Student engagement strategies are changing. Previously, in a traditional classroom, students would passively take notes while the professor lectures at the front of the class. At best, these lectures would include visual aids and, at worst, they would repeat the assigned text, with little interaction between students and the professor—or between the students themselves.
Now, educators are being encouraged to place more emphasis on the attention and interest students show in class. Engaged students will be more curious about a subject — perhaps even more passionate about it. Increasing engagement can help to improve student motivation and, in turn, boost student learning, progress and achievement as well as overall learning outcomes.
How student engagement strategies can fit in your classroom
In a classroom that emphasizes engagement, students are asked to participate in their own learning process and sometimes even in course design. Lectures haven’t disappeared from the classroom, but they now incorporate multimedia, technology and class participation.
Teaching strategies can be used by every educator to increase student engagement. These range from simple changes that can be made in your next class to a complete revamp of the curriculum, course delivery and assessment methodology. Here’s an introduction to some actionable student-centered learning strategies—from simple to complex.
Student engagement strategies for your teaching
1. Active learning: Create a teaching and learning environment primed for student participation, such as calling on students to answer a question, individual reflection, think pair share and group problem-solving. (More on our active learning page.)
2. Participatory teaching: This student-centered approach to pedagogy accounts for the different skills, backgrounds and learning styles of students. The focus of participatory teaching is on self-regulation and self-reflection; specific strategies include using different teaching methods and varying means of assessment.
3. Flip the classroom: Flip the traditional lecture-homework relationship1. Students study the subject matter independently and outside class through tools such as pre-recorded videos. Class is then spent on student-centered learning such as working through problems, debating or group work.
4. Technology in the classroom: Students expect to be constantly connected and want immediate feedback. Online and mobile technology can be used to provide active learning activities and to keep students engaged outside the classroom.
5. Writing: Exercises such as journaling and one-minute papers can help to keep students engaged in class as well as improve thinking skills.
Student engagement strategies based in your curriculum
6. Set expectations: At the beginning of a course, ask students what they expect from you and then try to meet those expectations. Students are more engaged when they have a good relationship with the instructor.
7. Integrated curriculum: Combine disciplines2 rather than compartmentalizing subjects. Some medical schools, for example, have moved away from teaching subjects in isolation such as physiology and anatomy, and moved toward studying organ systems where students learn the physiology and anatomy associated with that system.
8. Make the course relevant: Students want courses to be relevant and meaningful. Use real-world examples to teach; where the course is relevant to a specific occupation, ensure it is aligned with the current needs of the occupation.
9. Cooperative learning: Arrange students in partners or small groups to help them achieve learning goals. Group work can include assignments, discussions, reviews and lab experiments — even having students discuss a lesson with their peers.
10. Authentic learning experiences: Students tackle real-world problems and attempt to come up with a solution through methods such as inquiry and experimentation. Ideally, the solution will benefit others or the community. Experiential learning—when students learn from reflecting on their real-world learning experience—is a further development of this, and is an effective teaching strategy.
11. Social media: Potential uses for social media include sharing relevant content, posting instructional videos on YouTube and facilitating ongoing discussion groups. However, strict guidelines for use must be put in place and enforced.
Student engagement strategies for assessment
12. Prepare for class before class: Students get more out of class time if they’re familiar with the material before they arrive. Exercises such as pre-class quizzes ensure they’re knowledgeable enough to contribute.
13. Assess early and often: Frequent quizzes for formative assessment (“for fun”) work well alongside traditional midterm and final exams. Frequent testing3 reduces the temptation for students to cram and forces them to space out their learning, which leads to better retention. Having the first test within the first few classes also helps prevent students from falling behind—boosting student achievement early.
14. Assess attendance: Student attendance4 can improve grades as well as engagement. Consider making attendance part of their overall assessment. Many learners enter university without proper study skills, and first-year students can benefit from the structure of mandatory attendance.
15. Problem-based/project-based learning: Students are tasked with solving a problem or completing a project, but the focus is on the end product, allowing students to determine what resources are needed to solve the problem or complete the project.
Student engagement strategies using your presentation skills
16. Use visual representations: Engage students with animations, 3-D representations and concept maps, all of which can help them visualize complex subjects.
17. Inquiry-based learning: To answer questions posed by the instructor or by the students themselves, a learner undertakes his or her own research to arrive at an answer. Inquiry-based learning5 can be as simple as watching video lectures, or more involvement could come from designing and performing an experiment.
18. Use simulations: Games or role playing place students in an imaginary setting defined by the instructor, providing for an interactive, participatory learning experience.
19. Tell stories: Wherever possible, tell stories to illustrate concepts when giving lectures.
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- Ojalvo, H. E., & Doyne, S. Five Ways to Flip Your Classroom With The New York Times. [Blog post] New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2019 from https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/08/five-ways-to-flip-your-classroom-with-the-new-york-times/
- Evans, C., Muijs, D. & Tomlinson, M. (2015). Engaged student learning: high-impact strategies to enhance student achievement. [White paper] Retrieved May 15, 2019 from: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/engaged-student-learning-high-impact-strategies-enhance-student-achievement
- Twelve Best Practices for Student Engagement and Retention. [White paper] Retrieved May 15, 2019 from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania: https://www.mansfield.edu/academic-affairs/upload/Twelve-Best-Practices-for-Student-Engagement-and-Retention-2012.pdf
- Quevillon, K. (2017). Student Attendance Matters, Even If Lectures Are Online. Ask Harvard. [Blog post] Retrieved May 15, 2019 from Top Hat Blog: https://tophat.com/blog/student-attendance-harvard/
- Inquiry-Based Learning. Retrieved May 15, 2019 from Queens’ University, Kingston: https://www.queensu.ca/ctl/teaching-support/instructional-strategies/inquiry-based-learning
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