Increasing Student Engagement

2 Don’ts and 4 Do’s for Increasing Student Engagement in Your Organization

As the coming school year inches closer and closer, we wanted to help all of you leaders out there to prepare for what’s to come.  Today, we’re going to give you some tips for increasing student engagement in your group’s activities.

Students are the fuel that powers a campus. Increasing student engagement keeps the university lively and maintains that level of craziness that is just right.  As a leader of a student organization, you play a huge role in increasing student engagement, and when you do it right, not only does your organization benefit, but the entire campus does too.

But leadership that’s genuinely about increasing student engagement is a talent.  Most leaders walk around with the perception that they’re fabulous working with groups, when the fact is they actually shoulder most of the responsibility themselves for every project their group takes on, big or small alike.

There are a few reasons this might happen.  You believe if you don’t do the job yourself, it won’t get done right.  Another way of phrasing it is you don’t trust your group members to do as good of a job as you do.  Still a third way of phrasing it is that you haven’t fully shared your vision with your group members and clued them in on what to do.

Whatever the case, the trick to increasing student engagement is in the attitude you take.  And there are simple practices that you can incorporate in your meetings to begin fostering the right attitude, as well as to start increasing student engagement within your organization.

1.  Go to the involvement fair

As part of their broader strategy for increasing student engagement, many colleges and universities organize involvement fairs for incoming freshmen, transfer students, and visiting high schoolers.  It is crucial for your group’s well-being that you are present at these fairs.  If nobody knows your group exists from the get-go, you’re going to have a terrible time trying to build a solid base for your organization.  But be innovative: have a laptop ready for passers-by to “like” your Facebook page, and offer some swag like a sticker or magnet in return. (And if you don’t have a social media presence yet, you better get on that too!)  Make sure the most charismatic and sociable members of your group are there to greet the potential recruits as they pass by.

2.  Don’t blow the first meeting

Not to add to the pressure, but the very first meeting of the year is an important one.  You’re likely to have a lot of people show up, and if you want to keep them there, you need to make sure not only that they enjoy themselves, but that they also see a benefit in sticking with your group through the coming year.

We’ve seen too many initial meetings that start with an icebreaker called “Let’s Go Around the Room, Even Though There Are 40+ People Here, and Each Introduce Ourselves.”  Aside from being a long and time-consuming process, this icebreaker is a bit ridiculous if you think about it—there’s just no way you’re going to remember names this way.  So try an icebreaker that’s a little more inspiring, and more conducive to increasing student engagement.

Your first meeting is where you get to explain what your group is about and the things you’ve done in the past, as well as what you hope to do this year.  However, you can start  planning upcoming events at a later meeting: it’s just a fact of life that some of the students at your first meeting won’t be back again, so planning can wait until you know who’s committed.

And as you’ll learn in #3, you should feel bold enough to make your presentation creative and interactive, something more than an uninteresting timeline of events from the year before.  One of the most important parts to increasing student engagement is building on that initial interest.  So, about #3 …

3.  Don’t lecture

Unless your group members really enjoy learning to an extreme degree, the last thing they will want after a day of class is … is yet another class.  You can go a long way with increasing student engagement just by running discussion-style meetings that include everybody.

For instance, rather than lecturing about how you plan on responding to a problem your group faces, you can introduce the problem and then use a break-out session to have your group members discuss the solutions they might come up with among themselves.  This is just one possibility, and you can check out our other brainstorming activities for more models.

4.  Be transparent

Your meetings will be much more productive when your group members understand the bigger picture of what’s going on.  As a general practice for increasing student engagement, clue your group members in the wider context of the particular meeting.  Start each meeting with a recap of last week, and then set the agenda for the present meeting.  Your agenda should be visible: either distribute a paper hand-out to all the members present, or use a projector and overhead to display a typed version brightly and clearly.  At the end of the meeting, confirm the particular actions that specific people have agreed to take.  Give your group members a preview of what to expect next week (or whenever your next meeting is), such as what you’ll discuss or what kind of your project you’re going to work on.

It’s also wise to email a copy of each meeting’s minutes to your members afterward.  This means you should appoint a note-taker and also keep your group’s email addresses handy.

5.  Divide up the labor

No leader should have to work alone.  If you are, chances are you’re not doing a very good job increasing student engagement either.  Make sure your other board members (the other members of the group with leadership roles) are given time to run aspects of the meeting.  If others in the group are showing growing interest in what your group is up to, assign homework: delegate a part of the next meeting to these up-and-comers.  If they attended a relevant event, have them report back to the group.  Encourage them to plan a presentation, or to facilitate a discussion at one of your meetings as a way of letting them test the water.

6.  Strive for the fine balance

The fine balance refers to the fact that not all meetings are necessary, and yet without a weekly or regular event like a meeting to turn to, interest and attendance will languish.

So what do you do if you want to keep increasing student engagement?  Feel free to mix it up.  If you’re in an off-week with little activity, or few pressing matters to discuss, there are plenty of low-cost alternatives to the ordinary meeting.  Instead of gathering in your meeting room, you can meet at a coffee shop or bar for a more relaxed time.  Show a movie about something related to what you just did.  Just be sure that your group members know your plans in advance, so that if they have other business to attend to, they take the week off, but if they’re interested in hanging out, they can still meet up.

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