Academic Director’s October Update – Increasing Student Engagement

This article discusses techniques for increasing student engagement to improve student learning outcomes.

Students acquire knowledge most effectively when they are genuinely interested in the subject matter. The key to cultivating this interest lies in making the course material relevant, personalized, and engaging. If you take a moment to reflect on your own learning experiences, you’ll likely find that the most memorable moments align with these principles. 

  1. Relevance: In the vast sea of knowledge and ideas available for study, time is a finite resource. Therefore, it’s crucial to not only focus on how we learn but also on what we learn. Making course material relevant involves carefully selecting essential information and skills and aligning them with the priorities of your curriculum and program learning objectives.
  2. Personalization: Personalizing learning experiences revolves around convincing students that the course has significance in their lives. Relevance serves as the initial stepping stone in achieving this goal. However, the challenge lies in inspiring students to invest extra effort in comprehending challenging topics, spending additional time in the lab, or diligently practicing exercises. A student who takes their education personally feels an intrinsic motivation to excel.
  3. Engagement: Engagement encapsulates the connection between students, their learning activities, and the instructor. It begins with students attending classes, but it extends far beyond mere physical presence. Are students present not just in body but also in mind, or are they distracted by their devices? An engaged learner actively participates in learning activities and fully immerses themselves in the educational process.

In essence, by crafting a learning environment that emphasizes relevance, personalization, and engagement, educators can unlock students’ innate curiosity and motivation, leading to more fruitful and memorable educational experiences. 

Numerous techniques exist to attain these objectives, and the most suitable approach varies according to each instructor’s unique personality, teaching style, the nature of the course material, and desired learning outcomes. The optimization of your teaching techniques can be accomplished through active participation in Communities of Practice, where you can engage in discussions with fellow instructors, by observing instructors in action by attending classes outside your own, or by taking advantage of the diverse range of workshops hosted by CTL/CTLT. 

Here are some practical personal tips that you can readily implement in your teaching approach: 

  1. Clear Goal Setting: Right from the start, communicate your course goals directly to your students. Explain the learning outcomes and why they hold significance. Whenever you embark on a new topic, communicate its importance in practical terms. Utilize phrases such as “Topic X is pivotal for career prospects,” “Topic Y equips you with problem-solving skills,” or “Include this on your resume upon completion.” By conveying the significance and rationale behind each topic, you enhance student engagement with the learning process.
  2. Foster a Sense of Community: Cultivate an environment where students genuinely want to attend your classes because they enjoy being part of the community. Encourage connections among students by incorporating low-stakes group exercises that promote communication and participation. Employ techniques like gamification and rewards to personally involve students in their learning journey.
  3. Active Learning: Move beyond passive information transfer through lectures or videos. These methods often provide solitary engagement and are effective for only short durations. True learning occurs when students put ideas into practice. Incorporate activities that encourage hands-on learning and direct engagement with the course material. This approach is particularly vital during in-class time, as it facilitates community-building and supports group learning. While there is a wide array of active learning approaches available, always consider the time-benefit tradeoff – how much time is needed for this approach for students to grasp the material effectively?

By implementing these strategies, you can create a more engaging and productive learning environment that empowers your students to excel. Teaching a class filled with engaged students is an absolute delight, in stark contrast to one devoid of energy or vitality. By actively fostering engagement, you can significantly enhance your teaching experience and find greater satisfaction in your role as an educator. 

Ramon Lawrence 

CTL Academic Director 

Credit: Written and edited in collaboration with ChatGPT.