How education technology improves student engagement

How education technology improves student engagement

Table of Contents

Young people are digital citizens, raised with technology at their fingertips. Modern teaching strategies are harnessing its power to enhance student engagement and an individualised approach to learning.

Using technology in education

There is no doubt that the use of technology in education is on the rise. As this report by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) notes, there has been exponential growth in the use of digital technologies this century. The proportion of Australian students with access to a computer at home rose from about 91 percent in 2000 to over 99 percent in 2013. Over the same period, access to the internet grew from 67 percent to 98 percent.

As the ACER report notes, Australian students’ school computer use was increased when, between 2008 and 2012, the National Partnership Agreement on the Digital Education Revolution (DER) provided more than $2 billion for purchasing computers and software for all students in years 9 to 12. The aim was to arm students with the ICT skills for high-quality learning outcomes and successful contribution to society and the economy.

Furthermore, Australia had the highest percentage of students who used computers at school at least once weekly (81 percent), according to the 2013 report on the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS).

A 2017 Australian Government report showed that, in primary school, computers were most commonly used to help students develop specific skills in academic areas, with use becoming more frequent as children got older.

The report also looked at educational technology in secondary school English classes, finding it was most frequently used to learn or practise basic skills such as reading, preparing written text, corresponding with others and conducting research.

Use of education technology in English classes was more frequent when children were aged 14-15, compared to when they were 12–13.

Moreover, the use of information technology in modern teaching looks set to grow further. This 2016 study by Pearson Education, for example, showed that Australian educators feel there is more drive than ever to make greater use of technology in the classroom. They note that 64 percent of Australian schools are working towards using mostly online resources. Only 8 percent of educators indicated that their schools returned to using more printed materials after venturing into digital.

How technology influences teaching practice and student engagement

Given the growth of education technology, you might be wondering what it means for the modern classroom. As expected, it has impacts for both students and teachers.

For teachers, information technology can form a crucial part of their teaching style. They might use online resources, software programs or apps to help their students engage with and learn concepts from various curriculum areas. For example, Minibeast Heroes, a six-part educational mini-series, helps primary school students engage with science content. Developed in a collaboration between ABC Education and Deakin University’s Motion Lab, each short, highly-engaging episode teaches students about a different insect, drawing on links to the Australian Curriculum.

Research is still uncovering how teachers are adapting to increased use of technology-based learning. For those accustomed to a low-tech teaching style, this becomes part of their growth and professional development. For others, perhaps digital natives themselves, their concept of modern teaching is inextricably tied with technology.

A 2014 Australian study, published in journal Research in Learning Technology, highlighted that change in digital scholarship is a complex and personal process. They discovered four areas in which teachers’ use of digital technology changes over time – knowledge, learning organisation, pedagogy and core approaches to teaching. They found that some teachers showed faster, more consistent change in their practices with digital technology than others. They also note that changes reflected individual knowledge and beliefs.

They add that any support teachers need to implement education technology should acknowledge, and build upon, their professional understandings and aspirations.

For students, information technology in the classroom may help to boost engagement, although this has yet to be conclusively proven. A 2007 report by ACER noted that, in general, “the evidence suggests that the use of ICT enables richer, more engaging learning environments to be developed.

“However, it is also evident that the use of ICT does not always result in greater emotional engagement or stronger cognitive engagement with learning. There is too much variation among learners and the nature of learning tasks to expect conclusions that can be applied uniformly regardless of context”.

A large 2017 study, reported in the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, completed a critical review of five years’ worth of research into how technology-based learning influences student engagement. Specifically, they explored the roles of web-conferencing software, blogs, wikis, social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter), and digital games.

Their findings suggested that digital games had the greatest influence across different types of student engagement (behavioural, emotional, and cognitive), followed by web-conferencing and Facebook. Findings about wikis, blogs, and Twitter were less conclusive, with only limited numbers of studies within the past five years.

The authors note that overall, the findings “provide preliminary support that computer-based technology influences student engagement, however, additional research is needed to confirm and build on these findings”.

Participation vs engagement - what’s the difference?

So, what exactly does “student engagement” mean, you might be asking. It’s a good question, and one that’s still under debate by education researchers.

An important thing to note is its difference to participation. It’s possible for a student to participate in class without being deeply engaged with the subject matter. They might raise their hand and answer questions they know, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have thought through the content. For example, a student in maths class might be able to solve problems quickly using a formula, but they may not understand why that formula works and how to apply it in different contexts.

In contrast, student engagement involves meaningful learning.

The Victorian Government’s Department of Education and Training note that student engagement is complex and hard to define because it is influenced by many factors.

However, educational research has identified three elements of engagement:

  1. behavioural engagement – this is about a students’ participation in education, including social and extracurricular school activities as well as academic ones
  2. emotional engagement – including a students’ emotional reactions in the classroom and the school community (a sense of belonging or connectedness to the school)
  3. cognitive engagement – a students’ investment in their learning (including their motivation and self-regulation).

Some factors that influence student engagement include:

  • teacher factors – such as their interaction style, amount of support provided, responsiveness, and behavioural and academic expectations
  • school factors – including the physical setting factors (eg classroom layout, noise and lighting levels), and how the school supports and disciplines students
  • student factors – such as a student’s emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioural state, including issues such as health, disability and peer relationships
  • family and community factors – including a student's residential circumstances, amount of family support for/involvement in education, and family relationships
  • curriculum and resources factors – such as the availability and type of learning resources (including education technology), learning task factors (eg level of difficulty, interest, meaningfulness), the learning goals and objectives, and assessment approaches.

Technology-based activities to increase student engagement

When it comes to boosting student engagement, there are many technology-based learning options. Here’s just a few, derived from sites including Classcraft and Education Dive.

1. Gamification of learning

Most kids are familiar with playing video or online games, and the information technology used to make gaming so engaging has been employed in some learning tools. Digital games can communicate new material, make learning more fun, and make it easier for students with disability or special needs to participate. By tapping into students’ competitiveness, they can also encourage students to work harder than they otherwise might.

Examples of technologies that use gaming principles include Kahoot!, where participants answer questions on their device while competing against classmates, and Classcraft, which offers various games and tools to make the classroom more engaging.

2. Videos

If you’ve seen a great movie, you’ll understand the power they have to engross their viewers. In the same way, watching educational videos can be highly engaging for students.

With the plethora of educational videos around, teachers have a readily available source for every subject you can think of. For example, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, the well-known Australian science communicator, has multiple videos available on YouTube. And many classic novels and plays in the English curriculum have been transformed into modern movies.

3. Personalised activities

In larger classrooms, or when teachers want to align an activity to a students’ learning needs, online activities can be a great option.

Many such activities are not only fun, but programmed to monitor a students’ responses and adjust the difficulty accordingly. They can also provide feedback, so students know what they’re doing right, or get help with material they’re finding difficult.

7 ways to use technology in education

Here’s another seven ways teachers might use education technology in the classroom, with thanks to Classcraft, Education Dive and Chalk.

1. The flipped classroom model

This model involves students preparing for class at home by listening to podcasts, doing readings, and/or watching videos. An online platform is used to deliver materials, which students access with their home computer or school device.

Classroom time is then used to discuss and interact with the materials. This method can be highly engaging. The downside is that it relies on having adequate technology and family support at home, which can disadvantage some students.

2. Google Classroom

After working with educators, Google created their Classroom – a tool they say allows teachers to create classes, distribute and mark assignments, send feedback, and see everything in one place. It has been designed to be engaging and offer options for students of all levels. Students can continue learning their material if a teacher is absent or if their school has days off for weather events. It also integrates with many programs like Classcraft and Quizlet.

3. Online quizzes

Speaking of quizzes, there are several online ones that allow students to practice and review their learning materials. Quizlet, for example, is an online flashcard platform offering individual review games and an interactive mode where students can work in teams to get the right answers.

Similarly, Quizizz provides individual quizzes on various topics, allowing students to work on their own or compete against classmates.

4. Student response systems

Another way students can interact in the classroom is with free apps, such as Socrative and Verso, which allow them to answer questions, take quizzes, and compete against each other. These apps can be run on each students’ device and linked with electronic whiteboards.

5. Technology-based assignments

Rather than having them deliver old-fashioned paper essays, some teachers are encouraging students to use technology to demonstrate their learning. Having them create podcasts and videos allow students to develop new skills, display their creativity and demonstrate their learning.

With most smartphones having cameras and voice recording apps, it’s easy to make videos and podcasts, which can then be shared on YouTube or Soundcloud.

6. Work with students around the globe

You may have had a pen pal at school and looked forward with anticipation to receiving their next letter. Now, with the instant communication offered by the internet, students can learn about culture, history and geography by talking to students from other countries.

Programs like Skype and Zoom allow for online interaction between individuals and groups, and even virtual field trips.

7. Virtual/augmented reality

This highly interactive tool opens up realms of possibility, allowing students to experience learning in a way never previously possible. For example, students can take a 3D tour of the human body, or virtually visit different places and times.

Cost remains a prohibitive factor, but as this emerging technology becomes more affordable and accessible, it’s likely to play an increasing role in classrooms.

Education technology experiences to help students learn and grow

Here are some experiences that are being used for student growth and learning.

1. Creating infographics

Infographics are visual representations designed to allow complex information to be digested quickly. They usually present several facts or statistics in an easy-to-read and visually appealing format. For example, they might be used to display health statistics or findings from a study.

Free programs such as Canva and Piktochart are a great way to create good-quality infographics, or for more advanced functions try design software such as GIMP and Photoshop.

2. Recording reading

Fluency and expression are difficult concepts to grasp and students don’t always know what they sound like when they’re reading. By recording and playing back a students’ reading (on a device, for example), they can hear any pronunciation errors and what it sounds like to read with fluency and expression.

3. Government digital education resources

Some government education departments have compilations of digital resources. These, from the New South Wales Government, cover a vast range of topics and links to Scootle – a national library containing more than 20,000 digital learning and teaching resources aligned to stages of learning and subjects.

4. Electronic books and readers

The rise of eBooks has made it easier than ever to access great reads, anywhere. E-readers are usually cheaper than tablets and use less power, so battery life is longer.

Their matte-finish screen and e-ink technology are designed to emulate reading print on paper and they are easier to read outdoors than backlit tablet screens.

5. Study and productivity apps

An online search will reveal a glut of app options to help students use time effectively and manage their study load.

6. Kidblog

Kidblog is an online platform where students can start their own blog related to the curriculum. Their audience might include other classes in their grade or students on the other side of the world. Other students and parents can comment on their work.

Teachers can monitor all activity within their community of authors and need to approve all content before it goes live. This makes it a great platform for students to practise having a digital presence, without the dangers of the internet.

Technology and the future of education

With education technology already entrenched in modern teaching, you might be wondering what the future holds.

There are many ways it could impact future learning. One of these is making learning more personalised by accommodating different students’ learning styles. This shift is also likely to make students more independent in the classroom and able to take greater responsibility for their learning.

Technologies that adapt to a students’ skill level and modify tasks accordingly are already available and could become more prevalent. NAPLAN Online is an example of an assessment that adjusts as each student progresses through the questions. Artificial intelligence and machine learning could take the lead here.

Adaptive technologies will likely get better at supporting students with special needs or disability.

Another change is the shift from equipping students with knowledge and skills to be good workers, to being able to think critically, work collaboratively and adapt in an ever-changing global world. With the availability of information at the fingertips (or voice search), the need to sift through encyclopaedias is gone. Instead, students must know how to sort quality information from that which is false or misleading.

As Brian Greenberg, CEO of Silicon Schools, told Business Insider: “The real purpose of education is for the brain to be empowered with information. We’re teaching students to learn to think, to learn to learn, and to critically assess a situation.”

This is particularly true for Christian students, who will be exposed to many opposing views with seemingly rational arguments behind them. Equipping them with knowledge of the truth, and the ability to support their views, will help Christian young people defend their faith, whether in person or online.

You might be wondering whether teachers will become obsolete, but don’t worry. Students have needs – like support, guidance, encouragement and a sense of belonging – that no machine can replace. Moreover, teachers have training in how to bring out the best in students and assess their work at a level that can’t be emulated by technology. It’s more likely that teachers will use education technology in ways that reduce mundane work and allow greater focus on meaningful, engaging tasks – a win for all concerned.

Jeremy Kwok

Jeremy Kwok

Jeremy Kwok grew up in Sydney before moving to the United States for tertiary studies. Jeremy completed the BA, MA (History), and MDiv degrees before returning to Australia with his wife Debbie to have two children. He works for the Australian Christian College Group developing online curriculum and is an Apple Distinguished Educator.