How To Measure and Ignite Student Engagement

Every teacher knows that just because a student is present in the classroom doesn’t mean they’re actively engaged and truly learning the lesson. In fact, maintaining a high level of student engagement is one of the biggest challenges teachers face, especially since hybrid and remote classroom experiences are here to stay after the pandemic.

How can teachers improve student engagement? Developing methods to measure engagement in the classroom is a great place to start. By accurately measuring engagement, teachers can identify disengaged students who are at risk of falling behind or even dropping out of school. Once disengaged students are identified, teachers can then implement strategies for engaging remote learners and work closely with at-risk students.

But how do you measure student engagement? Let’s take a look at some tried and true methods for checking in on student engagement and go over some ways teachers can improve engagement in higher ed classrooms using technology like Poll Everywhere.

What is student engagement?

Before you can begin measuring student engagement, it helps to understand what engagement actually looks like in the classroom. One easy way to define engagement is based on observation. Are students paying attention? Are they asking questions and participating in discussions?

This is what the Center for Professional Education of Teachers (CPET) at Columbia University refers to as academic engagement, and it’s also known as behavioral engagement. This type of engagement can reflect students’ level of executive function, which includes their working memory and inhibitory control.

In other words, students who struggle with executive function may have trouble remembering their LMS password or paying attention for long periods of time. They may also struggle with retention of course materials and possibly require an intervention to help them develop learning strategies that require less executive function.

But student engagement doesn’t end there. The CPET also points to intellectual and social-emotional engagement as equally important to students’ overall success.

Intellectual engagement, also called cognitive engagement, measures whether students have a genuine interest in the course materials—including whether assignments are too easy or too hard. They also want to understand the real-world applications of what they’re learning and have opportunities to advance to the next level or challenge.

Traditional ways to assess student engagement also look at affective engagement. Affective engagement can be seen in students who are motivated to learn new things and express enthusiasm and interest in their learning.

CPET opts to measure student engagement slightly differently by focusing on social-emotional engagement as the third type. Social-emotional engagement refers to students’ personal relationships with their peers, teachers, and student groups. This type of engagement is why it’s critical to create spaces where all students feel they can safely participate and connect.

Sometimes connection needs to happen outside of education, as well, and students can benefit from simply getting to know one another through class activities.

How to measure classroom engagement in higher education

How can you determine whether your students are engaged on academic, intellectual, and social-emotional levels? Here are a few key indicators to look at:

1. Participation in classroom activities

The easiest way to assess academic engagement is to simply observe student behavior. This includes showing up for class, participating in learning activities, keeping up with administrative tasks like managing financial aid paperwork, and submitting high-quality work.

There are a variety of different strategies you can use to elicit and survey classroom participation:

  • Asking questions
  • Testing comprehension with in-class quizzes
  • Leading class discussions
  • Asking volunteers to present their projects
  • Taking attendance and noting who completes tasks

Did you know? Digital devices in the classroom can improve student engagement. Find out how to effectively   in our free ebook.

2. Participation in small groups

Not every student feels comfortable participating in big group discussions or sharing their work in front of the classroom. This is especially true for your more introverted students.

To better assess engagement, divide your students into pairs or small workgroups. You’ll likely see many of your quieter students blossom during group work, and you’ll also have the freedom to observe who comprehends the course material and who might be struggling.

3. Games and competitions

Some students rise to the occasion when they feel challenged. Teachers can measure learners’ intellectual engagement by gamifying certain aspects of the classroom. This could include awarding points for certain types of activities:

  • Attending class
  • Answering questions
  • Completing extra credit work
  • Spotting real-world examples of concepts learned in class

By offering awards for several types of participation, teachers can encourage engagement in every type of learner. And for those students who crave a sense of healthy competition, teachers can share a points leaderboard at the start and end of class.

Keep reading: Check out 10 ways to gamify education.

4. Pop quizzes

Most students hate pop quizzes, but hear us out—these can be one of the best tools for figuring out who’s absorbing class material and who needs more personalized assistance.

There’s really nothing like a pop quiz to get students to share what they’ve learned. Teachers can quickly see who’s struggling and could benefit from re-engagement strategies. Similarly, a pop quiz can also help teachers see whether those re-engagement strategies have helped students who were struggling before.

5. Ask your students

As obvious as it seems, one of the best ways to figure out if your students are connecting with your lessons is to simply ask them. Many students are surprisingly forthright if you give them a short engagement survey—especially if you explain that the survey is meant to help you improve your teaching methods and lesson plans.

You don’t have to wait until the end of the semester to hand out student surveys. You can ask students to fill out questionnaires regarding recent assignments, class activities, or lecture notes.

Invite them to share their feedback by including open-ended questions instead of yes or no questions. This additional feedback can also benefit teachers by providing extra insight into students’ perceptions and engagement levels. You might also consider allowing students to answer anonymously.

Inviting feedback after your course is completed can also help you measure student engagement, albeit with a bit of delay. While you can’t use this feedback to help the students providing it, you can apply it to future classes.

We’ve curated some helpful questions to consider asking your students in a survey, but you can always customize your survey as needed.

  • How did this course help you develop professionally?
  • What did you like most/least about the class?
  • Which topics would you have liked to cover more content?
  • How easy was it to approach the instructor with questions or concerns?
  • Do you feel the class material was well-suited to the level of the class?
  • How would you describe the level of effort you put into this class?
  • What improvements would you suggest for this class?
  • What advice would you give a student considering this class?

Keep reading: 4 ways to use Poll Everywhere in your classroom

5 signs of student engagement to look for

Along with the five strategies for measuring student engagement we listed above, there are other indicators that can help teachers check student engagement. Some examples of these metrics include:

1. Grades

Noting how many of your students earned a passing grade or earned high test scores can indicate whether your class inspired engagement. It can also show you whether individual students retained the information you presented in class.

But don’t disregard students who earned Bs or low As, as they may be engaged intellectually rather than academically. High school teacher and author Esther Wojcicki recently said schools need to de-emphasize the importance of grades and focus more on creativity and innovation.

2. Class drop-out rate

While students may drop out of a class for multiple reasons, it’s helpful to analyze the attrition rate to see if low engagement is a primary reason.

If students experience other factors outside of school that lead to disengagement, such as course material accessibility or family situations, you might consider developing a personalized learning plan to re-engage and assist them with the learning process.

3. School attrition

It can also be helpful to note whether the institution as a whole has a high dropout rate. Conversely, you can also take a look at graduation rates to see if college students are delaying their graduation dates or not graduating at all.

If your school experiences either of these problems, student engagement may be an issue that affects more than just your classroom.

4. Communication

Communication between students and teachers sends a clear signal about whether they’re engaged or not. Communication between students and their peers can also indicate whether they feel social-emotional engagement.

There are a few specific things you can look for in terms of communication and engagement:

  • Email open rate (and responses): Do students open your emails or let them sit in their inbox? If a response is required, do they send a reply? Additionally, engaged students are more likely to reach out to their teacher if they encounter a problem with their coursework.
  • Participation in discussions: Along with live discussions during class, take note of who’s participating in forum discussions or chats on apps like Slack.
  • Logged-in time: If your learning management system (LMS) allows you to track how long students spend logged in and viewing course materials, this can help you identify disengaged students. Keep an eye out for students spending less time logged in than anticipated as well as those that spend more time logged in. Both can indicate a struggling or disinterested student.
  • Collaboration: Do students eagerly engage in activities with their peers or help others? Their motivation to collaborate is a reflection of their interest and engagement in the class.

5. Appearance and attention

Taking note of students’ appearance is possibly the easiest way to check engagement, especially if you’re teaching a virtual class. Engaged students will likely be focused on their screens and not seem distracted by things happening off-screen during class time.

Alternatively, you could ask fellow teachers to sit in for a classroom observation exercise. This allows you to focus on your students’ learning environment while still gaining valuable engagement data.

Of course, don’t make assumptions about how students feel if you think they look bored or inattentive. It’s best to check in with them and ask whether they feel engaged or not first to make sure they’re not having an off day. Students’ personal well-being can greatly affect their engagement.

How Poll Everywhere supports student engagement in higher ed

Engagement is a huge factor in a student’s academic achievement, and academic achievement is highly correlated to lifelong success. That means one of an instructor’s most important responsibilities is to keep students engaged both with the specific material in the classroom and with the entire process of learning.

A 2022 State of Student Success and Engagement in Higher Education report by Instructure found that only 65% of students feel engaged with their classes and coursework.

The key to improving student engagement in your classroom starts with measuring your engagement and identifying disengaged students. Poll Everywhere can help you get the feedback you need to accurately assess student engagement on an individual and classroom level.

Both students and administrators agree that technology plays a huge role in student success, according to the State of Student Success and Engagement in Higher Education report. Apps like Poll Everywhere have risen to the task of helping teachers and students achieve academic success.

Poll Everywhere allows instructors to customize Activities to fit their classroom’s unique needs and receive honest feedback through anonymous Surveys. Other features also foster an inclusive learning experience and allow both introverts and extroverts to communicate in ways that best suit them.

One such way is Multiple Choice polls, Q&As, and quizzes that instructors can embed right into their PowerPoint slides or other presentation materials. These allow teachers to check engagement and answer questions in real time. These interactive features also integrate with Blackboard, Canvas, Sakai, and other LMSs to make it simple for both teachers and students to use them.

Other Poll Everywhere features, like the Clickable Image, can present course materials in new ways to help students with different learning styles understand. One example is the use of clickable X-ray images as learning tools in medical classes. Students are asked to click on the area of the X-ray they believe is the cause of the list of symptoms provided to them.

So while digital devices may require instructors to adapt, tools like Poll Everywhere aim to make teaching with tech as seamless as possible so both educators and students benefit in the end. Learn how to create interactive, engaging presentations with Poll Everywhere and start measuring improvements in your students’ engagement today.

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