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An OU Student’s Perspective on Engaging Students

Mon Mar 13, 2023 at 07:30 AM

Lance Markowitz is a junior at Oakland University, a legislator for Student Congress, and the founder of the Student Engagement Task Force. Learn more about the student perspective from him and fellow student task force members through a recording of the student engagement panel event on March 23. Lance’s goal is to connect with as many faculty as he can, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to him and schedule a meeting ([email protected]).

With a phone in every student's pocket, it’s harder than ever to keep students engaged. The pandemic furthered this trend as a storm of mental health issues further disengaged students from their classes. A post-pandemic academic culture has emerged, as students are rewarded with passing grades for simply going through the motions, which oftentimes consists of little emphasis on the learning process and sustained knowledge.

As a competitive hockey player nearly all of my life, one of the most important lessons I have learned is to maximize every repetition. Coaches formulate a practice plan that allows players to complete every rep of every drill with a purpose. Drills provide the opportunity to focus on the small details and improve gradually. This same attention to detail is lacking in many classes that rely on passive learning techniques. Students become so disengaged that their desire to learn is replaced by a desperation to pass. In a questionnaire I conducted of OU students, one student reported that “most teachers just read from the PowerPoint, which more often than not becomes stale and uninteresting.” Another student cited similar frustrations reporting that “[their professors] just lecture and don't really engage with the class. [They] just talk for an hour and a half straight.”  If passive learning strategies are not engaging students, what can professors do to help their students reengage?

Building a Rapport

Rapport–building can seem like a daunting task, but in actuality, simply being personable is the first step towards building a rapport with students. The more students see their professors as people, the stronger the rapport. The easiest and most common way for professors to build rapport is through humor (Plous). Comedy is a powerful tool for creating a more comfortable environment, where students can both laugh and learn. 

One common misconception about rapport is that the professor needs to know each student on an individual level. This may feel impossible with larger classes, so having students fill out a questionnaire using Google Forms, simplifies the rapport-building process. Additionally, professors can give a presentation about their background, interests, and goals to help students get to know them (“Iowa” 2). Students feel cared about when professors take time to learn their names, come early or stay after class, and check in on struggling students. Learning of course is the number one priority, but being supportive and flexible allows struggling students to surpass barriers in the way of their learning, such as mental health. In fact, professors who are “encouraging, engaging, and [have] a dynamic personality” not only receive higher reviews of their classes, but also correlate with stronger academic performances from their students (qtd. in Richmond et al.).

Get Students Involved: Conversations with OU Faculty

Plan Variety in Class, from Chiaoning Su
Another student reported that the repetition of the same lecture-heavy class structures “have [him feeling] so tired that it feels like a chore every time to even show up.” I began pursuing the help of faculty to better address this sentiment. I started my search on, so I could read student reviews for the recent winners of the Teaching Excellence Award. I noticed that many of these professors were applauded by students for their easy classes, but few discussed any differentiation in teaching methods. 

Professor Chiaoning Su on the other hand, stood out with 4.9/5 stars and reviews raving about her ability to build a rapport, and make classes interesting, relevant, and fun. While meeting with me, Professor Su emphasized the importance of variety in her classes. She described how she made each class different, by using a combination of group work, real-life examples, guest speakers, and humor to make each of her classes unique and relevant. When asked about rapport-building, Professor Su said that she likes to be seen as a “big sister,” which reflects her desire to promote an open learning environment without a significant power dynamic. 

Build Feedback Through Student Interaction
Student engagement strategies also provide professors with immediate feedback on their students’ comprehension. Asking questions is a skill, and while voluntary questions are a good way to get a small subsection of students involved, strategies like polling and game-based learning help get the whole class involved. 

Poll Everywhere is a great resource to get immediate feedback from students, in addition to getting students thinking. Similarly, Red Douglas, an Oakland graduate student, reported that the use of Jamboard and Padlet in his classes allowed for students to anonymously post comments and questions to be addressed. He also pointed out that “anonymity encourages engagement from those who may otherwise shy away from participating.” 

Review games like Kahoot and Quizlet Live also provide immediate feedback on student comprehension while promoting a healthy amount of competitiveness. In fact, after suggesting more student engagement in my Intro to Management Information Systems class, the professor immediately implemented a quick five minute Kahoot at the end of every class. The Kahoot usually occurred after the class was over, and despite being optional, nearly every student stayed after class to play. The key towards improving Oakland’s academic culture lies in the deprioritizing of rote memorization in favor of instruction strategies that get every student involved and thinking critically.

Getting Students to Buy-in on Active Learning
Overall, there has been a big push in pedagogy towards active learning, and for good reason. Students have become too comfortable with memorizing their way to a passing grade. As a center for higher learning, Oakland University must work towards a learning environment that is more fun, engaging, and impactful. This does not mean that textbooks should no longer be used, but that they should be supplemental resources, as opposed to the only resource.

Transparency is crucial for pushing students towards this new culture of learning. Students need to be a part of the change, and providing clear explanations to assignments and teaching methods is a way that every professor can increase transparency in their classrooms. 

As elementary school students, we are all intrinsically motivated to learn while we attempted to make sense of the world. By high school, most of us had replaced this intrinsic motivation to learn, with a desire for good grades. While good grades are important, it is our job to make learning not just more efficient, but fun again.

References and Resources 

Douglas, Red. Personal interview. 7 March 2023

“Iowa State University’s Student Engagement Task Force (2022) Recommendations.” Https://, 13 June 2022. 

Markowitz, Lance. “Student Engagement Questionnaire.” 10 March 2023

Plous, Scott. “Social Psychology Network.” Creating Rapport in the Classroom,. 

Richmond, Aaron S, et al. “A + (B1) Professor–Student Rapport + (B2) Humor + (B3) Student ...” Https://, 2015.

Su, Chiaoning. Personal interview. 2 February 2023 

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Lance Markowitz is a junior at Oakland University, a legislator for Student Congress, and the founder of the Student Engagement Task Force. His work with the task force also includes meetings with faculty and students, creation and promotion of a student questionnaire, and the planning of a Student Panel event for faculty. Lance’s goal is to connect with as many faculty as he can, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to him and schedule a meeting ([email protected]).

Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC

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