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Engagement & Connection: General Considerations

No matter the environment, instructors should keep in mind best practices for engaging students and helping them learn. Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson, based on years of research into higher education, offer the list below. The rest of this section offers recommendations for how to get these ideas into practice in online environments. The box on the right side of this page provides an overview of these recommendations. 

Encourage contact between students and faculty

Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students’ intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans.

Develop rapport and cooperation among students

Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one’s own ideas and responding to others’ reactions sharpens thinking and deepens understanding.

Encourage active learning

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

Give prompt feedback

Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. When getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.

Emphasize time on task

Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Learning to use one’s time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Students need help in learning effective time management. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty. How an institution defines time expectations for students, faculty, administrators, and other professional staff can establish the basis for high performance for all.

Communicate high expectations

Expect more and you will get more. High expectations are important for everyone-for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations of themselves and make extra efforts.

Be flexible in your approach to student talents and ways of learning

There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learning in new ways that do not come so easily.

Creative Ideas for Engaging Students

Spark some ideas for your own course(s) by checking out these examples of Engaging Ideas for Flexible and Online Teaching from KU Faculty members in Spring 2020: instructional activities or assignments that were especially successful in engaging and stimulating students, were fun to implement, or took advantage of the online environment in ways they had not discovered before. Also What Worked Well: Bright Spots from Fall 2020, a collection of essays showcasing the many innovative and inspiring ways in which KU instructors overcame Fall teaching challenges. 

Engaging and Connecting Online

1. Making online courses more personal

2. Developing engaging instructional activities

3. Designing engaging assignments

4. Making online course materials user-friendly