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Student engagement as a function of environmental complexity in high school classrooms

The purpose of this study was to investigate the linkage between the quality of the learning environment and the quality of students' experience in seven high school classrooms in six different subject areas. The quality of the learning environment was conceptualized in terms of environmental complexity, or the simultaneous presence of environmental challenge and environmental support. The students (N = 108) in each class participated in the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) measuring their engagement and related experiential variables. Concurrently, environmental complexity and its subdimensions were observed and rated from video with a new observational instrument, The Optimal Learning Environments – Observational Log and Assessment (OLE-OLA). Using two-level HLM regression models, ratings from the OLE-OLA were utilized to predict student engagement and experiential variables as measured by the ESM. Results showed that environmental complexity predicted student engagement and sense of classroom self-esteem. Implications for research, theory and practice are discussed.

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Research has shown that student engagement is positively related to academic performance, and that disengagement leads to poor academic performance in a variety of subjects (Kelly, 2008; Sirin & Rogers-Sirin, 2004). In the last several decades, an increasing amount of attention has been directed toward student engagement as a framework for understanding educational concerns such as dropout, at least in part because engagement is presumed to be malleable and highly influenced by the learning environment


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