10 Most Engaging Uses of Tech Integration

October 11th, 2015 6 Comments Features

Classrooms don't need tech geeks who can teach; we need teaching geeks who can use tech.

Educators know that “tech” is not synonymous with engagement. But how do we recognise an engaging use of edtech when we see it? Most of us hardly have enough time to fully integrate the tools we want into our curricula, so measuring the relative success of one method over another is usually out of the question. That’s where a little research can help. Want to know whether or not to try VoiceThread with your students? Someone has probably tested it already, and you can look over the data with a quick Google search.

Below we’ve curated some of the most effective uses of technology to enhance student engagement, backed by case studies, literature reviews, and documented rounds of trial-and-error. Save yourself some precious time and browse this list for ideas. Trust us, you’ll be glad you didn’t have to road test everything yourself.

10 Ways to Engage Students With Tech

1. Audio/Video Feedback

Google Docs, screencasts, Evernote, Livescribe pens, you name it. There are now countless tools teachers can use to provide students with timely feedback, thereby keeping the learning momentum going.

Educators at the University of Chicago recommend using audio/video feedback for optimal engagement: “One of the common pedagogical challenges is that students appear unwilling or unable to respond to instructor feedback effectively. When instructors return their assignments, students often just look at the final grade and without thinking through how the feedback can help them improve their future work.”

Providing feedback in audio/video format instead of traditional written feedback improves engagement in the following ways:

  • Students have reported that they found video feedback more personal and more informative (Turner and West 2013, Kolowich 2015).
  • The novelty of the approach and the accompanying Hawthorne effect helps keep students engaged.
  • The multimodal nature of the feedback, particularly in video format, offers comparative advantages for visual and auditory learners above “unimodal” written or audio feedback.
  • According to Turner and West (2013), providing feedback [using video] took instructors no longer than if they were to provide the standard level of written feedback. Yet, instructors can often include more details above that typically provided by written feedback.

2. Digital Portfolios

Curating your learning journey is easier than ever in the age of tech. But the key to making this process engaging in an educational setting is to hold students accountable for what they produce. In other words, be sure students create their digital portfolios with the intention of sharing them.

“If you step back just outside the circle of a teacher’s charismatic performance,” says Steve Zimmerman, Director of the Open School Project, “you will see a better key to student engagement–the audience. We all love a good performance, but we all have an innate need to be a performer, too, and nothing will engage students as much as having an audience to perform for. The very best tool we have for cultivating that audience is a digital portfolio that can be shared and commented on by peers as well as teachers and parents.”

3. Blended Learning

When Kavita Gupta decided to try the blended approach with her AP Chemistry students in 2014, she found that student enrollment increased from 4 to 7 sections (140 to 235 students, 162% increase) and AP scores increased by 12%.

<p”>My two biggest challenges as a teacher for over 16 years have been time and keeping the students engaged,” she writes. “For most part of my teaching career, I have used the direct instruction method with less than desired outcomes. Hence, I decided to change the direct method of instruction to the blended model for past three years.”

Supplementing her flipped model with a course website and Facebook learning support group, Gupta had her students watch teacher-generated video lectures at home and then used course time to discuss them. She also created video recording of her lectures (podcasts) so students could watch these at home. These video lectures allowed students to pace their own learning with the option to watch a segment multiple times, freeing up valuable course time for collaborative problem solving.

“Since problem solving is more challenging for students, there is peer and teacher support for this task during course time. Also, because students work in collaborative groups during (course time), it gives the teacher more bandwidth to provide one-on-one support to the struggling students. While it is easy for students to zone out or gets disengaged during the lectures, it is hard to do so when students are working in small collaborative groups with teacher floating around to address their misconceptions.” Gupta summarises the results of her experiment as follows:

  • The blended model of instruction freed up (course) time to allow authentic problem solving and deeper thinking.
  • Students were actively engaged in learning with their peers while designing labs, solving problems, or taking performance task assessments.
  • Learning was individualised and self-paced. Learning was truly extended beyond the (formal learning setting) by use of Facebook group, podcasts and the website.
  • This blended model definitely provided increased engagement and extended the learning beyond the (formal learning setting).

4. Social Media

Researchers at Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa are just one of many groups to have found a positive correlation between social media integration and student engagement. In-depth interviews with lecturers who use Facebook and blogs and focus groups with their respective students were carried out to establish the following: usage in teaching and learning; the context of use; challenges encountered in usage; and whether these technologies enhanced student learning. A significant finding of the study was that appropriate use of blogs and Facebook groups, if accepted by students as a learning tool, enhances students’ engagement in learning activities of an academic nature on and off campus.

For a great resource on how to use social media for student engagement, read more here.

5. Game-Based Learning

According to neurologist Judy Willis, games create the perfect conditions for engagement: “In humans, the dopamine reward response that promotes pleasure and motivation requires that they are aware that they solved a problem, figured out a puzzle, correctly answered a challenging question, or achieved the sequence of movements needed to play a song on the piano or swing a baseball bat to hit a home run. This is why students need to use what they learn in authentic ways that allow them to recognise their progress as clearly as they see it when playing video games.”

6. Collaboration Tools

Solomon Negash and Tamara Powell of Kennesaw State University have found evidence that collaboration tools can increase student engagement. Studying students’ use of the online tool VoiceThread, Negash and Powell discovered “successful student engagement” when the course structure includes “giving students options to comment and share the assignment, giving students opportunities to ‘show off’ their multimedia skills as they think about the assignment, making the discussion more engaging by giving the students more freedom in how and what they share, elevating the… discussion to the level of intellectual exchange, fostering ‘concept checkup’ opportunities using collaborative interaction, setting clear goals and directions for each assignment, creating assessment and grading for each assignment, and giving students something to gain by interacting with others in this assignment (gamifying the assignment).”

Chandrasekar et al found that collaboration tools enhance students’ behavioural, emotional, and cognitive engagement. Stafford et al found that students’ engagement with collaborative tools like Wikipedia can even predict enhanced written exam performance.

7. Design Thinking

At the West Michigan Centre for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), educators are making waves by engaging urban high school students in an after-school programme grounded in design thinking.

“Design thinking and project-based learning surfaced as an essential model in innovative school redesign that improves students’ attitudes toward learning,” says Kim Dabbs, Executive Director of WMCAT. “One of the stars in project-based learning was High Tech High (HTH) in San Diego. The WMCAT Teen Arts team traveled to HTH to complete a residency with their staff on the merits, metrics and ins-and-outs of project-based learning. Back in Grand Rapids, we also selected a team to complete a course in Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation from IDEO and Acumen. And then, last summer I was lucky enough to study at the famed d.school at Stanford, where I began to learn just how we could transform our program for teens.”

Here’s what Dabbs learned about engagement through design thinking:

  • The best projects are student-driven and student-led. The more we engaged our teens in choosing their issues, selecting their partners and driving the conversation, the stronger the projects were.
  • Give students plenty of opportunities to complete mini design challenges along the way. This helped us teach art and tech skills, kept ideas fresh and retained student interest.
  • Keep giving staff the opportunity to learn and practice design thinking. This spring, our entire team is completing a Mixtape course designed by the d.school at Stanford and refreshing our skills through the IDEO and Acumen course again.

8. Reaching Individuals and Groups

During a history project, educator Kerry Gallagher had her students study the topic of voting rights for freedmen. Students were instructed to put digital copies of drawings from Harper’s Weekly in an online folder. Then they created a QR code for their peers to scan so they could access the folder full of images on their devices. Students were assigned one of the images and told to put it into Skitch, an image annotation tool. They were instructed to point out the freedmen and the white Americans in the images and add text explaining what the image taught them about the reality of voting for African Americans at this time. Finally, the annotated images were projected on a large screen at the front of the room and discussed by all students.

“This activity would not have been possible without technology,” Gallagher writes on her blog, “because digital annotation can be more detailed and in higher definition than on paper. Also, the resulting analysis could not be enlarged to a size that the whole class can see if it were done on paper. Finally, students could save those digital images in paperless notebooks, which are less likely to be destroyed or lost than a single sheet in a paper notebook.”

9. Tracking Progress

Many of the most engaged students are self-directed. If we give them the chance to track their own learning journy, they’ll be more motivated to improve because they’ll know where to start.

“For years I have been dutifully tracking student progress, doing statuses of the classes, collecting data, hording data and developing full pictures of students as learners that no one ever seemed to look at,” writes educator Starr Sackstein. “All that work seemed rather useless to the kids considering how much effort I’ve put into it. This year, I asked the kids to start tracking their own progress in terms of: informal conversations about their their learning, feedback on papers, general feedback in their online grade books, and their own reflection based on the standards.”

In preparation for reflection, Sackstein asked students to gather the following:

  • Feedback and progress notes from prior assignments
  • A list of strengths students feel they are developing based on the standards
  • A list of challenges students feel they need help with based on the standards
  • 3 goals students would like to accomplish by the end of the 2nd marking period
  • Questions students have about course

Sackstein hopes that by putting the progress tracking in her students’ hands, she can empower them to develop a sense of self-advocacy. This is the direction we should be heading with adaptive technology tools and virtual assessments.

10. Visual Literacy

According to a report released in May, we currently upload and share 1.8 billion photos every single day. On Instagram alone, 20 billion photos have been uploaded since 2010. The Internet has completely revolutionised the way images serve communication.

Today’s students are all visual learners, and technology can help acommodate this shift. Forget visual aids–make visual learning a unique experience, facilitated by design tools, creativity apps, image curation, presentation tools, and other visual learning software.


Saga Briggs is an author at InformED. You can follow her on Twitter@sagamilena or read more of her writing here.

6 Responses

  1. Ken Wong says:

    thanks, well written and informative

  2. Thilesh says:

    Very interesting, informative and we’ll written. Wish it can be implemented in the 3rd world country I live in.

  3. Lester Whenuaroa says:

    Thanks appreciated what you had to share – helps to know that things you are implementing in your class are on the right track and that there are other strategies that can be used to engage students.


  4. AnnaV says:

    This is a great article on ways to help engage students using technology! I wonder if there are any studies out there that show that learning has been improved with technology or if the old-fashioned way of just using books in the classroom is better.

  5. Special Ed Teacher says:

    I would also suggest that using technology to allow students to access the curriculum is one of the most important ways to engage students. For example, text-to-speech technology is relatively seamless on a number of devices and levels the playing field for those students who struggle with traditional text based materials.

  6. See saw is being trialed in Year 1 at PLC.
    The class teacher has instructed the students in how to use this app.The students were able to reflect on what they had learnt during the lesson and shared this with parents.
    Timely and relevant feedback. Thankyou Year 1 and Mr. Catley.

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