Three Ways to Increase Student Engagement in Face-to-Face and Online Learning

BethCaseBeth Case, MA, MEd, is program manager for digital, emerging, and assistive technologies at the Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning.


Aimee GreeneAimee Greene, MS, , is program manager for instructional design at the Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning.


What are some tips and strategies that Ben Stein’s character could have used to engage his students and create interest in economics?

Be Engaged

One of the best ways to engage students is to be fully engaged yourself as the instructor.

In face-to-face classes, share how you became interested in your field or a relevant personal experience to the day’s content. Make eye contact with your students and call them by name if you can. Avoid relying too much on your notes or lecturing “at” your class. Talk with your students before and after class. If you appear to care about the topic and their learning, they will be more likely to do the same.

Some ways that you can demonstrate your engagement in online courses include responding to emails and phone calls promptly (within 24 hours), reading and responding to discussion board posts, sending individual emails that address students by name (instead of mass emails,) giving specific  personalized  feedback on assignments, and occasionally using videos to communicate  with students.  An important goal is to create “teacher presence”, or the feeling that the teacher is  available and responsive to students, even if there is a physical and temporal separation between you.

Involve Students

Students are more engaged when they feel that they have some choice and control over their learning in both face-to-face and online courses. There are many ways to have students actively contribute to the course. For example, in an architecture or art history course, you could create a Pinterest board and ask students to add photos demonstrating and identifying different styles of Classic architecture. You can use one of the many curating tools on the Web (Scoop.It,,,, etc.) for students to share websites and articles on course topics.  Students become more invested when they are genuinely contributing something of use.

Try to break out of the mold of requiring term papers or PowerPoint presentations. When the focus is on demonstrating knowledge, allow students some choice in how they do that. For example, they could create a video, act out a scene, use concept maps, or create a digital portfolio. Students will often put much more time and attention into a project when they can be creative and have some freedom in the format.

Keep It Current and Relevant

When you saw the opening of this article, were you interested in reading more? Did you identify with the teacher, or maybe the students? Students are more engaged when they can see a connection to real-life situations and a practical application of the information. Provide examples, activities, and assessments that are relevant to students’ experiences, career goals, cultures, etc.   You can even create a homework assignment in which students need to locate Web-based or print-based examples of concepts, ideas or theories from “real life” and share with classmates.

Keep your content up-to-date by including new discoveries, theories, and news. Seeing your field as alive and dynamic will engage students and motivate them to learn.


Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

The suggested engagement techniques above align closely with Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. For their article, Chickering and Gamson reviewed twenty years of research on teaching and learning in higher education to compile a list of those strategies that made a real difference for student engagement and success. This well-researched and supported framework continues to provide a relevant outline for fostering student engagement in and out of the classroom.

Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever

In 1996, Chickering and Ehrmann advanced the original article, proposing the seven principles as a structure for utilizing technology for teaching and learning.  This article provided scaffolding for those who may or may not be comfortable with technology to support student learning and engagement, whether face-to-face or online.

What techniques do you use to engage your students? Share your best practices in the comments below.

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