Book Review: Student Engagement Technique

I am not going to lie … it took me a while to get “engaged” into this book. For some reason, I had an expectation that this book would keep me intrigued from the first chapter as Bain’s book had me. Unfortunately, that was not my experience. I picked it up, put it down, picked it up, put it down, and filled my time with other things than reading the text.  With time dwindling down, and a sense of urgency to push through the book, I was able to see what all of the hype was about.

In Part One, Barkely presented a double helix model defining student engagement as ” a process and a product that is experienced on a continuum and results from the synergistic interaction between motivation and active learning” (Barkely, pg. 9).  Active learning describes how a student’s mind is engaged, and how students are lively participants in their own learning. Learning is not just happening to students through osmosis, but students are aware of it through reflection, and monitoring of the process and results of their learning. Motivation, on the other hand, is a product of expectancy and value. Students should have an expectation that they can succeed in the process and the tasks of learning (either content, or activities) should mean something to them, or have value to them.

My connection with Barkley started on page 45 when we were introduced to teachers practicing student engagement theory in their own classroom. THIS is what I was missing from Bain’s book. While Bain talked about what the best teachers do, Barkley highlighted teachers with relatable frustrations in their classrooms and how the used techniques to turn their students around. Barkley presented examples of success through creative learning activities, personality, course structure, motivation, value, active learning, and a combination of approaches.  My favorite example was that of Barkley herself, giving students control of their grades, offering 4,000 possible class points and only requiring 2,000 for an A.

Part Two of Barkley’s book focuses on fifty strategies and techniques that promote engagement. Some of the highlights of this section for me where:

  • T/S 4 Use praise and criticism effectively: This is a area of growth for me, and I try to really work hard on getting better with words and affirmation, and respectful criticism, in my role as a supervisor. I appreciate the formula that it provided for praise/criticism regarding its timeliness, specificity, and how’s its best if done in private.
  • T/S 18 Activate prior learning: This section suggests using think-pair-share or interviewing classmates in order to activate prior knowledge. As a secondary benefit, I feel like tasks like this builds community and fosters engagement within the classroom.
  • T/S 37 Celebrate community: Last semester I took a Stats class with other Stats rejects, as we called ourselves. People who “had” to take the class, failed it previously, or really didn’t like stats (like me)! Our teacher was a recent PhD graduate and our class was his first ever college course that he taught on his own. He was such an understanding teacher, and was so warm and particular with providing us support as we all struggled through the course. At then end we all excelled and capped it off with a class photo (as mentioned in the book). It was a small activity, but meant a lot to all of us in the class.
  • T/S 42 Use scaffolding to provide assistance for complex learning: I use the “think-out-loud” activity as I work with students to generate their stories for scholarship essays. I love that this idea, of verbalizing a thought process, was included in Barkley’s text.
  • T/S 47 Teach so that students use multiple processing modes: I was fascinated by the pie-chart showing average retention rates from different teaching methods. I hope to use this knowledge as I create my class portfolio.

Part Three of Barkley’s text describes fifty learning activities that teachers have found effective in engaging their students. I am excited about spending some more time on this section but have identified two Student Engagement Techniques (SETs) that I stood out to me the most:

  • SET 21 Class Book: Having a collection of the student’s “best” work and binding it to show future students in the same course is genius. We use the same idea as students share a copy of their photo books when they participate in an exchange abroad. It allows us to more easily market the program for future participants. I also like how this activity can easily be incorporated into a online classroom.
  • SET 48 Crib Cards: This idea is so great! The teacher provides students with a list of essay questions at the beginning of the course and tells them that a subset of questions will be presented in a future exam. The students are then allowed to write down outlines, notes, ideas on a 3×5 card and have that card available for their use for the exam. Even though all of the cards will not be used during the exam, the students have worked with ALL of the material, regardless of the questions they have to answer. It also allows the teacher to have different exams, since no two students have to be assigned the same questions.


I am really excited to have Barkley’s Student Engagement Technique book as a handy resource in my library and have already shared it, and Bain’s text, with my Assistant Director who is teaching a class in the Honors college.

Barkley, E. (2009). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco:   Bass.



  1. Hi, Carolina,

    Congratulations on passing your Stats course! Teachers like your Stats teacher remind all of us that students bring something into the classroom and teachers take the time to develop students in the teacher’s subject of expertise is something of immense value to both teachers and students in the process of learning. I am sure that you will remember your Stats teacher for a long time! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story.

    Best regards,



  2. Hi Carolina,

    I, like you, had trouble reading Part I in a timely manner. Parts of it were very engaging and other parts I found myself reading and re-reading while not really retaining it well. I think that this can happen when an author introduces too many theories closely together without breaking it up. I was also most engaged when I read the theory to practice chapter featuring case studies from real-life college teachers. I agree with your opinion that this was the element missing from Bain.

    Regarding one of the SETs you highlighted, crib cards, I have a little experience as a student with this. The only undergraduate course where my professor allowed crib cards was a terrible experience. His tests were massively difficult, but he would allow us to fit as much information as we could onto a large index card, front and back, to use on his tests. You may have heard the adage that open-book tests can be harder than traditional tests. This was true for us in this class. We stressed more about those crib cards than we did about anything else. Perhaps this professor’s approach is a good example of “what not to do” when implementing this particular SET.



  3. Hi Carolina,

    Congratulations on getting through the book! It was daunting, we all know it. Like you, I plan on using a lot of what this book has to offer and will spread the news about it’s existence to other teachers.




  4. Carolina,

    I’m sorry to hear that it was hard to engage with, but I’m so glad you got so much out of it. Just like you I felt like Barkley provided some of the things that Bain was missing. However, you bring up so many things that I may have missed or didn’t gather through my first read. I especially like your mention of the class book. It can take so many forms and is SUCH a great idea. I didn’t even think about it being used in an online classroom, but it could be an interesting collaborative project. In a previous program, I participated in the creation of an informal literary magazine in one of my creative writing classes. It was a collection of some of the work that we produced throughout the semester. Now I have an everlasting artifact full of memories from the class and a reminder of certain writing styles that I may forget over time.
    What kind of tools or programs do you think could be used for this kind of project in an online course? Something within Blackboard or something outside of the LMS?




  5. Carolina,

    I felt similarly about engaging with the text at first. I think it was the thickness of the book that made me put it off. However, once I started reading it, I was intrigued- not only with the material but also with Barkley’s story.

    This overview of the text is good. Your highlights and takeaways were similar to mine. Isn’t the class book idea so neat? I think it gives students ownership of whtever assignment is used for the book – they’ll want to show off their work.

    Thanks for sharing your insight.




  6. Carolina,

    I couldn’t agree more that Barkley picked up where Bain dropped the ball. I’m curious if you feel that this book can be helpful for administrators as much as faculty members? I love the thought of giving students control over their grades. I think the gap here was that there needs to be a clear statement of objectives and expectation in the beginning in order to make sure that students don’t misunderstand what control means. Great work!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s