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5 Key Tips for More Student Engagement

Student engagement. Active learning. Personal learning.

These buzz words are everywhere you look right now. But what is the correlation between engagement and learning? How can instructors measure engagement, and how does engagement translate into not only learning but understanding and application?

Renowned psychologist and professor Dr. Jean Twenge has spent years researching student engagement and the generational differences that drive people’s behavior and growth. Her takeaway from this generational research? That, broadly speaking, students today have very different preferences and perspectives on how they learn and process new material.

But how does that translate into better engagement with students? And how can instructors, practically speaking, utilize some of this research within their own courses?

Here are five tips for more student engagement:

  1. Give Students the “Why” First

Like most people, students like to understand the “why” behind the things they do. Before a classroom lecture or assigning homework, take a few minutes to explain how the work you are asking them to do is going to impact their learning. Laying out the big picture first helps students visualize how this particular work fits into their larger educational experience and goals.

  1. Make it Relevant

Many instructors use examples from current events and pop culture, but students often lack the understanding of how these lessons and coursework will impact their lives, their careers, and their goals. So tell them! Tell them how math skills will help them balance their checkbook, or how biology is used in their everyday life. Explain how accounting impacts whether or not a business will succeed and why someone will be considered a better hiring candidate if they have superior writing skills. The more concrete and relevant you can make the course material, the quicker students will recognize its importance to their future.

  1. Mix It Up

Let’s be honest, not many people like to sit and listen to someone else talk for extended periods of time. As Dr. Twenge’s research shows, this is especially true for millennial and iGen students, who tend to have more limited attention spans and who process “chunked” content more easily.

Some easy ways to mix it up in your classroom are:

  • Play a short video
  • Give a brief quiz
  • Assign group-work
  • Lecture, questions, lecture, questions, video, questions, quiz
  • Promote peer-to-peer interaction
  1. Give Students Feedback... Often

Students crave feedback. They want to know how they’re doing, what they’ve gotten wrong and right, and how they can improve. And they want this feedback almost immediately. If students don’t know where they are with their learning, they can’t make changes or improvements. They can’t study harder or practice more. They won’t read or do the homework if they don’t understand the value of mastering concepts. The more feedback you give them along the way, the more chances they have to impact their learning process and the more engaged they will be with the materials.

Here are a few effective ways to give feedback:

  • In-class quizzes: Quizzes during class not only ensure that your students listen and participate, but they also allow them the opportunity to check their understanding of the material.
  • Auto-graded homework: Auto-graded homework gives your students a place to practice their understanding outside of the class and receive immediate feedback. This will also increase in-class engagement because your students will be more familiar with the topics and will have questions coming into class.
  • Questions throughout the lecture: Pause every 8-10 minutes of lecture to answer questions. Don’t tell your students to “hold their questions until the end.” Instead, encourage questions throughout the lecture. If you are concerned about too many interruptions, set a specific time for questions (not just at the end of class) and have students write them down as they come up. Give bonus points for “good questions.”
  • More assessments: Give smaller, more frequent exams so students have the opportunity to evaluate their mastery of the concepts.
  1. Find Balance for Both You and Your Students

Students and instructors have a lot on their plate. Whether it’s teaching multiple courses, working full-time and going to school, raising kids, etc., the demands both in and out of the classroom have never been greater for everyone. Finding a balance for both yourself and your students is key to getting students to both engage and understand the core concepts of your class.

Incorporating balance into the classroom can be different for everyone. Some instructors might be more flexible on due dates and others might allow their students to text them questions rather than hold traditional office hours. Whatever balance means for you and your students, make sure to communicate it clearly and early in the semester, so students understand your desire to help them succeed both in and out of the classroom

For teaching tips that are personalized to your course challenges, visit our Course Challenges Quiz.

Learn more about Engaging Generation Z in the Classroom with Dr. Twenge.