The Importance of Engaging First Year Students

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Student Engagement is the key to success in the first year of university. Students who engage with their peers, academic staff and the broader university community are more likely to:

  • feel that they belong to the university community
  • be more involved in their academic success
  • form friendships inside and outside classrooms
  • succeed academically in the subsequent years of their program.

Student engagement in the first year depends on many factors such as student expectations and aspirations, disciplinary context and class size. The following strategies provide a guide for engaging students during their first year. They will be most effective if tailored to your particular context and student population.

1.Create and Maintain a Stimulating Learning Environment

  • Give students good reasons to be a part of the learning community.
  • Make coherent course curricula and structures easily available.
  • Provide real-world context to learning and activities.
  • Encourage discussions and debates inside and outside of the classroom.

2.Develop personal and targeted engagement strategies

  • Be aware of new student behaviors and habits such as the high use of mobile devices.
  • Become familiar with needs, aspirations and motivations of different student subgroups, culture, and backgrounds, etc.
  • Get to know your students on a personal level.

3.Value High Standards and Ensure Expectations are Explicit

  • Actively encourage commitment to study and give first-year students a “roadmap” for learning
  • Provide appropriate resources to support learning such as study tools, mentoring and peer-to-peer programs.
  • Communicate expectations clearly and consistently across faculties and departments.

4.Foster Social Connections

  • Provide and encourage online discussion, collaboration, and interaction with faculty and amongst students.
  • Foster student interaction through question-answer sessions and a range of interactive activities.
  • Create opportunities for engagement with student clubs and organizations on campus and with the communities beyond it.

5.Provide Target Self-Management Strategies

  • Seek to develop self-regulated learners who drive their own engagement behaviors.
  • Identify and make accessible the various sources at key moments through the semester so students are prepared ahead of time and know where to go for help.

6.Shape the Student Experience and Encourage Engagement by Providing Continuous Assessment and Feedback

  • Use assessment in creative ways to bring peers together.
  • Organize feedback and continuous assessment activities early and often.
  • Engage students in self-assessment and peer assessment to cultivate responsibility for engagement.

7.Manage Mobile and Web Experiences

  • Welcome the new realities in this new digital campus environment and leverage new possibilities online to enhance the student experience.
  • Reduce complexities of your campus structure by using online tools such as mobile apps, learning management systems etc.
  • Encourage student involvement by including different clubs and organizations to the online experience.

8.Support and Engage Colleagues

  • Ensure all student affairs professionals are engaged and supported with the right tools.
  • Create a culture among staff members that values inclusion as an essential investment in the quality of first-year students’ university experience.


First-Year Student Engagement


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