Engage Students in Your Course by Providing a Larger Context

Sep 07 2011


Students enroll in courses for many reasons, some intrinsic, some extrinsic. They might be curious about a topic or discipline. They might have heard positive comments about an instructor from other students. Or the course might be required, either for all majors in a discipline (or relateddiscipline) or as an option to meet a graduation requirement.
Students who register for a course for intrinsic reasons arrive on the first day excited and motivated to engage in the course. Students who register primarily because a course satisfies a requirement might be resistant to engaging in the course. How can we engage and motivate students who are ambivalent about the course?
Students often select a major without fully understanding the breadth of the field. Sometimes, students regard required courses as obstacles, without recognizing the relevance of the knowledge and skills acquired in those courses to their future careers. The first day of class is a good opportunity to place the course in the context of the major and clarify the importance of the learning outcomes associated with that course for development of professional skills in the discipline.
Courses that function as service courses to a variety of majors may present additional challenges. It can be helpful to learn the intended careers of your students, and to use that information when selecting specific examples to discuss in class. Including applications that are relevant to the future careers of your students will add variety to the course content and will help keep your students engaged throughout the term.
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida

Author: francine_glazer