Disengaged learners

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There is growing concern, among the world’s “developed” countries, about levels of student engagement in science learning at school (Paul Hamlyn Foundation, March 2012). This manifests itself most obviously in dropout rates, in poor levels of achievement, and in disengagement with what many perceive as a boring and irrelevant experience. However, focusing on students who drop out from school masks a bigger issue, because it only takes account of the visibly disengaged. There is a much larger group of students who do reasonably well in school but do not become self-motivated, self-directed learners: they may appear to succeed in exams but struggle when left to their own devices at University, or at work. Schools and businesses are becoming increasingly conscious of “disengaged achievers”: students who are adept at achieving high marks, but not at dealing with the more complex challenges that they will face as 21st century workers and citizens. Additionally, many disengaged achievers decide that the way learning is “delivered” in school education is not for them and, even though they have the requisite qualifications, decide to end their formal education upon leaving school. Arising from this came the obvious questions: What design features might we need to incorporate into learning activities to see more students deeply engaged? How can we support teachers to design such activities? How can we create effective environments for the realization of such activities?

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