5 Rules for Student Engagement


University and college Faculty members across the nation are well aware of the historic fact that the average student cannot stay focused during a lecture for more than 20 minutes without being distracted. For today’s Generation Y students (born between 1980-2000), that widely accepted statistic may have fallen to about 10 minutes.

Campus life administrators are also experiencing challenges of student engagement, specifically participation for school related and community events. The traditional method used to engage students is to create flyers, tell a few student leaders, send out an email, cross their fingers and hope that students will show up for an event.

Today’s students grew up on interactive technology and expect entertainment-style communication. What can faculty and campus life administrators do to attract and engage today’s hyper-busy, easily distracted, and always connected students?

Here are the 5 rules that will help faculty and staff effectively engage and connect with today’s students:

1. Be Energized: Students will feed off a Faculty member’s passion and enthusiasm for the subject. They can also tell when an instructor is just going through the motions. The result will be bored students who can’t help but tune out. Faculty members must remind themselves they are professionals and being a professional means that they must consistently perform regardless of how they feel. If students are disengaged in the lecture, its time for the instructor to be like jumper cables and spark the class with energy, and remember, a dead battery can’t charge a dead battery.

2. Be Relevant: Use current events, music, television, work or real-life experiences that are relevant to the lecture and help students understand the lesson. For example, a marketing professor titled his lesson “The Lil Wayne Marketing Effect.” Given Lil Wayne’s music popularity, this will definitely capture students’ attention and prepare them to absorb the lesson.

3. Be Fun: Fun makes it interesting. If it isn’t interesting, it’s not going to be given much attention. When its fun the student will discuss it in conversation with friends. However, Faculty members must not attempt to be comedians, instead show a funny video that still relates to the lesson. If you attempt to be a comedian and fail, students will judge you and use your “not cool” label to justify tuning you out. Campus life administrators must make things funny and think like Super Bowl commercial advertisers when marketing events to students; Make school and community event advertisements funny, short and original.

4. Be Practical: Faculty members must connect what students are learning to “real-life” as much as possible. Include demonstrations with workplace scenarios, or have students work in groups on related case studies. For example, a business class could include a case study analysis of a current event business situation that could spark class interest and discussion.

5. Be Connected: According to a recent university study, students spend about three hours per day texting, and roughly one and half hours per day on Facebook. It is imperative that Faculty members and campus life administrators use Facebook, Twitter and text messaging to connect with students by posting assignments and making event announcements. Faculty members should set up Facebook groups and use the groups to spark class discussions, encourage students to ask questions, and allow students to post and make comments. Campus life administrators could increase their student participation rates by sending out text message reminders instead of emails before events and sponsor contests via text message (95% of text messages are read vs.5% for emails).

3 thoughts on “5 Rules for Student Engagement

  1. Curt

    Great thoughts and/or reminders. Too often educators forget that we have to deliver communication with the “WIIFM” from the student perspective! Students, like most all of us, don’t care what we know until they know that we care!

  2. Jo Pickering

    Simple, but true. Too often in HE the learner is forgotten and the status of the lecturer too important. Very few speakers are so fabulous that they can get by on personality or ability alone, most good teachers learn that it is a performing art and we also need to interest, entertain and surprise our audience.

    Never underestimate the power of novelty, it orientates attentional processes, and that is the key to a good start, then you can wow them with what you know, briefly, before the next surprise to revitalise attention.

    If it isn’t grounded in the here and now and have credibility in the real world, then it might be science fiction and not everyone likes that genre?

  3. Tam

    Yes… And … it’s also an opportunity for HE students to develop active listening and more adult learning skills. Giving younger students information only in the form they’ve known since cutting their teeth on Dora the Explorer does not provide opportunities to develop self-discipline for functioning effectively in the non-academic world. Bosses do not tap dance to get their employee’s attention. Yes, strictly lecturing has really never worked – but making “fun” the prerequisite, supports a learned helplessness for attention and learning, placing the locus of control for learning outside themselves. Combining theory and practice has always been the most effective way for human beings to learn. School is not recess and if it wasn’t hard w-o-r-k, it would be spelled f-u-n.


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