4 Introduction: Why do we care about engagement?

Our Current System

We talk about student engagement in Higher Education, we even measure it, but who’s responsibility is it? From one perspective, one might think that students coming to a university, and paying for the privilege, should be coming their classes with their own feelings of engagement. From another perspective, we might argue that students are indeed paying for an education and their experience should be an engaging one.

This ebook takes the perspective that it’s everyone’s responsibility. It’s a partnership between students, faculty and the institution.

We have all kinds of different students coming into university. Some, surely, are passionate students who know exactly what they want form the university experience. Others are coming as the first member of their family to go to university, hoping to ‘become educated.’ A university degree can be a life changing experience, it’s also a filter in the workforce – don’t have one, you don’t get hired. I remember talking to a college recruiter once who told me that at one school almost the entire graduating class chose to go to one university because the captain of the hockey team was going to go there. Many of our students are going to university because they are going to university. I’m not saying all of our students are floating through the system, I’m saying that a lot of them are. Many of our students are not coming to our classrooms ‘engaged’ from the start because they are fascinated by engineering. They have a task to achieve – get a degree – and a process to follow – do what I’m told in the easiest way possible – to get there.

If your response to this is ‘that’s fine, I’ll keep teaching to the students who care’ I nod my head at you and politely suggest that this ebook does not exclude you. The ‘students who care’ have been swept up in this. As courses get bigger, online distractions get stronger and the response to online-ness gets weirder (more on this later) the game of school becomes the game everyone is playing. One of the students I worked with this year said

I have had to stop caring about my grades so I can learn

Students coming into most education systems are not actually rewarded for what we are calling engagement in this ebook. Students are mostly rewarded for obedience. They are rewarded for giving attention and completing assigned tasks properly with a ‘positive attitude’. They are rewarded for figuring out what a faculty member wants them to say and saying that. They are rewarded, ultimately, for being compliant.

Engagement, as we mean it here, is about students actually caring about what they are learning. It is not, necessarily, about them getting higher ‘grades’, though that might happen. It is also not about them doing whatever they want without guidance. That’s a recipe for frustration for everyone. Engagement in a school is about the delicate balance between someone in a position of power and someone else who is forced, for whatever reason, to spend time with that person. A balance between helping someone understand your field and letting that person learn the things they want to learn.

I cant become more engaged when there is so much incentive to be compliant, I would need to trade my grades for learning

If that balance is something we’re interested in, we have to give up some of our control. There are any number of side benefits to this. Your classrooms can become more caring. They can have more room for a diversity of minds and cultures. They can have more room for creativity.

They can also be harder to handle, harder to prepare for, and leave room for more challenges with students.

This ebook by no means claims to solve the question of engagement with students, but will hopefully provide a bit of a story that you can add in with your own to get you a little closer.


Take a look at the work that you are asking students to do. Create a chart that rates them in terms of how interesting you might find each of those items of work. Now. Think of another person who is very different from you. Rate your chart again.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Engaging Students in an Online Era Copyright © by David Cormier; Ghanem Ghanem; and Brandon Mailloux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book