Part 9: Spring 2019 Labs

158 Engaging Students – 02.15.2019

The February 15, 2019 Active Teaching Lab focused on fostering student buy-in and engagement in Canvas, whether the course is directly tied to students’ passions or merely a requirement. Fourteen participants shoveled driveways early so they could share and learn strategies to make course content more relevant to students, even when they aren’t in the course by choice.


  • Promote deeper learning by implementing activities and tasks that prompt students to independently and collaboratively build upon content with their own experiences, expertise, and inquiry.
  • Instead of trying to predict what might be relevant to students’ lives, structure assignments so that there are multiple avenues for students to find personal meaning in the work.
  • Set the context for a learning activity, both in the scope of the course/program and in the real world. Students often invest more in tasks that have immediate, real-world effects.
  • Make content eye-catching (e.g. lots of images, colorful fonts) to increase students’ initial interest.
  • Make the topic’s utility in everyday life evident to increase students’ sustained interest. Self-generated utility is even better; have students write about the importance of a topic as well as their own values to identify their personal reasons for investment (Harackiewicz, Tibbetts, Canning, & Hyde, 2014).
  • Turn the work of making connections onto the students. Self-generated utility value has been demonstrated to have positive effects on students, while instructor-provided utility has actually shown negative effects (Canning & Harackiewicz, 2015).
  • Prompt students to find everyday examples of utility value rather than career and school examples to benefit individuals lacking in confidence (Canning & Harackiewicz, 2015).
  • Trigger and maintain situational interest by providing activities that use structural features (e.g. problems, challenges, surprise) to stimulate attention and engagement for all students (Harackiewicz, Smith, & Priniski, 2016).
  • Build on emerging and well-developed individual interest. Work with content and academic tasks that facilitate connecting academic topics with existing interests (Harackiewicz, Smith, & Priniski, 2016).

For more information on ways to engage students, visit the session’s activity sheet.


The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.), room 120. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

Sign up for regular Lab announcements by sending an email to


Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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