UDL series — Engagement: Sustaining Effort & Persistence

14 July 2022
By Sam Graff

UDL, a blog series…

To recap, the first blog post in the series describes the principles of UDL and how to take the initial small step into achieving a UDL classroom. You can find the link back to the first post of this series.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) “is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights in how humans learn” (Cast.org). UDL can create an equitable and inclusive learning environment for all students in the classroom.

Within the UDL framework, there are three major categories and their subcategories:

Engagement: Sustaining Effort & Persistence

At the beginning of a new year or new term, students often aim to give 100 percent of their effort to their courses – but after a few weeks, that effort can fade. It happens to the best of us. The start of a new diet or new exercise routine can be hard to stick to. In order to help students sustain and maintain effort and persistence, here are a few actions for your classroom. You can create opportunities to remind students of the learning goals and why they matter, offer challenging opportunities, foster a community of learners, and give feedback and emphasize the importance of their effort and how they can sustain it each week. 

Heighten the importance of goals and objectives

The why of learning increases engagement in the classroom. 

The why can sustain students’ efforts, and when they are reminded of the why, what, and how they are learning, this knowledge can help students persist and achieve the goals they set at the beginning of the course. Although this blog focuses on the why of learning, the what and how are equally important. Universal Design for Learning principles do overlap with each other; focusing on the why is essential for increasing engagement. 

These strategies highlight the importance of the goals and objectives.


  • Create announcements in Moodle that remind students of upcoming assignments or a change in the schedule. 
  • Create announcements in Moodle that encourage students and emphasize the purpose of learning goals. Use optimistic messaging, for example, “you got this,” “this is why you are doing this,” or “keep going” are great phrases to encourage students. 
  • Demonstrate tools that help set goals for students. Google Calendar allows for a task option, which creates a list of to-do’s, and the student can set dates and times for when assignments need to be completed by, or it can be a repeating task that needs to be completed weekly or daily. 
  • The completion tracker feature on Moodle can help students acknowledge how many assignments they have completed. 
  • Gamify the Moodle page and design it to reward students for completing different tasks. An example of this tool can be found at the Moodle Micro-Skill Tutorials designed by Carly Born. 

Vary demands and resources to optimize challenge

During the term, students’ efforts can decrease. One way to re-energize them is to provide opportunities beyond the core assignments of the class. One way may be to offer an assignment where the students have a choice on how to deliver their evidence of learning. Let’s say that the assignment is to analyze an artifact – could be in art, film or literature. You then could offer them a chance to create something new using the knowledge they gained through the analysis in a previous assignment. This methodology follows Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised). If you provide this opportunity, consider how you can also provide support. Be sure to offer resources and tools that can help students be successful in creating something new. TILT, Transparency in Learning and Teaching, strategies can help create a clear and supportive assignment for students. TILT states assignments should have three critical elements: purpose, tasks, and criteria in order to create clarity in the assignment – essentially the why, what, and how. In 2020, Wiebke Kuhn, Director of Academic Technology, presented on TILT resources, and the LTC has a 2017 blog post about TILT and incorporating it into your courses. 

Foster collaboration and community

Keeping students motivated to work hard and persist can be tough if there is no sense of community to support a student. Motivation can be classified as intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation considers the willingness to learn because of interest, self-fulfillment, and enjoyment, while extrinsic motivation is motivation to work towards a specific result or outcome, like a reward or good grade. Creating a sense of belonging and community in the classroom can help with developing intrinsic motivation to increase the effectiveness of engagement in the classroom. At Vanderbilt University, the Center for Teaching has constructed a descriptive list of ways to improve motivation in the classroom. 

Teamwork can promote community and collaboration, and it is a skill we cannot assume students already have. If you design assignments and activities that require group work, consider trying to incorporate both fixed and flexible groups throughout the term. In addition to what groups a student belongs to, using a defined role for each student can provide structure for the groups. Some roles that can be assigned to each student can be, for example, a recorder (notetaker), a timekeeper, or a researcher. This list with examples of roles provides some ideas what some roles can be. Be creative with the names of roles and add new roles to your classroom. Another resource on groups and how to form different types of groups can be found on the LTC blog’s page: Teaching toolbox: Group work

Furthermore, to increase community beyond the classroom, encourage students to seek out peer-tutoring opportunities if they need help with the course work, and to become peer-tutors. You can provide this information in your syllabus and/or on the course Moodle page. The Academic Support Center has many resources for students who need help. 

Increase mastery-oriented feedback

One additional step to increase engagement and help keep students’ effort level consistent is to provide feedback. In 2018, the LTC created a resource on effective feedback. Below is a checklist of types of feedback that you can give to your students from The Power of Feedback by Hattie and Timperley, 2007.  

  1. Feedback about the task or product (“You need to include more about the Treaty of Versailles.”)
  2. Feedback about the process (“This page may make more sense if you use the strategies we talked about earlier.”)
  3. Feedback about self-regulation (“You already know the key features of the opening of an argument. Check to see whether you have incorporated them in your first paragraph.”)
  4. Feedback directed to the self as a person (“You are a great student.” “Great effort.”)

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112. https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487

Moodle has a number of ways to provide feedback. One tool in particular, Gradescope, allows instructors to grade non-text-based exams, homework and other assignments quickly and give quality feedback to students. Find more information about Gradescope on the ITS Service Catalog.

Remember, college is not a sprint but a marathon. What students take from your classroom can directly transfer into the larger network of learning at Carleton. The goal is to provide support to your students to cross the finish line by offering resources for your students to sustain effort and keep going.