How do you increase student engagement in class?

Steve Szigeti
The key is making the topics we discuss in class relevant to the students. If I can connect a subject discussed in class or based on particular readings to events that may have happened in the past few days, I see an immediate positive reaction from the students. I keep on top of the news cycle in order to connect what may initially appear esoteric or dated to current events. This goes a long way to connecting what we are considering in class with the broader world – it breaks down the false barriers between academic study and our day-to-day lives. Of course, this takes additional work on my part, but the results are immediate. I’ve successfully extended this approach to assignments, where I’ve connected assignments to topics from the news, as well as inviting individuals from outside our university to participate in student assignments. For example, instead of asking groups of first year students to create a social media campaign for a fictional company, I invited the manager of Juno award winning musician Feist to come speak to the students who then created a social media campaign for a not-for-profit cookbook that Feist had published to raise awareness for charities. The manager even selected the best assignment and the students were given a signed copy of the cookbook. The following year I invited a TV producer and it worked equally well. It’s fun for the students and certainly improves engagement. 

- Steve Szigeti, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Institute of Communications, Culture, Information and Technology 


Alexander Koo
I try to make use of some sort of short student engagement activity every 10 to 15 minutes to keep students engaged. These can be as simple as presenting a prompt that students have a minute to discuss with their neighbors, or more sophisticated such as a series of pre-designed questions that students respond to using an online polling system where we can see the results in real-time. At a more basic level, my most effective technique is by establishing an atmosphere where students know that my job is to present philosophical positions in the most convincing way, and their job is to figure out what is wrong with these positions. Since all my materials are available online, students need not focus on note-taking and memorization, and instead are encouraged to be actively engaged with the main ideas through critical thinking and reflection. This means that even if students are not directly participating in the class discussion, they are still engaging with the content. 

- Alexander Koo, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Philosophy 


Radha Maharaj
Finance can sometimes be a mundane subject for students. To get students’ attention and ultimately engage them in the course, I start the class off with music. When students walk into the first class, there is contemporary, upbeat music that immediately gets their attention. This is a good analogy to make them understand that the numbers are singing to us. The numbers are communicating with us, and it’s our job to study the rules and techniques to understand what they are saying. When we are able to calculate and solve a problem, it’s like the crescendo in a song. Once we learn how to decipher the numbers, we make a connection with them, just as we connect with the rhythm and lyrics of a good song. Students like this analogy and have reported that they look forward to coming to class because of the music. The music puts them in a better frame of mind to work and finance seems less humdrum and more engaging.

- Radha Maharaj, Sessional Instructor, Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (ICCIT) 


Ulli Krull
Engagement often derives from the ability to appreciate connections between topics and disciplines.  Material that is being taught will be better appreciated when it is both useful and surprising, and when the mind is stimulated to be active by making connections. I have found that explanation of concepts by drawing on facts and theories associated with different courses and different subject areas tends to create engagement of the mind – the mind resonates with analogies, and there is empowerment in the realization that one can be creative by aligning knowledge acquired in previous experiences.

-Ulli Krull, Professor, Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences & Vice-President and Principal of the University of Toronto Mississauga


Katherine Rehner
Students in my classes are responsible for helping (in part) to determine, shape, and deliver the content. This level of responsibility naturally brings with it increased engagement and leads to greater participation.

-Katherine Rehner, Associate Professor, Department of Language Studies