Incorporating collaboration and digital tools may boost student engagement.

“Technology presents a huge opportunity that can be leveraged in the rural communities and inner-city urban settings, particularly in subjects where there is a shortage of highly qualified teachers. Good teachers can utilize new technology to accelerate learning and provide extended learning opportunities for students.”
— Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education

The times have changed: A look at today’s students

Today’s students are raised in a completely different technology-rich world than previous generations.  Typewriters are non-existent and cursive writing is becoming an art of the past.  For our students, video games, laptops, MP3 players, cell phones, online gaming, and social networking are, and always have been, a part of everyday life.

These are the digital natives. Technology–especially related to communications and interaction–is omnipresent.  Their screens are not just those of the television, but also those of the laptop, digital tablet, and smart phone.  Some of our peers may be skeptical about these technologies being used as educational tools, and that is understandable. Although they might be hesitant to embrace technology, the MacArthur Foundation found that time online is essential for youth to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age—skills such as critical thinking, decision making, collaboration, leadership and more.

Look around and you’ll find students from all demographics sending text messages, checking their Facebook, posting to their blog, playing video games, and tweeting. Often, they are doing them all at once.  Students are highly engaged with the technology around them. Imagine the possibilities if teachers could capture students’ attention by using technologies students are already using, inside the classroom.

Struggling to engage? The solution may lie in collaboration

Many teachers struggle with keeping their students engaged in classroom activities. Many blame distractions from technology, but let’s face it: whether it’s passing notes in class, talking over the teacher or texting under the desk, keeping students’ attention has always been a challenge. I have found that if you allow students to direct their learning through an active voice in the materials and curriculum they are being taught, they respond with more involvement and excitement about their learning experience.

Whether teachers embrace technology or not, the classroom dynamic is changing. Students are connecting and collaborating with one another on school assignments, usually through social media. Students are creating and publishing content on wikis and blogs. They want immediate feedback, such as when they are using a discussion board or when they receive comments to their online posts. They want to work collaboratively, sometimes outside the hours of 8 am to 4 pm. Finally, they want some power and control over their education experience. In order for schools to meet these needs, we must incorporate the technological tools students love and interact with everyday into their daily curriculum at school.

The entire educational system is responsible for seeing today’s youth through to their ultimate goal: graduation. Currently, only about 70 percent of students graduate.  This statistic indicates that teachers are still struggling to make education relevant to today’s digital learners. According to the Center for Exceptional Children, about half of students who drop out of school point to the fact that they find classes “uninteresting” as a primary reason. This is where Web 2.0 technologies can come into play. Many educators are realizing the importance of Web 2.0 in the classroom and the role it can play in encouraging students.