Assessing Meaningful Engagement


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Engagement can be defined as whether students are ‘active, prepared and proactively participating” in the course. In order to support engagement, some instructors dedicate a small portion of the class grade to ‘engagement’ in ungraded class activities. Focusing on supporting engagement rather than grading for ‘accuracy’  can create a class environment even more conducive to learning.

Creating a low-stakes (or no-stakes) class environment, students are encouraged to experiment and take risks without worrying that a wrong answer may affect their final grade. They are supported to make mistakes, and then revise their work or thinking without penalty. The result can be more insightful comments and connections, enthusiasm, interest and energy in the class.


Below are some examples of ways students can demonstrate their engagement

Topic questions

Provide a couple of prompt questions to students about the week or topic and ask them to choose just one to respond to. Doing this at a few key moments in the semester keeps the activity meaningful for students. Providing choice in what to talk about gives agency, allowing them to highlight the unique connections they made to the course. Give students the option to express their thoughts in their preferred format; written, audio or video.

Exit cards

At the end of a week or lecture, give students time to reflect on their learning. For example you might ask students to provide a short response (2-3 sentences) about their biggest take-away and/or the murkiest point. This allows students to monitor their own learning and provides the instructor with information about what concepts may need review.

Study Notes

Ask students to prepare and submit study notes or a “cheat sheet” in advance of an exam or open book test.  

Ungraded quiz

At a few points during the course, give students an ungraded quiz. This allows students to gauge the progress of their own learning and provides the instructor with information about student’s achievement of the learning objectives. Quizzes can also be framed as guided ‘scavenger hunts’ to help students go through the course materials and find important information.

Checklist / Self-Assessment

Give students a checklist to complete every week and have them quickly self-assess their own engagement.

This activity helps remind students of your expectations for the class. Students self-assessments can give you good information on which to base your own assessment of their engagement. While students are often fairly honest about their class participation, you can use Class Progress in Brightspace to verify students’ self-assessments.

Office Hours

Ask students to attend at least two office hours over the semester to ask questions and engage in discussion around course content. This platform will provide the opportunity for more meaningful and tailored discussion with students.

Keep it manageable

An important thing to keep in mind when deciding on an assessment method for engagement is that the work involved should be proportional to the percentage of grade allocated. Be selective about which methods you choose to use and the time commitment that activity might take. Assessing engagement at a couple of key moments in the course can be more meaningful and manageable for both students and instructors rather than frequent assessment which can ultimately lead to student burnout and disengagement. Having too many assessments, no matter how they are presented can become overwhelming and stressful for students and instructors alike.

Key recommendations:

  • Clearly communicate your expectations. Adopt a rubric for engagement and give this to students so they understand what you are looking for and how you are defining engagement in your course.
  • Dedicate “class time” for students to complete these activities. Consider them as part of the ‘time on task’ that accounts for instructional hours (see Course Equivalency in Online Instruction)
  • Allow students to choose a select number of  activities for assessment that they believe best demonstrate their engagement (e.g. one of four).

About this post

This post was last updated:

December 17, 2020

We acknowledge and respect the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees and Esquimalt) Peoples on whose territory the university stands, and the Lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

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