Defining Engagement Online

AOI | Learning Innovations
Faculty Insider

Weekly Tip: Defining Engagement Online

This weekly Tip builds on a previous edition: Creating a Supportive Environment for Engagement

Engagement is one of those buzz words in academia which can lose its meaning. What do we mean when we say we want to better engage our students? When we talk about engagement, we are generally referring to the ways in which we inspire curiosity, interest, optimism, and even passion toward the content we are presenting.

Why is Engagement Important?

Simply put, engagement is important because when students find purpose in what they are learning, the path to excellence becomes clear. Course work is no longer labor for labor’s sake, or another exhaustive exercise in rote rituals. Instead, course work becomes a meaningful way to propel students toward success. The real work for instructors then becomes how do we engage, nay, inspire our students to rise to success?

How do we Inspire Students to Succeed?

Student engagement can be broken down into three relational categories: Instructor to Student, Student to Student, and Student to Content.

Instructor to Student

Beyond the delivery of your content, one critical role of being an instructor is engaging with students. Here are some ways you can engage with your students:

  • Model the level of engagement you expect from your students. Set standards of success for your course starting with your introductory video, responses to discussion posts, and through office hours.
  • Maintain an active and daily presence. Your frequent presence in the class shows students that their work has value and assures them that you are there to help guide their learning and foster their success. A couple ways presence can be achieved is through the use of announcements and recorded lessons.
  • Provide students with consistent and frequent feedback. Feedback not only helps guide student success as they work through the content, but it is also another way that you are showing support of their endeavors. You can provide written or recorded feedback to students individually, identify trends and post an announcement, or automate feedback with a quiz.
  • Invite students to share their “muddiest points” regarding content. Use tools like discussion boards to have students regularly share portions of the content which might not be clear to them, and then respond accordingly.

Student to Student

Peer interactions are important in student learning because they help to support social, cultural, and intellectual forms of engagement required for students to thrive. Here are some ways you can help support student to student interactions.

  • Encourage critical and reflective discussion supported by online best practices. Often referred to as “netiquette,” defining how your students should appropriately interact with one another is a great way to encourage meaningful discourse. The expectations of rigor should also be clearly communicated so students understand that responses need to be thoughtful and contribute to the development of the conversation.
  • Create opportunities for group work and peer review. Group work allows students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the course content and to observe differing perspectives. Peer review offers an opportunity for students to examine each other’s work and offer insight. It is also another way for students to interact with the content through a critical lens.

Student to Content

  • Offer content that connects. Ask critical questions about how specific content can relate to the world your students live and work in.
  • Make content accessible for all. Consider organizing your course space to eliminate obstacles and ensure materials are easy to find. A helpful place to start may be with a course template. In addition, using multiple mediums such as audio and video to deliver course content enhances accessibility.


This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.