How to Measure Student Engagement at University

university students in the classroom

Published: May 5th, 2023

University lecturers spend a lot less time with their students than many other educators, such as secondary school teachers. As a result, it can be difficult to connect with students you rarely see. Even in tutorials, time is short and one-on-one interactions are limited.

This lack of connection between teachers and students is a common part of university life. As a lecturer, this disconnect may make it difficult for you to measure student engagement. How can you tell if they’re learning and engaged if your interactions are few and far between?

We’ve compiled this in-depth guide to help you measure the engagement levels of your university students.

How to measure engagement with university students

As mentioned above, connecting with all of your students can be difficult. However, there are a few practical things you can implement to measure the engagement levels of your class as a whole. Here are our top tips for measuring engagement in university students:

1. Monitor participation

This is the most obvious means of monitoring student engagement. It simply involves assessing how much individual students get involved in classroom discussions. Whenever you ask a question, you can judge engagement by how many students are willing to provide you with an answer.

Similarly, engaged students may be more likely to show their work to the class or lead classroom tasks and discussions.

However, the limitation of judging solely on participation is that only a select few students will likely feel confident enough to participate in a classroom setting. While it helps judge the engagement of some, it should not be taken as a definitive answer. Some students may be very engaged in the topic but would prefer not to draw attention onto themselves by participating. Engaging shy or quiet students can often be a challenge in itself.

University cohorts may also have higher proportions of international students than other educational settings. It can be difficult to know how to engage international students, just as it may be difficult for them to express how engaged they are feeling – particularly if there is a language or cultural barrier in place. In this case, lecturers or course leaders should be patient and understanding of any difficulties their students may be facing, and recognise that engagement comes in many different forms.

2. Give your students a survey

Giving your students regular surveys to complete based on specific aspects of the coursework is a good way to measure student engagement. You should introduce the survey as a means of improving lesson standards. By encouraging them to be forward about their opinion on your teaching, they’ll be more honest.

Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions like ‘How engaged do you feel in class?’ as this allows students to be forthright about how engaging they find your lessons.

Some students may feel engaged but don’t feel like participating in group discussions or other activities. However, they’re still learning a lot from the lessons. In this case, the students will be able to convey to you that they are engaged, despite the fact they don’t show it as openly as other students might.

It’s worth considering if you’d like a general class response or if you’d like to know which students specifically are feeling left out. An anonymous survey will definitely get you the most honest responses from your class, however, it may be more beneficial for you to understand who is and who isn’t feeling engaged. This way, you may be able to take action to re-engage any disengaged students.

3. Talk one-on-one with students

While it may not be convenient to talk one-on-one with every student in your class, you should make time for private discussions with certain students. Particularly those you feel are not participating as much as they should. In this discussion, you should talk about the lessons, coursework or even university life in general.

Firstly, this will help you judge the cognitive engagement of the student. If they can discuss matters related to the course coherently, then it shows they’ve been listening and learning. However, if they show no sign of comprehension, then you should question the academic engagement of the student.

While talking more broadly, you’ll also be able to gauge how engaged they feel in the coursework and university life as a whole. The private nature of the conversation may encourage them to speak more candidly. They may reveal to you positive and negative feelings they have about the course and highlight areas in the curriculum that need improvement.

By identifying issues that lead to a lack of engagement, you may uncover the reasons behind a lack of academic success in certain students. It could be the first step in resolving a year-wide issue that’s causing many students to disengage from learning. You could discover means of increasing student motivation.

4. Include group activities

A lot of higher education involves lecturing to students while they listen and take notes. By sticking to this standard, the only way you can measure student engagement is to observe how often a student raises their hand or answers a question. This isn’t fair for introverted students who would rather not speak in front of the whole group of people.

To more easily measure the engagement of your class, you can introduce student engagement strategies that will work for different types of learners and personalities, and on different scales. Group activities are a good way to fairly judge the engagement levels of the whole class, as introverted students may be more inclined to speak during a group activity.

While these small groups work on a given task, go around each group and monitor the involvement of each student. You could listen in for a few minutes before posing a question to a student. This way, they can engage with you directly, as well as with their peers.

These group activities can also encourage students to get out of their seats and take more of an active learning approach to their course. For example, you can encourage students to share their thoughts with the rest of their coursemates by presenting using the interactive whiteboard. There are in fact many ways you can use an interactive whiteboard in higher education to promote engagement and learning.

5. Keep a student engagement score

You could also create comprehensive engagement metrics, to measure engagement levels more proactively. This data will reflect areas in which students are particularly engaged, as well as how often they show engagement in that particular area.

Regardless of the subject you teach, the first strand of this data should reflect how engaged a student is in a class discussion or how often they respond to class questions. Whenever a student adds meaningfully to a discussion or successfully answers your question, you could put a score next to their name for this strand.

Other data strands will depend on the type of subject you’re teaching. For example, if you’re a science lecturer, you could record how many times a student visits a lab or how much a student gets involved in online learning – although promoting student engagement in online courses can also be a challenge.

Overall, this allows you to measure engagement levels cohesively using data. While a student may not be showing much engagement in class, they may be showing engagement elsewhere – such as online or in coursework. This data will help you judge a student’s engagement levels overall.

6. Make an engagement checklist

In addition to keeping a student engagement score, you could keep a checklist that reflects how much students participate in class. Student engagement levels can be determined by how well a student abides by the following:

  • Do they attend all classes?
  • Do they complete class material on time?
  • Are they ever late for class?
  • Do they respond quickly to questions?
  • Do they interact with classmates on a social level?
  • Do they interact with classmates during debates?
  • Are they passing class tests and exams?
  • Do they appear engaged in class?

Promoting engagement in university students can be difficult, which is why lecturers and seminar leaders ought to approach the topic with intention and clarity. However, not all the onus is on the students here. As a lecturer or course leader, you can also ask yourself what more you could be doing to keep your students engaged.

7. Coursework performance

Another way of measuring student engagement would be to judge each piece of coursework that they submit. This could include important essays as well as minor case studies. Any form of work that the student submits during term time can be judged on comprehension levels and, ultimately, engagement.

If a student didn’t complete a piece of coursework successfully, did they still show comprehension? Or did their academic performance reveal a lack of engagement with the basics of the course? If presenting to the class using the interactive whiteboard, did they respond actively to any questions?

Keep students engaged with an interactive display

Engagement in higher education can be improved massively using the right technology. An interactive display, such as the Promethean ActivPanel, is designed to encourage classroom participation from all students, regardless of confidence levels.

This interactive display board makes it comfortable for all students to contribute meaningfully to classroom discussions. Screen share with every class member (even remote students!) and invite them to participate in collaborative learning. The interactive display screen is bright and colourful and allows students to collaborate and solve problems.

With the display screen showing each student’s contributions in real time, you can keep an eye on student engagement levels.

Overall, Promethean provides you with all the tools you need to gain class-wide participation. Request a demo today to see how it can improve your class engagement levels!


What are the key indicators of engagement in higher education?

Ideally, your students should come across as passionate, optimistic, and eager to learn. Although a quiet student doesn’t necessarily reflect an unengaged student, a vocal and involved student usually conveys engagement. Engaged students will often be asking you questions as you go along and answering your questions promptly, as well as completing coursework on time and displaying an understanding of lecture content.

How do you keep university and college students engaged in online learning?

To keep multiple students engaged in online learning, you should use chat to understand the comprehension levels of your students. Through chat, you should ask your students questions about the coursework and see how they respond. You should also arrange for each of your students to host a class seminar and make sure all students are answering questions.