Medical student engagement in small-group active learning: A stimulated recall study

Jan Willem Grijpma, Marianne Mak-van der Vossen, Rashmi A Kusurkar, Martijn Meeter, Anne de la Croix

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Background: Active learning relies on students' engagement with teachers, study materials and/or each other. Although medical education has adopted active learning as a core component of medical training, teachers have difficulties recognising when and why their students engage or disengage and how to teach in ways that optimise engagement. With a better understanding of the dynamics of student engagement in small-group active learning settings, teachers could be facilitated in effectively engaging their students. Methods: We conducted a video-stimulated recall study to explore medical students' engagement during small-group learning activities. We recorded one teaching session of two different groups and selected critical moments of apparent (dis)engagement. These moments served as prompts for the 15 individual semi-structured interviews we held. Interview data were analysed using Template Analysis style of thematic analysis. To guide the analysis, we used a framework that describes student engagement as a dynamic and multidimensional concept, consisting of behavioural, cognitive and emotional components. Results: The analysis uncovered three main findings: (1) In-class student engagement followed a spiral-like pattern. Once students were engaged or disengaged on one dimension, other dimensions were likely to follow suit. (2) Students' willingness to engage in class was decided before class, depending on their perception of a number of personal, social and educational antecedents of engagement. (3) Distinguishing engagement from disengagement appeared to be difficult for teachers, because the intention behind student behaviour was not always identifiable. Discussion: This study adds to the literature by illuminating the dynamic process of student engagement and explaining the difficulty of recognising and influencing this process in practice. Based on the importance of discerning the intentions behind student behaviour, we advise teachers to use their observations of student (dis)engagement to initiate interaction with students with open and inviting prompts. This can help teachers to (re-)engage students in their classrooms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432-443
Number of pages12
JournalMedical Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

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