Involvement in Academic Study: an Investigation of the Nature, Effects and Development of Involvement in University Courses
The purpose of this research was to examine involvement In study within the framework of the approach to learning literature. Although not discussed in detail, involvement has been related to a deep approach to learning (Ramsden, 1984). Specific interest focused on students' perceptions of the concept of involvement; the relation between involvement, approach to learning and educational orientation (Taylor et al., 1980); the relationship between Involvement in study and learning outcome and finally, the reasons why students become involved and factors affecting change over time. The research methodology used was consistent with the view originally developed by Marton and Saljo (1976a) - that learning can be effectively studied by focusing on student perception of the learning process. Consistent with Marton's methods of research, the data was drawn from interviews (with 58 university students). Additional data was supplied by open ended questions and Entwistle and Ramsden's approach to study inventory. Students produced a range of involvement definitions that emphasised activity but also incorporated feelings about what is studied. However, the experience of involvement is course-specific and it was demonstrated that students direct different levels of involvement to different courses. An investigation of factors that affect students' concept of involvement, revealed that approach to learning was important in determining the type of involvement activity students engage in ('basic' or 'more than required') and the level of involvement activity (full, limited, none). A vocational educational orientation was not incompatible with the development of involvement provided this was combined with interest in subject matter. Commerce students provided an interesting example of this point in that they typically possessed a strong vocational educational orientation towards their Commerce courses but directed their interest (and in many cases their full involvement) to courses outside the Commerce faculty. Analysis of the data indicated that female students were more likely to become fully involved in their study than did their male colleagues. However, the pattern of results was complicated by degree and approach to learning. It was suggested that the sex differences may be due to the fact that females were more likely to combine interest and vocational Interests in their choice of courses. The results indicated that a relationship did exist between the quality of the involvement activity and the quality of the learning outcome. The open ended responses indicated that students possess one of three involvement intentions (positive, neutral or negative). This finding was confirmed in the interviews and a number of relationships were proposed that combined intention and contextual factors to determine a particular involvement outcome (involvement or non-involvement). It was further demonstrated that context is particularly important in influencing involvement. In most cases students' intention was changed by their positive or negative perception of the course context. Thus involvement developed from a combination of personal (e.g. existing interest) and contextual factors (e.g. staff attitude and presentation skills, relevance of course content and form of assessment). These factors were also significant in affecting involvement change. Regardless of approach to learning, an involved student wants to learn. Through this commitment, persistence in study is more likely to occur. The involvement activities themselves will be largely determined by approach and thus the quality of the outcome is related to approach. The thesis concludes with discussion of the implications of these results for policy, teaching and course development.