Making Teaching Engaging

Students’ engagement is crucial for learning. Several sources have proposed ideas for creating a positive learning environment and increasing student motivation. They advocate for the importance of showing students the relevance of the course material and outcomes to their personal and professional goals, providing clear and consistent information about the course expectations and requirements, and creating an equitable and supportive learning environment. Additionally, in order to capture and maintain students’ attention and enhance learning, it is important to use techniques and strategies that engage them and require involvement and participation, rather than expecting them to be passive recipients of knowledge.

Among the suggestions offered are that instructors

  • Communicate enthusiasm and excitement about the topic and the course.
  • Provide specific learning objectives and clarify what students will gain from attaining them, relating course outcomes to students’ goals.
    Developing Student Learning Objectives
  • Relate learning activities and assessments to learning objectives and provide rubrics so students know the bases for expectations and evaluation criteria.
    Student AssessmentCreating Rubrics
  • Create a positive learning environment by learning about the students, including their names, what they hope to get out of the course, and what preparation and background knowledge they have.
  • Provide some information about their professional background, which may include telling stories about themself and the field.
  • Clearly communicate how to be successful in the course, including letting students know what is expected of them with regard to preparation, attendance, and participation in class activities.
  • Create a sense of community among students (e.g., assign shared projects, expect and encourage participation by all students).
    Facilitating Class Discussions
  • Give students regular constructive feedback on their progress.
    Providing Effective Feedback
  • Make course materials inclusive (e.g., ensure variety of authors and sources, representing a range of perspectives).
    Integrating Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion into Course Content and Assignments
  • Articulate ground rules for participation and discussion.
    Managing Disruptive Student Behavior
  • Introduce variety in learning activities, including incorporating active learning strategies.
    Promoting Active Learning
  • Use technology to supplement course materials (e.g., videos, blogs, or online discussions).
  • ​​​​Be approachable and accessible to students who have questions or seek help.

Sources and Helpful Resources

  • How to Make Teaching More Engaging
    The Chronicle of Higher Educationhas a comprehensive article on why and how to make teaching engaging to students, which includes links to some specific examples on active learning techniques.
  • Engaging Students
    The Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation​​​​​​​ has developed an extensive list of methods for increasing student engagement.
  • Engaging Students in Learning
    The University of Washington Center for Teaching and Learning provides another list of approaches to increasing student engagement, with information on each suggestion.
  • Building a Positive Learning Environment
    This University of Saskatchewan Teaching and Learning site provides examples of ways to engage students; some are accompanied by short videos of instructors explaining what they do.
  • Activities for Student Engagement
    The Washington State University Academic Outreach and Innovation site includes a list of activities for student engagement with detailed information on how to use them.
  • Engaging Students on the First Day and Every Day
    This entry In the Harvard Business Publishing site lists seven strategies for connecting in the classroom. It includes the general principles as well as specific examples of how to implement them.​​​​​​​

Literature on increasing student engagement in online courses makes many of the same points; additional suggestions include:

  • Increase instructor online presence by providing an introductory video, sharing still images, and linking to social media and program or school sites.
  • Build in opportunities for personal interactions by providing contact information, being available for regular office hours, and reaching out to students with praise or offers of help through one-on-one conversations; use Canvas Inbox for regular check-ins.
  • Foster interactions between students to create a learning community through ice-breakers, team projects, discussion forums, blogs, or other collaboration tools.
  • Create online discussion questions that promote higher order thinking, a variety of perspectives, interactions among students, and interactive peer feedback.
  • Create short introductions to each module that draw attention to important concepts and clarify their purpose.
  • Collect immediate (real time) feedback about student learning.
  • Provide students with regular, timely, and specific feedback using Canvas features and/or audio or video formats.
  • Establish Netiquette ground rules for civil interactions online.
  • Collect regular feedback about the course.

Resources for Online Teaching ​​​​​​​

  • Recommendations to Increase Student Engagement in Online Courses
    The Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning provides several recommendations for increasing student engagement in online courses. They pertain to expectations, content and activities, faculty presence, learning community, and inclusive environment.
  • Engaging Students
    The Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching site discusses engagement with instructor, other students, and course content and includes video presentations on these topics.
  • Teaching Topics
    The Ohio State University Teaching and Learning Resource Center presents information on a range of teaching topics, many of which are specifically relevant to effective online teaching.
  • Engaging Students in Online Activities
    The University of Waterloo Keep Learning site lists ways to engage students in online activities and provides examples.
  • How to Be a Better Online Teacher
    This Chronicle of Higher Educationarticle provides tips for online teaching, including ten essential tips and practices that are designed to increase student engagement.
  • ​​​​​​​​​Technology and Strategies for Engaging StudentsThe Georgia Tech Center for Teaching and Learning provides a series of videos on ways to engage students using online technology.