This blog is part of a series co-authored by Kathy Egea and Jacqueline Melvold and provides an overview of the principles of first-year curriculum. Read about the first three principles: TransitionDiversity, and Design.

These principles are explored in further detail in Kathy and Jacqueline’s upcoming contribution to CAULLT’s Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching MOOC (available in 2023). Content is drawn from resources and practices through the First and Further Year Experience (FFYE) program, which has been using transition pedagogy since 2011.

Engagement, the fourth principle in this series, links students’ successful transition to their connection to content (curriculum), to peers and academics, and to the wider university.

Principle #4: Engagement

Making meaningful friendships with peers and genuine connection with teachers early in the semester builds authentic connection and a sense of belonging. In this case, an authentic learning environment provides rich opportunities for growing in-class connections, where academics create the conditions for authentic discourse, active listening, and empathy to support, validate and recognise students’ lived experiences. 

A hexagon which has been sectioned into six equal sections. Each of these sections represents one of the six first year curriculum principles: transition, engagement, assessment, evaluation and monitoring, design, and diversity.
Engagement, alongside the other first-year curriculum principles. Infographic by Jacqueline Melvold.

Engagement in practice

The following four concepts show practical ways that engagement can be used to develop supportive experiences for first-year and beyond.

1. Engage students in the content of your discipline 

  • Provide a range of different activities for them to engage in through active learning
  • Offer real world examples of the professional in your classroom to build enthusiasm for the discipline
  • Communicate upcoming presentations/webinars in their professional content area 

2. Engage students with their peers

  • Small group work allows for connection, chat, and breaks; use games and shared documents to recognise participation and contribution 
  • Provide opportunities in class for students to work together and learn with and through peers 
  • Understand that loneliness and alienation may be major issues for transitioning students and they may need additional support 
  • Support students in formal team assessment tasks by developing their teamwork skills  

3. Encourage students to engage with you as their teacher 

  • Ensure students know who you are and how and when to connect with you outside of class time 
  • Ensure students feel that, as a facilitator, you are approachable and helpful 
  • Create opportunities for students to voice their thoughts  
  • Actively seek feedback from students and respond to this by feeding it forward

4. Encourage students to engage with the university community 

  • Link students to broader university-wide activities (such as student clubs) 
  • Draw on fun activities outside the classroom curriculum  

From principle to practice

Below, we look at two case studies that support these concepts. 

Case study 1: improv for student engagement in tutorials   

Using improvised theatre (Improv) in tutorials, this practice was designed by Dr Mehal Krayem, Cale Bain and Dr Chrisanthi Giotis. The activity aims to achieve several outcomes: foster student engagement; create an effective environment where students feel comfortable to participate and engage in debate needed for the subject; give students a safe space to make a mistake; and provide an inclusive environment. 

This video contains closed captions and a transcript for the video is available here (pdf 2.1MB) 

Case study 2: students guiding students -integrating student peer review into a large first year science subject   

Dr Kristine McGrath, Dr Jacqueline Melvold and Dr Renee Dowse worked with library staff to support students in research and peer review practices. Tutors (teaching associates) had pre-class workshops on the teaching method underpinning the peer review, research methods, and poster assessment drafts. You can download a full description of the case study details below (pdf 2.4MB):  

The 6 principles 

There are six First-year Curriculum Principles (FYCPs) linked to Transition Pedagogy. Click on the text to read our blog post about that particular principle. 

  1. Transition
  2. Diversity
  3. Design
  4. Engagement
  5. Assessment
  6. Evaluation and monitoring

Join the discussion