5 Simple Steps to Boost Student Engagement in Higher Education

November 18, 2021

Have you ever taught a class that was an utter failure — the students were so disinterested that you could feel the boredom in the air? Now, imagine a class where the students are so engaged that you can feel the electricity and passion take over as if the classroom was full of life. How amazing does that feel!

High student engagement is a critical pillar of a successful higher-ed class — not only for the students but for your well-being and professional success as an educator. So, it’s essential to implement strategies that maintain the level of focus required for optimal learning.

To discover how you can create a classroom full of energy, curiosity, and participation, check out this guide.

Low Engagement in Higher-Ed Environments

Key Causes of Low Engagement

To begin, let’s examine some of the top reasons that your students might be struggling to keep up in class. They can be broken down into internal and external factors

The internal factors are typically classroom-based issues and include:

  • Lack of engaging activities
  • Misuse of phones and technology in the classroom
  • Use of subject matter that is too easy or too difficult
  • Challenging or problem students that lead to the distraction of others
  • Lack of sufficient break time

External factors are problems that are from outside the class but impact the in-class performance of students. Some examples of external factors are:

  • Lack of sleep and poor diet
  • Issues at home
  • Overactive social life and too many extracurricular activities
  • Mental health issues or personal matters

Importantly, not all problems related to student engagement stem from in-class circumstances. Understanding and connecting with your students will help mitigate many external issues contributing to poor performance.

Impacts of High and Low Engagement

Some of the key impacts of low engagement levels include:

  • Doing the bare minimum
  • Poor attendance
  • Behavioral issues

And, those of high engagement include:

  • Increase in focus
  • Increased motivation — which included asking questions and showing deep interest in subject matter
  • Higher likelihood of engaging with peers

Some Actionable Steps to Increase Student Engagement

To combat low engagement in the classroom, you can follow these five actionable strategies.

1. Build an active learning environment

During active learning, the students participate in the class rather than learning via passive modes like lectures and speeches.

You can include activities like questions and answers, quizzes, collaborative projects, group projects, debates, and presentations.

2. Focus on communal interests, topical events, and real-world content

A benefit of teaching college-level students and higher education classes is the opportunity then present for exploring complex, controversial ideas and concepts. You can also stay up to date with the latest trends and implement these in the classroom wherever possible. Using video content, arranging role play, and presenting case studies are also great ways to achieve this goal.

3. Introduce content in intervals and allow for breaks‌

An overload of information or extended presentations often hampers a student’s concentration level. According to some studies, when doing a focused task, students need a 15-minute break every 90 minutes.

When planning your lessons, do account for mini-breaks and time for reflection. You can also take it to the next level by recommending movements like stretching and walking and then return to the task in these breaks.

4. Opt for a holistic approach to teaching

External forces like health, family issues, and financial hardship can negatively contribute to a student’s learning experience and classroom participation.

To build a holistic student experience, promote student well-being, remind them of available support services like counseling, and provide them with ample opportunities for feedback, comments, and chances to share their voices.

Another great way to do this is to keep open lines of communication with clearly designated times of availability. You can also encourage inter-class-based discussion groups and forums.

5. Embrace a hybrid teaching model

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, college teaching has changed, and many higher education establishments have had to rethink their approach.

Combining in-person and online learning is a great way to give students flexibility and increase their control over their learning outcomes — which can essentially increase engagement.

An example of this is the blended learning model, where in-class and online activities are included as parts of the curriculum. A way you can use this model is by introducing a topic in the class and then continuing with a discussion question online.

The Takeaway

High engagement is key to a fun and interactive class. Achieving this can become an easy task if you are aware of the factors that impact engagement and follow the engagement-boosting strategies.

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