Many educators navigating the use of technology for learning have seen this scenario come to life in the classroom: you give your students an online assignment and a few minutes into it you start the exhausting routine of trying to guess who might be opening other tabs to play games or watch videos, while you figure out ways to redirect them towards their work.
In fact, the switch to hybrid and fully virtual learning during the pandemic highlighted how students can become distracted and lose motivation when they are seemingly hiding behind a screen, causing many frustrated parents and teachers to loathe the use of technology in learning.
But before you give up on e-learning altogether and grab that printed worksheet, let me tell you that there is a world of wonderful apps and platforms out there that when used properly can actually INCREASE student engagement and motivation, and help you maintain it throughout the school year.
My teenage students love technology. They can’t get enough of communicating and playing on their devices, and through trial and error I have found ways in which you can tap into that desire to interact with technology and bridge that into their learning.
Here are 3 strategies that I have successfully used to increase student motivation and engagement, which will give you results you can measure from the moment you start using them:
1. Start giving your students real time feedback. One of the reasons why students start to look down at their phones or pretend to work while doing online activities is because they are having a hard time maintaining focus when doing self-paced work. Thankfully, there are many great online platforms today where you can privately and effectively communicate and guide them through their work, giving them the assistance they need to stay on task. Peardeck is an example of a tool that teachers can use to directly give assistance to students that need refocusing and reinforcement.
The teacher is able to leave messages to students next to any type of response that the students make (text, drawing, number, multiple choice, etc.) and students receive it and can reply instantly, in the same way they would text a friend on their phones. This platform makes it simple to give custom feedback to all students as they write down their thoughts, in a process that is easy for the teacher and meaningful for the student.
2. Shorten instruction time and use more digital tools to allow students to collaborate. Direct instruction is an important component in learning, but equally important is to utilize student-centered pedagogy to allow students to learn (or reinforce learned concepts) through experience, and digital tools can be used to facilitate these experiences. Students of all ages enjoy playing and socializing online, so why not tap into that desire and use it towards their learning? Studies show that there is a strong social component in motivation, especially for school-aged children, and there are many platforms available to drive students to naturally want to participate.
When deciding what digital tool to use for this type of activity check for certain features, such as whether the tool gives the students the ability to be a part of a team, if the students can work together to explore a concept or solve a problem, and if the tool allows for students to support each other through their work. One platform that I found can accomplish this is Breakout EDU, which is designed to provide students with games where they have to collaborate and apply their critical thinking skills to solve a series of challenging puzzles. The online puzzles can be used in combination with fun hands-on gadgets such as locks, safes, and anything else that the teacher wants to use. There are built in games for every subject and grade level, and teachers can create their own material as well.
3. Break the routine with rotating apps and keep your students curious. In order to achieve effective classroom management, it is essential to integrate various routines within a classroom. But while consistency should be maintained within the rules of expectations, using the same types of assignments all year long can cause fatigue and boredom. This is when students might start to give up on completing their tasks–or even worse, they might start acting out during class. Rotating with a variety of digital tools regularly can help solve this problem, and this idea should be approached similarly to how a teacher uses different methods of delivery of instruction. We cannot simply transfer worksheets into google docs to be filled out by students daily, this is an ineffective way to integrate technology resembling an old industrialized form of education. Instead, it is important to use diverse web-based technologies that keep students curious and interested. The options are many, such as using e-books for research with a digital library like Epic!, or storytelling applications like Spark Video where students create their own instructional videos.
In this time of challenges and uncertainty in education, it is necessary to be comfortable with technology and to use it to maintain a flexible curriculum where students can stay engaged in their learning. Reflecting on the way you use technology in your classroom means that you are taking an important step towards accomplishing this.
As we continue to ensure that we make the best decisions possible while teaching in a system forever changed by hybrid and remote learning, implementing even just one of these strategies can give a boost to engagement and motivation, opening up new possibilities for a more purposeful way to reach our students.
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