Engagement: A Brief Visual Overview of an Educational Buzzword

It’s not just Check & Connect—“engagement” has been an educational buzzword since the ‘90s. It even has its own Wikipedia entry. Despite ubiquitous use of the term, researchers, educators, and intervention programs each have their own definition of “engagement” (we’ll dig deeper on Check & Connect’s definition in a future blog post).

Appleton, Christenson, and Furlong (2008) examined 19 extant definitions of engagement from articles and reports published from 1984-2007, including the definition used in Check & Connect. They summarized these definitions in a table; we thought it might be illuminating to examine those definitions using another approach.

So, below is a WordCloud generated from the definitions of engagement reviewed by Appleton et al. (2008). In WordClouds, the frequency with which words appear determines how large they appear—words that show up more frequently appear in larger text.

Wordcloud image of engagement as defined in research

A Wordcloud we generated using Wordle.net from the definitions of engagement reviewed by researchers.

What do you notice?

What do you notice about the result of this “visual synthesis” of 19 definitions of engagement? Is there anything important about the nature of engagement at school and with learning that you think isn’t captured in this WordCloud? Comment on this post to share your thoughts.


Work cited:
Appleton, J. J., Christenson, S. L., & Furlong, M. J. (2008). Student engagement with school: Critical conceptual and methodological issues of the construct. Psychology in the Schools, 45(5), 369-386.

About the Author: Chris Opsal is a project coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration and member of the Check & Connect team.

© 2012 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

2 thoughts on “Engagement: A Brief Visual Overview of an Educational Buzzword

  1. What I am noticing is that while “engagement” is big, “positive feelings” is quite small. I would think that they would be at least the same size – as we know how closely related they are.

  2. Similarly, I was surprised by how small the terms “belonging” and “connection” are because these are so critical for student engagement. I appreciate that definitions of engagement appear to focus almost as much on “learning” as they do on “school” (as suggested by the size of the words) because as much as we want students to be engaged in school we want them to be engaged in their learning. In Check & Connect, our interventions focus both on helping students engage in school – feel like they belong, identify with the school, and participate in school activities – and on promoting engagement in learning – helping students value education, see the relevance of what they’re learning to their futures, and enjoy the challenge of learning new things.

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