Salisbury University students on campus

Engaging Your Students From the Start

Give Students a Reason to be in Your Course

While many students may register for your class for their personal interest, others may end up in your class without understanding the value of what your course has to offer. The beginning of the semester is the ideal time to help students understand why your course is important and how the content will be relevant to them so that they are excited to spend time and effort in your course.

Below are some ideas to engage students with your course content:

  • Connect your field to the real world. Explain what the knowledge they learn in your course can help them in their own lives. The Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center(2) recommends providing current events that relate to your field.
  • Make it personal. Your enthusiasm can be contagious. Explain why the course you're teaching is important to you; this will reinforce the idea that your course can have an impact in their own lives.
  • Get them curious. Nilson(1) suggests using a “Common Sense Inventory” that has students guess answers to your course content to challenge their misconceptions and reveal interesting concepts.

Once the student decides they want to learn the course content, they are more likely to engage with the learning opportunities you provide!

Setting the Classroom Climate

Building a positive classroom climate begins with you, the instructor. Plan an activity early in the semester to allow students to know you as well as other students in the course. Fostering an environment with personalization and student cohesiveness increases student satisfaction and positively effects learning.
Read more about Developing a Positive Classroom Climate.

Ideas for building your classroom climate include:

  • Use and set expectations for inclusive, inviting language so that all students feel welcome.
  • Take 2-3 minutes at the beginning or end of every class to allow students to talk - about the course, their own ideas, or try a conversation starter by posing a general question.
  • Have students introduce themselves using 3 personal artifacts (e.g. T-shirt, favorite drink, picture, knick-knack, etc.).
  • Provide a "Watercooler Discussion" space in online and hybrid courses to allow students to share non-class interests.
  • Provide students with information about out-of-class resources they can use to create study groups or personal interest groups of their own, as well as how to engage with the broader SU community, such as through the Involved SU site.

Setting Expectations in Hybrid and Online Courses

It is important to communicate and clearly present all types of expectations in the online course, including:
What instructors expect from the students – how often to access the course; online discussion and interaction expectations
What students can expect from the instructor – response time to questions; turnaround time and feedback on assignments.
Time commitment – schedule of activities and assignments, including the date, time of any mandatory synchronous virtual meetings, which help online students plan their time accordingly
Expectations for netiquette (online communication etiquette) and civility

If interested in more tips and guides for quality online/hybrid course design that promotes student success, please consult with your unit’s Instructional Designer liaison.

Instructor Presence for Hybrid and Online Courses

When students enroll in an online or hybrid course, they are often concerned that they won't have support and individualized attention they expect to receive in a face-to-face course. Creating a sense of community within the course to increase student engagement starts with instructor presence. Below are five tips for increasing instructor presence in your online class:

  1. Post an introduction at the start of the course that introduces you as the instructor, but let your personality shine through! Consider posting a video introduction instead of just typing one. Encourage students to do the same to help create a sense of community among students.
  2. You can continue being “present” to students by posting an introduction to each week’s topics and you may want to post announcements in the course to encourage both participation and communication within the course community. 
  3. Let your students know that you are available and explain the ways that students can communicate with you. Use a video chat tool to provide online office hours, schedule a phone meeting or create a discussion so that students can post general questions.
  4. Give students as much feedback as possible and be timely with your feedback. Make sure that your feedback is positively constructive, not just negative. Feedback may be time consuming, but it is worth it.
  5. Encourage communication between students and don’t be afraid to have a small social area in your course. For example, you could create a “watercooler” discussion area that is not course-content related where students can go to chat and share experiences. If you feel inclined, join in a watercooler discussion.


(1) Nilson, L. (2003). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (2nd ed.). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

(2) Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, (n.d.). Strategies for starting the semester well.