Much of the engagement research in higher education focuses on positive measures of student engagement in terms of how students spend their time and the level to which they are exposed to effective teaching practices. In contrast, few studies have focused on the affective or emotional components of engagement. This study complements existing studies by looking at demographic differences in both positive and negative measures of emotional engagement across gender, race/ethnicity, international student status, and family education. Positive emotional engagement captures how much students enjoy learning and how interested they are in their coursework, and negative emotional engagement captures feeling worried, anxious, or discouraged.
Demographics and emotional engagement items were self-reported by students via a survey distributed within seven large sophomore-level engineering courses at a large public institution (N = 781). Hierarchical linear regression models demonstrated that none of the demographic categories predicted positive emotional engagement. In contrast, being female or being a non-White or non-Asian under-represented minority (URM) predicted negative emotional engagement. However, for those female and URM students who interacted frequently with faculty or teaching assistants (TAs), the gap in negative emotional engagement between them and their majority (male or White) peers disappeared. This has strong implications for both faculty and TA professional development. It also strengthens support for further research that emphasizes both how students feel through emotional engagement as well as what they do through more traditional measures of engagement.
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