Overcoming Barriers To Student Engagement 
Using Community Building, Scaffolding, Representation and Belonging

Fall 2022

In Spring 2022, I participated in the Provost Faculty Scholars/Lumen Circles Program and completed a fellowship in Belonging and Inclusive Teaching Fundamentals.

Before this fellowship, I understood that engagement was a key predictor of student success but wanted to better understand the barriers to engagement faced by students.Throughout the process of learning and reflecting, there were several areas for improvement which I continue to work on.

  1. Community Building. I have begun to provide more opportunities for students to interact with each other in class and foster connections that I hope will help them build a peer support network.

  2. Scaffolding. The idea of scaffolding is that assignments on new material are given with significant guard rails in place to help students build confidence before taking on more difficult assignments independently. The fellowship prompted me to provide templates and examples of completed work for most assignments in one of my classes. Students are given many chances to fail safely before being asked to complete higher-stakes assignments with less guidance.

  3. Representation. Due to the content of my classes, opportunities to address issues of representation are infrequent, but they do exist. As I have become more aware of the importance of representation, I am including diverse examples wherever possible to foster a widespread sense of belonging.

  4. Belonging. I have learned to spend more time at the beginning of the semester building relationships with students and working on icebreaker activities before diving into content. One thing I did differently this semester was taking my students on a mini field trip to my office on the first day of class. This allowed me to share some personal details based on the things I have on my office walls and emphasize to students that they are welcome and encouraged to come and ask for help.

One major benefit that I have gleaned from this experience is that my approach to engaging with students is now more compassionate and understanding of the challenges they may be facing. This has resulted from increased awareness of how students are affected by bias, power dynamics, and intersectionality. As I have implemented these changes across three sections of an intro-level course, I have seen attendance sustained at a higher level compared to past semesters. After feeling disconnected during the pandemic years, the opportunity to connect and engage with students is reminding me of the thrill of teaching which drew me to this profession in the first place.

Sandy Brown
Assistant Professor of Engineering