Promote student engagement

How you choose to engage students in learning may depend on course context. The guidelines and strategies below are intended to help you think about what would work with your students in your course context. You might choose to implement one of the strategies, several strategies, or you might be inspired to create your own.

In this article:

Promote a sense of belonging

  • Start the term by creating an introductory survey. Ask students, for example, about their background knowledge and comfort with learning technologies. Find out what you need to know to help students succeed.

  • Explore methods for gathering and responding to student feedback (e.g., office hours, one-minute papers, mid-term feedback).

  • Create a sense of community by telling students something about yourself and invite them to do the same.

  • Pay attention to students who experience barriers to being part of the class community (e.g., access, disability). Check that you are using technology that is accessible for students with disabilities. This resource provides information about assistive technology.

  • Engage student mentors and/or TAs to provide small-group and individualized support to students.

Learn more

Garrett, J., & Clement, M. (2018). First day of class activity: The interest inventoryFaculty Focus.

Hermann, A. D., & Foster, D. A. (2008). Fostering approachability and classroom participation during the first day of class. Active Learning in Higher Education, 9(2), 139-151. 

Back to top

Clearly outline course expectations

  • Send a welcome email before the first day of class to greet students, convey important information, and set a positive tone for the term.

  • In your course outline, let students know how you will communicate with them, how they can reach you, how the course will happen (e.g., a mix of lectures at regularly scheduled class times and activities in myCourses), whether lectures will be recorded, and what students need to do to engage fully in learning. In addition, let students know how to access course resources and get technical help.

  • Establish norms for class participation and communicate these clearly. For example, if you are using Zoom, decide if students should speak up or if they should use the “raise hand” feature or another signal. You can also ask students to co-create these norms.

  • Use myCourses to communicate with students by sending individual email messages or posting Announcements for the whole class. For example, you might begin each week with a message highlighting key ideas to be addressed and student work to be completed. (Read more in Using Announcements to Give Narrative Shape to your Online Course.) Note that students can set up Notifications in myCourses so that they know when you post new information for them.

  • For variety, consider recording short audio or video message to communicate to students the tasks they should be working on and those that should be completed. Encourage students to reply with an audio or video message of their own. All of this can happen in myCourses.

Read more

Legg, A. M., & Wilson, J. H. (2009). E-mail from professor enhances student motivation and attitudes. Teaching of Psychology, 36(3), 205-211.

Back to top

Make lectures interactive

  • Maintain students’ attention by breaking up long lectures with intermittent individual or small group activities. See examples

  • If you record your lectures for students to view online in myCourses. break them into segments of approximately 12 minutes or less. Consider providing students with questions beforehand to help them focus their attention while watching the recordings. Alternatively, ask students to write questions that emerge from the recorded lectures.

Back to top

Promote the exchange of ideas

  • Ask students to co-create course content by having them create short videos explaining key concepts or writing multiple choice questions for quizzes.

  • Help students to engage in meaningful dialogue—simply telling students to talk to one another is not sufficient. For example, provide instructions that require students to reply directly to the comment of another, and/or to synthesize the comments of several students and then add something new.

  • If appropriate, integrate Indigenous teaching strategies (see Explore Indigenous Teaching Strategies), such as implementing land-based pedagogy, learning from Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and storytelling.

Back to top

Provide meaningful assessment and feedback

  • Include mechanisms for self-reflection. For example, have students fill out a rubric as a self-reflective exercise and include this when submitting an assignment. You can create rubrics in myCourses.

  • Offer students options over a certain portion of their grade. For example, you might allow them to drop one quiz, choose between different assessment types, or choose among multiple due dates. See examples of flexible assessment strategies.

  • Use polling during class to engage students and informally assess their learning. Students’ responses to in-class polling questions can help you keep track of their progress and highlight which course concepts you may need to revisit.

Back to top

Use technology thoughtfully

  • Start small when adding new technologies. For example, if you would like to integrate video into your course, consider using a smartphone to record casual, 90-second videos of yourself giving a class update. You might also invite students to post brief video responses (using their phones) to a class myCourses Discussion forum.

  • Improve the chances that high-stakes assessments involving technology run smoothly by assigning low-stakes assignments beforehand where you and students can test the technology.

Back to top