Student Engagement Techniques

Student Engagement Techniques: What does engagement mean?


The motivation-based view of student engagement most teachers have, as defined in Student Engagement Techniques: a Handbook for College Faculty, is we “want students to share our enthusiasm for our academic discipline and find our courses so compelling that they willingly, in fact enthusiastically, devote their hearts and minds to the learning process” (Barkley, p. 5)


My first reaction to this quote was a scoffing laugh as I rolled my eyes and said I wish. I have never had a single class, in my ten years of experience, share the same enthusiasm as me. I found myself daydreaming about a group of students who were utterly devoted to their learning process. They were investigating, reflecting, and actively contributing with excitement as we explored the world of topics beneath our feet as we embarked on the learning journey.  This image was interrupted by a single thought: “if that is engagement to me, I wonder what engagement is to them.” Suddenly I was shocked that I had never thought of this before. I started questioning myself by asking:
  • Why had I only seen and tried to approach engagement through my own lens?
  • Should I not be looking at my course and lesson design with the student experience in mind?
  • Why do I look at my textbook every morning and ask “what am I going do to today?
  • Should I not be asking “what are my students going to learn and what are they going to do to show me they have learned it?
This is important because motivation and engagement are aspects of teaching I frequently hear colleagues talking about and struggling with. It is quite possible that the struggle will continue is spite of our efforts because we have approached this situation from the teacher’s point of view.


In mapping out the student experience from how they see each moment of the school day, it is impossible not to change our approach to teaching. Take a moment to think about this.

  • How many people have they communicated with before they see you?
  • What pressures and stresses are they bringing to class with them?
  • Do they care about what I am teaching, like verb agreement?
  • How will they respond to this task?
  • How will this task help achieve their goal?

By viewing the lesson as an experience, we are then able to relate the course content to what matters to our audience. We can then integrate each of our student’s individual motives for attending class into lesson that engages them naturally on a personal and academic level. It becomes less of a situation where the teacher makes students engaged in the material and more like learning experience shared by everyone.


If I consider each moment of the school day as a moment of truth, the learning experience becomes genuine and enlightening. My lesson plans should be constructed like maps that show a clear route from where we are and where we need to be. My role is as a guide taking each member of my exploration team on an educational journey. 

I plan to implement more pre-testing and needs analysis, following a BOPPPS structure (click link for an explanation of BOPPPS), to assess what my learners already know and need to explore further. Aligning the relevance of what I am teaching to the realities of the lives of my students is one way to ensure connections are made between new information and what is already known. New realities and meaning can actively constructed.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagemnet Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
University of British Columbia. (2012, August 21). Mini-Lessons Basics/BOPPPS Model for Planning Lessons (Teaching and Learning). Retrieved from UBC Wiki:


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