Student Engagement Part 1: Focusing on the emotional aspects of learning

Group of students working on a project from a top view

Contributed by CTL staff

(3 minute read)

Are your students engaged, actively present and effortful at their learning? Are your students ‘there,’ with you, in class? Are your students still emotionally invested in our course now that you are half-way through the semester? The middle of the semester always presents its own challenges for keeping students motivated and engaged, and even more so in a remote and hybrid environment. When and if you do get to a point where students seem less engaged, perhaps it’s time to focus on the emotional aspects of learning first in order to increase student engagement. 

Here are some strategies you could implement in your courses when you feel motivation is decreasing and students are less active. 

  • Mid-semester written reflection: Have students write about what they have accomplished so far in the course, and how they envision applying the content they have learned to their life outside of college. This constant reminder and reflection of the end goal can help with boosting motivation and engagement.
  • Mid-semester video reflection: Have students create brief, 1-2 min. mid-semester videos making connections between their lives and the course content they have learned so far. The connection of the course content to their lives allows students to remember the value of taking the course, and how it could impact their future. These videos do not need to involve any post-production; they may be recorded on basic cameras, student phones or laptops, and uploaded to a discussion board (Blackboard discussion board), Google drive folder or Pronto.
  • Online student space: This may be a casual student ‘lounge’ for the students or a more formal, content-focused FAQs space. The space may be a discussion board space where students have conversations (e.g. hobbies, interests, cultural values, etc.) or it may be a space where students can support one another in learning, and ask for help. You, as the instructor, could be on the sidelines monitoring the conversation, and not have an active role unless necessary. Tools such as the Blackboard discussion board; Google jamboard; Pronto and Padlet allow for this type of collaboration. Make sure to check out our Lightning Talk on “Bringing Back the Whiteboard” by Phillipa Pitts for inspiring ideas on using Google jamboard.
  • Weekly mid-semester check-ins: Dedicate a few minutes of class time to checking in with your students. Give opportunities to students to share their successes and challenges. This check-in will allow you, as the instructor, to identify and intervene if there is a challenge and/or decreased motivation as a result. You may also ask students to share their responses in advance if they do not feel comfortable speaking up. Tools such as Google forms allow for anonymous submission of responses. Ideaboardz is also a simple tool that is a good platform to do quick, weekly check-ins anonymously. See here to see a sample template for a weekly check-in format (feel free to add text/stickies and play around with it; you do not need an account to do so)!
  • Virtual coffee/tea check-in days: Consider holding virtual coffee/tea check-in days. You may dedicate an hour where students would drop by to chat with you and their classmates. Sometimes students just need that connection with others to be motivated to speak up and engage. Some instructors have these special days right before an important exam or assignment, while others have check-in times towards the end of the semester as students are getting tired and need a boost.
  • Optional virtual study days: Set up a day/time where students can “stop by” to work on their assignments. This is a quiet space, where students can turn off their videos, and work in the presence of others. Enable the chat feature, so students can communicate privately with one another if they need to. As the instructor, you may choose to be there, or you may decide not to, and add students as alternative hosts to open up the session. 

Ensuring that students are emotionally invested in our course and want to be there is paramount to their learning, and something that needs to be addressed on a daily basis, but more so when there is a sense of low engagement. 

Stay tuned for our next N&A post on engaging students during class with the course content.