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Weekly Tip: Promoting Student Buy In

It’s not unusual for students in general education courses to question why they’re required to take certain courses—especially when they struggle to make connections from a required course to their intended majors. Rather than entering these courses with an attitude of inquiry or curiosity about course content, many students struggle with an overarching why. The underlying (and unspoken) “whys,” and “how does this connect to my academic goals,” affords instructors the opportunity to build answers into their courses, which in turn supports students in the opportunities and challenges that accompany becoming vested in courses intended to offer one a well-rounded education.

Strategies to Encourage Buy In

While there are many ways to encourage student buy in, this week’s Weekly Tip offers three: create a supportive climate, help students make relevant connections within and beyond the course, and encourage student ownership.

Create a Supportive Climate

One of the obstacles instructors face includes discovering where students may be struggling with course content or concepts. This is due in part to a lack of communication on the part of the students. Their reluctance to ask questions is multifaceted. Students may not seek help because they have not connected why the course is relevant within their chosen disciplines, or they may hesitate to reach out for help because they do not want to seem “dumb” or to feel “stupid” in front of their peers or to their course instructors. To promote buy-in and encourage curiosity and inquiry, strategically build a sense of belonging into the course.

For Engagement

Some ways you can create a supportive climate for engagement are:

  • Use a One-Minute Paper prompt during class.
  • Express enthusiasm for the discipline and concepts being covered.
  • Convey empathy about the learning process by acknowledging student concerns (content, real-world connections, fear of not knowing, etc.).
  • Start semester with a few icebreaker activities.
  • Set clear expectations for respectful discourse.
Cultivate a Sense of Belonging

Current research reveals a direct link between the sense of belonging students experience and their persistence in their courses. To build a sense of community:

  • Ask for and use students’ preferred pronouns and names.
  • Acknowledge and support diversity.
  • Promote consistent communication both inside and outside of the classroom.
    • Encourage participation and invite questions.
    • Provide a means for less outgoing students to ask questions.
    • State the most effective communication method to reach you with after class.
    • Send announcements or emails to your students throughout the semester.
  • Create opportunities for collaboration and knowledge or skill sharing.

Learn more about creating a supportive climate.

Make it Relevant

Bridging the gap between your students’ lives in and outside of the classroom, including future careers, can add significant value to the course concepts. Students should be given opportunities to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the concepts in the context of their own lives. You can accomplish this by including authentic learning experiences and assessments.

Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works.  If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for the purpose of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.

—National Research Council (1999)

Some examples are:

  • Research and communicate connections between course content and multiple contexts including but not limited to careers, cultural constructions, and the course.
  • Expose students to cross-curricular opportunities.
  • Ask students what non-discipline specific skills they bring to class—use answers to adapt, or expand upon, class activities and prompts.
  • Implement Concept Mapping to build on students’ prior knowledge and to connect them to course content.
  • Use Guided Journaling.

It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.

—Steve Jobs (1995-2011), former CEO of Apple, Inc.

Did you know?

While certain degrees are considered traditional pathways into the professional world, the attributes hiring managers say they are looking for are not discipline specific:

  • 74% seek demonstrated abilities for candidates to work as part of a team.
  • 83% seek communication skills in candidates.
  • 84% seek candidates who exhibit positive attitudes.

Tip: Integrate non-discipline specific skills such as these into rubrics and assignment expectations.

Encourage Student Ownership

Students who learn to negotiate and take ownership of their learning experiences in college are more likely to succeed in achieving their academic goals.

Here are some examples of how to empower students in ownership:

  • Build upon students’ interests when possible.
  • Give students options about how they represent content knowledge.
  • Solicit students’ suggestions about the course, and consider implementing some of the feedback.

Learn more about Ownership of Learning.



National Research Council. 1999. How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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