Any adult who knows a child even in passing knows the hold that technology has on them. Downtime now involves video games with opponents on opposite ends of the world and cell phones that bypass the need for actual calls with texting, social media and voice messaging. Even toddlers navigate YouTube with voice commands before they can even read! So, expanding use of technology in the classroom with 1:1 learning or as a necessity with remote learning, actually means keeping pace with and more closely aligning with students’ interests and home lives.
Online learning has expanded the potential for engaging students by helping them pay attention, explore their curiosities and show genuine optimism for what they are learning. Devices and platforms themselves are not magic, and require features that reinforce curriculum and instruction to help maximize that potential. Unlocking student engagement online means applying learnings from in-person challenges and harnessing the best of technology to gain the most from its benefits.
Remote and 1:1 learning are changing landscapes, and moving learning activities online requires adjusting to that new learning environment. Tools like Hāpara maximize technologies such as Google Classroom and G Suite, with a set of effective and integrated products that solve problems of this new terrain and develop and deploy content in ways that are flexible, manageable and engaging for both teachers and students.
For those with emerging tech skills, a maze of processes, applications and tools can be overwhelming. The time and frustration to acclimate to online learning can affect engagement, motivation and outcomes (for both teachers and students). The engaged online classroom emerges from the ability to more quickly get students online and to centralize access to materials and resources.
Hāpara’s Teacher Dashboard is a place to easily view and access all student work from G Suite and Google Classroom in one central hub, organize learners into differentiated groups and quickly share out documents and resources. Additionally, it allows for easy access into student documents, which heightens the ability to provide formative assessment early and often in ways that feel like a learning opportunity.
Student Dashboard simplifies and streamlines students’ online lives—quieting digital noise for clear notifications and teacher communication, and managing digital learning tools and materials; promoting executive functioning skills such as organization, prioritization and time management. Students can even customize their interface’s color scheme and avatar, giving them an even greater sense of control over their own learning.
Bringing these two worlds together is Workspace, where teachers build and share digital projects and assignments in an easy-to-navigate, intuitive interface where class materials, resources and submissions for assignments are “live” instead of on countless papers and apps. Workspace helps teachers more effectively organize, plan and deliver content, and in turn, takes the “thinking” out of accessing online learning for students—reserving that valuable brain space for the content and topic at hand.
One cause of a lack of student engagement online is the inability to translate instructional strategies from the classroom that cater to various learning styles and increase interest and participation, like discussion and group work.
Digital tools can be used to apply in-person best practices to online learning, resulting in active participation with students being genuinely engaged and showing positive feelings toward school. The ability to meet different learning styles and interests, for example, has a significant impact on student engagement online. Workspace supports easy differentiation for groups or individuals across a range of learner needs.
Providing articles on the same subject, but at different reading levels or varying assignments that both motivate and challenge, helps students develop a better grasp of the content, an increased sense of accomplishment and engagement across behavioral, cognitive and emotional dimensions.
Accommodating the unique needs of learners is even more valuable for those who require additional or differing supports, as “research shows that students who are genuinely engaged persevere despite challenges…They find meaning in what they’re learning, whether their classroom is brick-and-mortar or virtual” (Morin, n.d.; Schlechty, 2011).
Technology can also enable engagement by allowing students to perform activities on their own device, rather than just watching the teacher’s display or from the front of the room. It puts students in the driver’s seat in ways increasingly comfortable for them, allowing them to practice and “fail” with private feedback and varying the ways they share their work.
Of course, technology also more seamlessly allows the incorporation of visuals, animations and videos, which students always find engaging! Workspace strengthens teachers’ digital toolkits with a centralized, easily-accessible home for digital resources and edtech tools – resulting in fewer logins and less time wasted simply locating the tools that enhance the learning experience.
Finally, tools like Google Docs help students jointly contribute to a document and work together to complete a project or can be used as an example for guided practice with teachers. Teacher insight into tasks while they are in progress, a feature of Highlights, allows easier monitoring of students’ Chrome web browsing activities and makes for stronger outcomes with earlier intervention or redirection. It centers around relationship-building rather than punishment, which may also help students feel more emotionally engaged in the academic environment.
From an instructional perspective, at the heart of student engagement is ensuring that students are on task and determining who needs additional support. If technology is a motivator, its tempting tabs and functions can also be a distraction.
Highlights optimizes learning time with streamlined tools to help students more quickly get online and access materials in one place, while helping teachers quickly deploy resources and limit distractions to positive online behaviors.
There are options to pause students’ screens temporarily to focus their attention, a one-click option to close a URL or tab on a student’s device, and the ability to designate a list of URLs to disable or focus for guided browsing. Tools like these, coupled with engaging lessons and activities, and the ability to tap students’ interests from insight in to their browsing, help place the focus squarely on the topics and materials at hand, as well as add relevant resources—clearing the path for student engagement.
Transforming the novelty of technology and its potential drawbacks into a tool to help students tune in to instruction more easily and consistently minimizes the ambivalence and frustration from the overwhelming reality of students’ online lives. It removes barriers to help students concentrate, see the value in the actual class content and feel motivated to persist. Tech tools like those in Hāpara ’s suite of offerings recognize the necessities of solid curriculum and instruction as well as the challenging administrative aspects of online learning; helping students feel more empowered, engaged and providing them with a greater sense of agency over their own learning.
Increasing student engagement online requires a holistic approach to curriculum and instruction that incorporates tools for a more efficient, invested and productive online learning environment. Finding those keys requires going beyond “logging seat time,” with both an eye for how traditional curriculum and instruction impact student engagement, and adapting those successes to the online classroom.