & Al-Hoorie, 2021). To fill this gap, this study examines fluctuations in behavioural, cognitive, and emotional engagement within and across four intact face-to-face L2 lessons spread across one academic year. A stimulated recall design was developed where 26 students from three French classes and two Spanish classes at a British university noted their levels of engagement on a chart at 2.5 min-intervals while watching the video replay of each lesson. This procedure was followed by semi-structured interviews in which learners commented on variations in engagement during each lesson. Findings revealed how engagement can be understood as an ongoing, dynamic process unfolding over multiple timescales. They have also shown that engagement can pursue different trajectories depending on the level of analysis and granularity chosen to examine the construct.
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