Spencer Supports Research on At-Risk College Students

To succeed in college, students need be able to plan and engage in studying activities beyond the classroom. This competency is especially critical for academically at-risk students who are often not able to manage their learning engagement to achieve desired academic outcomes. Contextual features of students’ study plans and actual learning environments influence students’ engagement and learning (Xie, Heddy, & Vongkulluksn, 2019). However, due to limitations of current research methodology and instrumentation, there are no empirical evidence regarding the types of contextual features that may enhance students’ out-of-classroom engagement, limiting provision of support in this area to at-risk college students.

The Spencer Foundation is currently supporting research that mitigate this issue at the Research Laboratory for Digital Learning. Led by Principal Investigator Dr. Kui Xie, and Co-Principal Investigators Drs. Vanessa Vongkulluksn and Christopher Wolters, this project is entitled “The Influence of Contextual Features on Learning Engagement in Out-of-Classroom Settings for Academically At-Risk College Students.” It examines how characteristics of students’ study plans and study environment influence academically at-risk college student’s engagement.

Leveraging the affordances of a newly developed mobile app, ESM-Mobile, this project will use mobile devices as a vehicle to deliver research instruments that assess students’ behavioral and cognitive engagement in the moment and in the context of learning (Xie, Heddy, & Greene, 2019). Using hierarchical linear modeling and intensive longitudinal design, we analyzed factors that influence the likelihood that students will study as planned and engage deeply when studying. Identifying important contextual features relevant to engagement is the first step towards designing context-specific interventions to support academically at-risk students, helping to boost their academic performance and college success. Data collection is now underway, and the project is in progress until Summer 2020.


Xie, K., Heddy, B.C., & Greene, B.A. (2019). Affordances of using mobile technology to support experience-sampling method in examining college students’ learning habits. Computers & Education, 128, 183-198. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2018.09.020

Xie, K., Heddy, B., & Vongkulluksn, V. (2019). Examining learning engagement in context: The opportunities and challenges of mobile technology in experience-sampling method. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 59, 101788. 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2019.101788