Enhancing the quality of teaching and learning: Using student engagement data to establish a culture of evidence


Enhancing the quality of teaching and learning is a key strategic focus area in higher education. From a national perspective, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has identified the improvement of teaching and learning to be of critical importance for improving success rates and has acknowledged the strategic role of the monitoring, evaluation, and financing of teaching and learning (DHET, 2012). The importance of investment in teaching and learning is also underscored in the 10-Point Plan for higher education and training developed by the Development Bank of Southern African (DBSA), commissioned by DHET (DBSA, 2010).

Internationally, public accountability demands on higher education institutions, especially in relation to the quality of teaching and learning, are increasing and higher education institutions have to find ways of providing evidence in concrete, observable and measurable ways of what they are doing to improve teaching and learning (McCormick, 2009). Research into student engagement shows that although student engagement measures are used in countries such as the United States (US), Australia and New Zealand for external accountability purposes, the greatest value of these measures lies in the fact that they promote critical, internal self-reflection or reflective accountability (McCormick, 2009). In other words, the data from these measures help institutions to promote a culture of evidence-based decision making by providing data to identify areas of strength and weakness in the teaching and learning environment. Used in addition to existing institutional data results from the surveys they assist institutions to develop contextually appropriate interventions to improve teaching and learning.

In addition to promoting a culture of evidence-based decision making in higher education, institutional-level assessments of teaching and learning can further the development of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL). Hutchings, Huber and Ciccone, (2011) indicate that institutional-level assessment, such as student engagement surveys, can provide evidence of the impact that the development of teaching and learning scholarship has had in institutions.

In response to the strategic importance of enhancing teaching and learning both nationally and internationally, the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) has proposed a framework for the second cycle of quality assurance that takes the form of institutional reviews focused on teaching and learning activities in undergraduate education.

In the context of the discussion above, the aims of this report are to:

  • Introduce student engagement and show how it can help to enhance teaching and learning;

  • Share relevant results and the key findings from the national study of student engagement and success; and

  • Show how a range of student engagement measures can provide actionable data that can be used to further a culture of evidence that will enhance the quality of teaching and learning as well as empower institutions to develop an orientation towards critical, internal self-reflection and respond to external accountability demands.