Mastering the Art of Meaningful Engagement
Slipped in among education initiatives, industry news, and classroom goals is one common theme: engagement. For many modern classrooms, the latest technology, gadgets, and nontraditional learning methods are often thrown around with promises to increase engagement. While engagement is no doubt desirable, educators should think carefully about what, exactly, they want students to engage with. For example – is it important for students to be enthralled by tablets? Not necessarily. What we should be asking ourselves, more accurately, is this: are students interested in the learning process? Are they engaged with what they are learning? Does the medium make a difference?
Before digital tools became a mainstay of education, learning tools had little to no chance of being independently engaging. But as digital takes hold of the classroom, and engagement continues to be a frequently used buzzword, it is more important than ever to hone in on what type of engagement educators should be seeking.
Others are also bravely acknowledging the fact that better technology doesn’t automatically equal better, more meaningful learning. BrightBytes is a company dedicated to using data and research to help schools get a better return on their investment, or as the company so perfectly dubs it “ a return on learning.” Rob Mancabelli, cofounder and CEO, comments on the disconnect:
“When you buy technology for schools, are you using it to digitize, or to create a new learning experience? Over $10 billion is spent on technology every year in the U.S., and the majority of it does not benefit learning outcomes.”
Some students even acknowledge that technology infiltrated in all aspects of the learning environment may not be advantageous. For instance, USA Today recently wrote an article covering the use of technology in the classroom. The newspaper asked one professor, Mika LaVaque-Marty, from the University of Michigan, how he deals with digital reading materials in the classroom. The professor notes:
“I just tell [students] that whatever format you use, you bring that to class. If you ban it and expect things to be brought to class, then you have a problem.”
Students have their own take on the digital vs. traditional debate. Joyce LaLonde, a junior at Syracuse University, prefers an old-fashioned approach, but sees the value in both:
“When I have been staring at a screen all day on my laptop or phone, it becomes ordinary. I fall into the mundane scrolling and tapping on social media and email. When I have a textbook in front of me that is what I am concerned about and what I am fully engaged in.
“I think that reading textbooks digitally is more practical, more cost effective, takes up less space, easier to travel with, better for the environment. As far as what is more beneficial to learning, I think it is more of a case-by-case thing.”
Joyce raises a good point. What is engaging for each organization, classroom, or individual student will differ – and it’ s our job to pursue technology that enhances learning outcomes. Here are some key components to look for when assessing if a tool is furthering your mission:
Is it collaborative?
Dialogue, discussion, and cooperation are great ways to facilitate impactful learning. Does the tool you’re using make the case for collaboration? While students can definitely benefit from introspective time alone, interaction creates a community, pushes students past their comfort zones, and often leads to broadened minds, critical thinking, healthy debate, and worthwhile engagement.
Is it constructive?
Are students creating? A hands-on learning experience can often result in a demonstration of understanding, meaning you can easily ensure more meaningful engagement.
Is it cognitively-based?
Analyzing the hows, whats, and whys of learning is important. With so many new ways to engage students, ranging from games in the classroom to impressive technology, teachers may be able to get students going. However, to keep students on the right path, some analysis is needed. Mistakes should be documented, explained, and corrected. Deeper learning and understanding should somehow come to fruition – and that means diving past surface-level techniques and finding ways to make tools mean more.
Overall, engagement should certainly be a priority. But it is a priority that needs to go hand-in-hand with other considerations. By itself, engagement is not enough. It needs to be engagement that leads somewhere – preferably to retained information, solid understanding, and enriched learning that propels students further. So, as you look to technology that will help you engage students, also ask yourself this: how will I make this engagement matter?
1.“We’re spending $10 billion on kids’ classroom technology – but does it help them learn?” Fast Company. August 20 2015.
2.“Survey: 78% of students prefer digital course material” USA Today. July 30 2015.