The influence of student engagement on the performance of first-year mathematics students
Student engagement, specifically in higher education, is an important field of research, which can help to improve the learning of students, as well as other anticipated outcomes. Student engagement is a complex concept and according to different researchers, consists of different components. In this study, several facets of student engagement were explored, and the aim of this two-phase sequential, mixed method research is to determine the influence, which student engagement has on the performance of first-year mathematics students in their first semester at the North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) divides student engagement into five facets: level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, supportive campus environment, enriching educational experiences and student-staff interaction. A pilot study was done by administering a modified National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to ascertain whether the adjusted questions in the questionnaire, specifically for mathematics students, were correctly formulated. An explanatory sequential design mixed method research was used. The quantitative research was conducted during the first phase. The target population was 712 first-year Mathematics students and data were collected from a study population of 304 students who voluntarily completed a questionnaire. The second phase was the qualitative research where data were generated by means of individual, semi-structured interviews to explain the quantitative data further. The selection of the interviewees was done by the researcher. Descriptive statistics, confirmatory factor analyses and linear regressions were done to analyse the quantitative data. The analysis of the qualitative data was done with the digital analysis software programme Atlas.ti. The most significant results of this study are as follows: The Grade 12 Mathematics mark was the most noteworthy predictor for the Mathematics first-year module mark. Revision of class notes and assignments, perseverance to solve mathematics problems and academic help from tutors influenced mathematics performance. However, class preparation, the amount of hours studied, academic help from lecturers and peers and visiting the Mathematics centre did not have a significant effect on Mathematics performance. The Mathematics module mark of students who were involved in too many social activities tended to be low and most of the participants experienced the Mathematics module as difficult. Results from this research indicate that Level of academic challenge emerged as the most prominent facet of student engagement. This is meaningful in the area of mathematics education at tertiary level since it illustrates that the complexity of mathematics directly impacts the students‘ engagement on a multitude of levels. This facet, in turn, influences the other four facets of student engagement and ultimately the student‘s overall performance in Mathematics.