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Strategies for Student Engagement and Motivation

How Can I Engage and Motivate Learners in My Course?

Find Ways to Share Your Authentic Self to Your Learners

Students crave a connection with their teacher, so consider sharing part of your personality, including your enthusiasm, encouragement, and concern, consider creating an introductory video that welcomes students to your course where you introduce yourself and share your passion for the subject that you teach. Continue to draw on personal stories and anecdotes, where appropriate throughout the course, and infuse your additional videos and writing with warmth, humour, and your own personality.

Use an Enthusiastic and Welcoming Tone in Your Course Communications

Written communication is an inevitable part of any course. The more invitational and friendly your written tone, the more likely students are to ask questions and seek your support as they learn. Remind them that you are there to support their learning and encourage students to reach out to you. Make your preferred contact information available to them and share your typical response time, and let them know your email practices, like not responding on weekends, etc., to establish their expectations.

Highlight Key Student Supports and Resources

Consider using your News Items and the Course Information area on your course site to connect students with important course-based, local and institutional supports.

Set Clear Expectations and Communicate Them Frequently

Student motivation increases when they feel like they can successfully accomplish a task. So, it’s important to be clear about your expectations for student engagement in and their completion of key course activities. Use learning management system tools, like news announcements and rubrics available in MyLearningSpace (MyLS), to remind students of important information that will help them succeed in your course.

Invite Students to Introduce Themselves

Just like in the face-to-face classroom, it’s important to make an effort to get to know your students in an online environment. This can help you to understand their strengths, interests and educational backgrounds which will help build rapport with them and allow you to focus and tailor your examples so they’re relevant to the class. There are lots of ice-breaking approaches online that you might try, such as creating a ‘Getting to Know You’ student survey within MyLS, or inviting students to post a short video introducing themselves to you and to their peers, or creating a discussion board and asking students to share a bit about themselves there. Laurier faculty can learn more on the Get to Know Your Student page


Highlight the Relevance of Each Topic to the Overall Course and Students’ Professional Goals

Students are more motivated when they understand the connections between new course content and their lived experiences or their future personal and professional aspirations. Discuss this relevance in your course, and where possible, share anecdotes about how key course concepts have impacted you in your current or past professional practice. You could do this through short explainer videos that you create for each unit or concept, or by associating brief descriptions to each piece of course content so that students better understand how they fit into the larger course, program, and future goals.

Embed Interesting, Concrete and Contemporary Examples

Students want to know that what they are learning is relevant and is applicable to their own lives, society, and the world at large. Where possible, make an effort to include concrete and contemporary examples of key concepts and ideas in your course. Link to relevant news reports, social media posts, memes, case-studies, research and other resources to emphasize the relevance and applicability of this learning. Try to draw from diverse examples and sources that represent the diversity of the student population and do not assume that all students will be familiar with certain pop-culture references. When you include an example, take the time to describe why it’s relevant and important for your course.

Include Learning Activities that Simulate Real-World Situations

An authentic assignment or activity is one that requires students to apply what they have learned to a new situation that requires judgment to determine what information and skills are relevant and how they should be applied. Authentic assignments often focus on messy, complex real-world situations and their accompanying constraints; they can involve a real-world audience of stakeholders or “clients” as well. Where possible, embed learning tasks that simulate real-world situations into your course.


Use Checklists to Assist Students in Tracking their Progress and Organizing their Time

If your students have a number of things to do every week, giving them a weekly checklist may help to keep them on track and ensure that they’ve completed key tasks. This allows them to better monitor and manage their own progress. MyLS has a checklist tool available which can assist with structuring this, and you can email to ask for a checklist to be deployed in your course.

Give Students Choice

Tap into students’ intrinsic motivation by allowing them to customize some aspect of their learning. For example, allow students to choose a topic for their assignment, even if their choice is selected from a limited menu of options, or allow students to choose the medium in which they will convey their learning. Giving some choice can increase students’ sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning.

Build in Flexibility where Possible

Students’ lives are complex and their progress through your course may be impacted by illness, limited access to up-to-date devices, bandwidth, increased family care obligations, or other difficulties that arise in regular life. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably and keep the focus on providing all students opportunities to achieve the overall course outcomes.

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How Can I Promote Positive Communication and Collaboration with and between Students?

Create and Communicate Shared Norms for Respectful Communication

To ensure that communication in your course, with and between students, supports everyone’s learning, it is important to establish shared expectations and guidelines for respectful communication. You might generate your own list of expectations and share them with students so they’re clearly articulated, or develop guidelines in partnership with your students to create a class contract. The Building section of this guide discusses creating class contracts and reinforcing professional communication standards. Above all, you should consider developing processes that offer regular opportunities to communicate around acceptable behaviour in courses. This will enable students to develop an understanding of this new learning environment, and expectations around norms of behaviour within it, in a supported way.


Model Respectful and Engaging Communication

When opening up discussions, either asynchronously, like in a MyLS discussion board, or synchronously, during class, it is beneficial to discuss what professional communication looks like in the classroom. Make sure to highlight positive contributions to the discussion and address any negative contributions openly with the whole class to build understanding. 


Build Opportunities for Students to Share their Knowledge, Experiences and Questions

Students tend to be more motivated and retain more knowledge when they connect new learning to their own experiences and ideas. Seek to create opportunities for students to contribute their own examples, share relevant pop-culture and media references, and highlight how their own lived experiences connect with course topics and outcomes. User friendly technological programs such as Google Jamboard and Padlet can assist with creating these mechanisms for student contributions. Recognize particularly effective student contributions and examples and, where possible, return to and build upon these in later weeks of the course.

Infuse an Element of Fun and Creativity in Tasks

The science of learning tells us that feelings of curiosity and excitement are important motivators and spark commitment and persistence in a learning task. Finding ways to build intrigue and creativity into your course content can create deep connections for students. When students are active in finding solutions and problem solving, they can express their learning in a variety of non-traditional ways. Consider building flexibility into your assessments that will support students’ ideation as they work through their curiosity.

Similarly, leveraging some friendly competition between students or groups can help motivate and excite students, and you could consider offering a fun or silly “prize” as a reward, rather than a grade. For example, you could invite students to create an original meme to express a key course concept and offer a non-monetary prize for the funniest and most memorable one (example from Dr. Joe Kim at McMaster University).

Set Up Virtual Office Hours

Hosting synchronous virtual office hours for your course on Zoom or Teams is a great way to get-to-know individual students, create connection, and provide one-on-one or small group support for their learning. Consider setting aside 1-2 hours per week per course for these office hour sessions on Zoom. You may also consider holding a one-on-one office hour for students to see you about individual concerns, and an informal drop-in office hour where students can come to discuss the course broadly, ways in which they are succeeding or struggling, and make connections with one another and you in a less formal and structured setting.

If you’re planning on holding private office hours as well as group drop-ins, make sure to clearly define the purpose of each and encourage students to come to the drop-in hours to talk through common course questions. This can take the pressure off individual office hours and email by routing many of the questions to a drop-in session. You may also consider having the first half of office hours be a group drop-in, and reserve the second half for private one-on-one appointments for students whose questions aren’t answered in the group setting (which many are).


Distinguish between Appropriate Forms of Collaboration and those that May Infringe on Academic Integrity

Explain why adhering to the principles of academic integrity are important in your field/discipline and introduce students to (or remind them of) the skills they need to cite appropriately from various sources. Make expectations clear to students on all assessments, assignments and projects and provide guidelines on how tests should be taken, and assignments completed. Be explicit where an individual rather than a collaborative approach should be taken to activities.


  • Laurier’s Library has created a module to improve students’ understanding of academic integrity and help them avoid plagiarism that can be embedded directly within your MyLS course site. It can be accessed through the dropdown "Self-Registration" menu on MyLS.

Leverage Group Tools to Support Social Interaction among Students

There are a number of tools integrated within learning management systems like MyLS and synchronous collaboration possibilities within the Office365 suite that can support on-going connections between students. Depending on the nature of your course, you may want to establish student study groups and assign each group a breakout room, Zoom or a Microsoft Teams space where they can meet and prepare for upcoming assignments or tests. You can create a "Course Questions" discussion board where students can post any questions that they have and either you or their fellow peers can provide responses. You might also explore VoiceThread, another tool that exists within your MyLS course site, which allows teachers and students to comment on posted material using video, audio, text and or annotation tools.


For Significant Group Projects, Establish Check-Ins and Monitor Group Progress Consistently

One benefit of requiring group collaboration within the learning management system’s course site or within an institutional Office365 suite is that you can continue to access the group’s work and monitor their progress. Ask students to log their progress weekly – both individual contributions and group tasks. Check these logs frequently and, if possible, establish specific times to connect synchronously with each group at key points in the term to get a sense of overall group functioning and to guide their activities as they work toward completion of the larger project.


Monitor Student Activity in Your Course and Reach Out to those Who May be Struggling to Engage

Keep an eye on course activities and keep track of any students who may not be consistently engaging. If you have a large class, it may be helpful to run a MyLS course report to get a sense of what areas of your course site specific students are accessing and how long they are spending there. If you have concerns, reach out to students individually, let them know that you care about their success in your course, ask them whether they are experiencing any challenges that are negatively impacting their participation, and encourage them to re-engage. Throughout the year, faculty members can also use the Beacon Quick Update App (available in My Apps on the NC Portal page) to notify academic advisors of students who may be experiencing academic challenges.


This section was modified from Niagara College’s Centre for Academic Excellence, Design, Develop and Deliver: A Guide to Effective Online Teaching, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.

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