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AUS MA TESOL alumna wins Best Paper Award at graduate research conference
A research paper on understanding student engagement in the classroom won American University of Sharjah (AUS) alumna Angel Merchant the Best Paper Award at the National UAE Graduate Students Research Conference 2022.
The conference is an interdisciplinary academic event to share research conducted at universities across the UAE. It provides opportunities for graduate students to share their research work with their peers, receive scholarly feedback and network professionally.
Titled “Do Teachers Know What Engages Their Students?” Merchant's research focused on establishing whether teachers are aware of what engages their students, highlighting the concept of fake engagement.
“This topic holds importance for teachers around the world. Knowing what engages and disengages students is a primary concern for many educators. If we can understand how students react when they are truly engaged, we can plan better lessons incorporating students’ interests,” said Merchant, who graduated with a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in 2022.
She added: “The evidence from the research suggests that engagement is a very dynamic process. Students actively and consistently display signs of fake engagement in the classroom. Hand gestures, head nodding and eyebrow raising are some examples of behaviors that students display to feign engagement. The research found that teachers seem to be unaware that these are signs of fake engagement, and more importantly, they seem to classify these non-verbal behaviors as signs of focus and engagement.”
Merchant’s paper is due to be published as a book chapter by Routledge. The AUS alumna is currently pursuing her PhD in Language and Literacy Education and plans additional research on the topic of student engagement.
The Canadian national grew up in the UAE, graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication from AUS in 2016. Following a stint in journalism, Merchant decided to pursue a career in teaching and enrolled in the AUS MA TESOL program in 2020. She has been working as an early years educator for the past two years in a private school and will be starting a new position as a middle school special-needs educator.
“I lived in the UAE for over 15 years. In all my time here, AUS has been the best institution I have been part of. TESOL has been absolutely phenomenal. Special thanks go to faculty members Dr. Tammy Gregersen, Dr. Phillip McCarthy and Dr. Rachel Buck for being such an integral part of this journey,” said Merchant.
The College of Arts and Sciences at AUS offers a Master of Arts in TESOL to prepare professionals for a career in teaching English to speakers of other languages. The program is designed to meet the needs of teachers of English as a second language in a diverse, multicultural setting while providing students with professional training and solid foundations in second language acquisition, teaching methodology, language testing and use of technology in language teaching classrooms. For more information about the program, visit aus.edu/cas/matesol.