How To Engage University Students: 5 Top Tips

university students in a classroom

Published: March 21st, 2023

As education advances, the range of student distractions increases. Both technology and general anxieties about university life can cause students to lose focus and disengage.

And, when we’re honest with ourselves as educators, even the most carefully-planned lecture or seminar is a waste of time, energy, and resources if it fails to engage students and catalyse interaction. Educators need to be intentional about engaging their students in their learning.

So, how do you catch and hold the attention of university-level students? Here are our top five tips on how to increase student engagement.

1. Get to know your students

A lot of the time, university teaching can feel impersonal and detached. No matter how many lectures you give, you won’t really get to know your students unless you make a special effort to do so. As you’ll know, a solid teacher-student relationship is vital to learning: the stronger the bond between you, the more responsive and forthcoming they’ll become in the classroom.

Engaging students is more complex than putting on a good show in every lecture, though. You can find the most innovative way to present course content, but without any relationship with your students, it’ll fall flat.

It all comes down to how you communicate with your students. Effective communication that resonates with them will mean they are more eager to listen in lectures, but you’ll also be able to connect with individual students on a far deeper level. For example, you could interweave a student’s likes and interests into the course material.

However, finding the time to get to know all of your students equally can be challenging. Some students simply don’t want to engage. Luckily, there are extracurricular means of getting to know all of your students better.

One way to get to know your students is by hosting informal class meetings. You could arrange informal meetings to take place once per week and make it a place to discuss anything but the class curriculum. Students who usually don’t like to participate in class discussions may feel more comfortable interacting in this way.

You could also create index cards or a Google Form for your students at the start of the term. Students can fill out their likes and interests on these cards for reference. This way, you’ll gain insightful knowledge of each student and establish talking points.

2. Make each lecture meaningful

Although some subjects might feel less obviously inspiring than others, creating a purpose for each lecture you host is important. At the start of each lesson, inform your students of the purpose of the lecture. Simply stating that the topic will appear in a later exam is sufficient. You could also explain how the following information is relevant to employers.

You need to add a ‘why’ to each lecture. No lesson should feel like a routine transference of information. You need to keep your students in the loop and show how any given topic is relevant to their whole university experience and future career prospects.

With a better understanding of the importance of a lecture, students will naturally become more engaged with the topic. Direct communication can encourage students to be more attentive and eager to get involved in discussions and debates.

This isn’t only an effective way to retain student engagement, but it will also aid in your lecture organisation. With a ‘why’ identified, your lectures can be more structured.

3. Talk less!

Even if you’ve got a longer presentation with text-heavy slides to get through, try not to talk incessantly. The longer you talk, the less student engagement you’ll receive – no matter how captivating your voice is. Everyone has “brain breaks” sometimes, regardless of how fascinating they find the topic.

To accommodate the various attention spans of your students, aim to lecture in smaller chunks. Divide your class up with activities and group work, and come back to lecturing once everyone’s brains are refreshed. Other ways to break up your lessons include using short videos and getting your students to answer a question through a polling app.

Providing your students with downtime is also essential to the learning process. Active learning helps students grasp new concepts and build skills, but rest helps their brains to process the new information they’ve learned.

It would also aid the learning process if you slowed your lectures’ overall pace. Although you may have a lot of information to get through, some students don’t have the capacity to keep up. Once a student realises they’ve fallen behind, they will become disengaged, meaning the catch-up process will be even harder.

4. Provide recorded versions of your lessons

You don’t need to record every single lecture you give or record any of them in full. Taking the time to record short, punchy lecture videos goes a long way towards increasing students’ understanding of a topic. If a student finds one part of the course material incomprehensible, they may feel the rest of the content is out of their depth.

By providing recorded versions of lectures, students can pause, rewind, and rewatch recorded lessons until they understand the topic. You cannot provide this service during a live lecture, which can cause student engagement to dwindle. Providing these recorded versions of lectures and seminars is made easy using technology such as the Promethean ActivPanel, which allows educators to record and share their lectures in just a few clicks.

Recording videos for students to watch at home whilst completing coursework assignments allows them to clear areas of confusion in their own time. With confusing topics now understood, students can return to class with renewed engagement.

Recorded or on-demand lectures can be especially helpful for first year students, who can easily become overwhelmed when they start higher education. Being able to return to and review lecture videos is extremely helpful and can make the transition from school to university far more manageable.

Online learning plays a huge role in education today, so make sure your online content is as helpful as possible. Encouraging students to use familiar tools like virtual interaction improves their learning experience – they feel like you’re meeting them halfway. 

5. Carry out temperature checks

Engaging students for prolonged periods can be hit-and-miss at times. You might have no issues captivating your students at the start of the semester, but you holding your class’s attention right through to the end of the year is sometimes tricky.

Making time for regular check-ins with your students is one of the best ways to connect over longer periods. It’s generally a good idea to start small, though, and simply ask your students at the end of a lecture how well they understood the topic. Some students might feel self-conscious speaking up, however, especially in larger classes.

General verbal check-ins are fine for some, but many prefer to communicate in writing. By sending out anonymous surveys, you can establish what’s really causing your students to lose focus. This point of disengagement could be a particular topic or something that’s not working with your teaching style.

It’s essential to have an open mind and adapt your lectures if necessary. With honest feedback from your students, you’ll be able to pinpoint areas that could be better. You need to be willing to make continuous improvements to your teaching methods if you’re to keep them engaged for a full academic year.

Promote engagement with Promethean

Technology plays a significant role in education today. So, you need to ensure the tech you work with engages students as effectively as possible. Promethean can help you promote student engagement through experiential learning, classroom participation, and dynamic discussions.

Our goal is not only to deliver the latest in classroom technology, but to use it to inspire as much student engagement as possible. The Promethean ActivPanel encourages collaboration and classroom participation through its features. These features include simultaneous browsers, screen capturing, and screen sharing.

Collaborating with your students during classes or lectures will increase student engagement and facilitate active learning. If you’ve got too many students, Promethean can draw everyone to the discussion with a student-centred approach.

Request a demo today to discover how Promethean can transform your approach to teaching.


What are the core pillars of student engagement?

The three core aspects of student engagement are emotional, behavioural, and cognitive. Emotional refers to how a student feels about their teacher, i.e., how much they respect them. Behavioural reflects how engaged the student is in the class and whether or not they participate. Cognitive relates to investment level and comprehension.

What are the key indicators of university student engagement?

You can gauge engagement levels by how students respond to your teaching methods and grasp new concepts. If students are still happy to discuss and debate, you’ve managed to keep them engaged. Other indicators include how well they complete classroom activities and their overall demeanour.

Final thoughts

Keeping students engaged in your lectures and tutorials doesn’t need to be an arduous task. By planning ahead and implementing some of these tools, you can keep your students focused and engaged – even with the most boring topics. Get to know your students, ensure each lesson has a purpose, and give them room to learn.

When it comes to participation, students often feel most comfortable with interactive technology, like Promethean’s interactive whiteboards (also known as interactive displays or smart panels) and other tools.

Do you want to learn more about student engagement? Check out some additional resources below!

What is student engagement?
12 Student Engagement Strategies
How to Engage Students Without Relying Solely on Technology
How Do You Keep Students Engaged at the Beginning and End of a Lesson?
The benefits of reflection in education
How to Engage Shy and Quiet Students in The Classroom?
How to Engage Disengaged Students
How to Engage Students in a Hybrid Learning Class
How To Engage University Students