How to Increase Student Engagement in Higher Education
Research shows that students who feel under-challenged by course material and under-engaged by their instructors can risk trending towards tardiness, absenteeism and eventually, dropping out.1 Increasingly today, many institutions are concerned about the economic impact of university and college student attrition in terms of the lost revenue from fees and tuition. But the students themselves suffer the most when we consider how much a career, a social status or a position in one’s community can be directly tied to the possession of a degree or certificate.
If this is a risk at your institution, don’t worry: it’s not a foregone conclusion. Instructors can employ a variety of effective strategies using technology to improve student engagement. The benefit of these strategies is that they can often effectively engage a whole class of students while hardly increasing an instructor’s workload.
What Are Some Strategies to Increase Student Engagement?
There are hundreds of tools that instructors can leverage in their classes. Below, we’ll take a look at five student engagement strategies and activities that you can implement in your classes.
1. Provoke Conversations and Challenge Students
Whether you’re looking for student engagement activities for college or university, incorporate discussion forums and post frequently. Students pursuing higher education are looking to be challenged and engaged. By providing opportunities for them to discuss topics and have their ideas questioned, they are more likely to engage and self-reflect. Education technology tools like a learning management system (LMS) enable instructors to easily set up, monitor and even grade discussion forums.
They also ensure that instructors can closely monitor ongoing course work and provide tools to give high-quality feedback. This feedback–especially when it’s timely–is an especially engaging way of communicating with learners and establishing peer collaboration networks. Providing relevant feedback early on in a course will get students acclimatized to how online learning works and will ensure that they don’t repeat previous mistakes.
Students will be more engaged and better motivated to interact with course content if their instructor asks their opinion and genuinely cares about what they have to say.
2. Encourage Social Media Usage
Many higher ed students spend their time engaged through social media platforms in their daily life. Beyond the entertainment and socializing aspects of social media, these can serve as valuable channels for conversation and learning. Classmates can use these services to plan group work, ask questions of one another, collaborate on projects and even organize extra-curricular activities. Using platforms that already have a high degree of student engagement can be an effective way to encourage further participation in their learning.
With social media, students can source and share relevant content directly with one another. This can also encourage personal relationships to grow outside of the classroom, a process which helps to form strong learning communities. As an instructor, you can create or suggest relevant hashtags that can help students follow online discussions on platforms like Twitter.
Social media is not a hands-free operation, of course. You should be clear with your students about your institutional policies, ensuring that students know to follow them in case of safety, security or privacy concerns.
3. Be Clear About How and When to Get in Touch
Make sure that your students are well-informed about when you’re available, both for synchronous office hours and asynchronous communication responses. Being present and available encourages students to come forward with issues and questions as they arise, engaging them in the learning process and demonstrating that their instructors care. Several ed tech tools can be used to achieve this goal.
Email is often the simplest and most accessible line of communication, but you can also hold fixed hours where students can get a quick answer from you with virtual office hours. You can also help students become more resourceful by encouraging them higher to share information with each other, either through discussion forums or activity feeds. Building a digital community in which frequently asked questions can be addressed broadly and students know where to consistently look for answers can actually help to relieve some of your workload. It’s important that instructors moderate these discussions to ensure that the information is correct and identify students who may be doing exceptional work in this environment.
Setting clear expectations on how students can access information and when is a key component of building trust. Students who trust their instructors and believe that they care about their learning journey will be more likely to engage in content.
4. Use Automation to Monitor Progress and Communicate With Students
Especially with larger classrooms, keeping an eye on everything going on can be challenging. Thankfully, automation allows you to monitor how your classes are progressing at a glance, while clearly indicating students who may be struggling or falling behind.
Using an LMS, you can set conditions for their content so that learners are required to complete certain tasks before accessing the next pieces of content. These requirements can include things like watching a video, reviewing a lesson or submitting a quiz. With these tools, you can also send encouragement for exceptional work, as well as advice for improvement to students who might start to falter.
Technology enables teachers to provide positive feedback while also giving them the opportunity to intervene if students need more help. Extension activities can also help improve student engagement in a more timely and personalized manner, particularly when the student is ahead and finds the content interesting.
5. Validate Learning and Celebrate Accomplishments
Virtual and blended classrooms have plenty of benefits, but they can also be seen as informal locations because learning can occur anywhere. That can make students feel as if their contributions or moments of learning are going unnoticed. A blended learning environment can actually make celebration easier, especially when dealing with larger classes. Consider a group work setting in a physical classroom, for example: if a student has a great idea, it might go unheard unless their peers celebrate them or their instructor happens to be nearby. With an LMS, teachers and classmates alike can reflect on the engagement and the discussions after the fact and give credit where it’s due.
It’s also important to validate learning, no matter where it takes place. Activities like watching and responding to a TED Talk or linking to a relevant news article can help students connect their learning to real problems. The more involved an instructor becomes in the online activities of students, the more these students will feel validated for the learning they are demonstrating. And celebrating accomplishments is one of the best ways to keep your class involved in and proud of the work that they are doing.
Don’t Settle for Unengaged Students
With so many tools at our fingertips, setting out to engage students has never been as accessible. Engaged students are a worthy pursuit, with both parties reaping the benefits. From better performance to more enjoyable class discussions, instructors and students alike gain a much better experience from their higher education experience.
While teachers have their plates full with planning, marking and adapting to an ever-changing higher ed landscape, engaging their students should continue to be a priority.
Curious for even more strategies for engaging higher ed students online? Here’s another blog post for you, all about how D2L helps students to collaborate during times of isolation.
- Shernoff, David & Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly & Shneider, Barbara & Shernoff, Elisa. (2003). Student Engagement in High School Classrooms from the Perspective of Flow Theory. School Psychology Quarterly. 18. 158-176. 10.1521/scpq.126.96.36.19960.
Rosanne Abdulla is the EDU Content Marketing Manager at D2L. Previously, she was a part of the Training team. She completed her PhD in French Studies in 2018, where she researched extreme contemporary French Literature through a psychological lens. She has taught second language acquisition within the higher education sector, including undergraduate-level university courses, college degree and diploma courses, and continuing education programs. Rosanne has also been certified with the Ontario College of Teachers since 2011.
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