Recently, we shared that 97% of students who responded to our recent Student Engagement Insights survey indicated that, on the whole, they find their college courses interesting. Great news!
But what, specifically, drives students’ interest in their courses? We asked students which of the following factors—class subject, course materials, classroom environment, classmates, and of course, the instructor—had an influence on their level of interest in it. What did they have to say?
Class subject and instructor: making the biggest impact on student interest
As shown in the chart above, more than half of the students ranked the class subject (54%) and the teacher/professor (52%) as aspects of the course that have a strong impact on their level of interest.
- Class subject: Students may take a course for any number of reasons, which could include general ed, professional development, training in a particular skill, achievement of a personal goal, or as part of their major. They might also take a class simply because it sounds interesting to them (while still fulfilling a graduation requirement). If they sign up for a course because it helps them reach a goal or satisfies their curiosity, they will quite naturally have a degree of interest in it.
- Teacher/professor: Once in the course, an instructor influences most students’ level of interest. A required course can become an inspired course thanks to the passion, dedication, and skill of the instructor. On the other hand, you can probably think of a course that sounded interesting to you… but in the end, was rendered dry and uninspiring by a dry and uninspired instructor.
- Also notable: nearly half (47%) stated that their course materials played a role in their interest level. This, too, makes sense; if course materials are engaging, if they help students better understand course concepts, and if they support students’ success in the course, they can certainly influence students’ overall level of interest in the course itself.
Other factors seem to have an effect on fewer students. Slightly more than a quarter (28%) of students listed the classroom environment as having an impact on their interest in the class. And, only 16% of students identified classmates as a factor that has an effect on their level of interest in a class. This indicates that many students do become more (or less) interested in a course because of what, and who, surrounds them; but that most students would not identify these as the defining factor of a class’s success.
Three ways to promote students’ interest and engagement
You don’t need to compromise on the quality of what you’re teaching in order to engage students’ interest and participation. Students (and instructors) have told us that the following three things will encourage students to become more interested and invested in the class:
- Demonstrate the relevance of what you’re teaching. As noted above, and in previous posts, students get engaged when they see the relevance of course material to their future goals. As an expert in your field, you know the importance of what you studied, and now teach; choose readings, exercises, activities, and examples that help students apply those principles in their own contexts.
- Show students why you have a passion for the subject. Enthusiasm is contagious. Furthemore, students want you to be passionate! Who knows; you might even inspire them to follow in your footsteps.
- Show that you care about their success in the course. Time and again, we hear that students appreciate the instructors who show their concern for their success. They also value your willingness to provide them the guidance, tools, and support they need to succeed. For additional insight, read our previous post: Top Ten Things College Students Need from Their Professors.
How do you spark student interest in your course? Share your ideas in the comments.