What is student engagement? Why is it important? What role does technology play in engaging students in learning?
The Canadian Education Association describes student engagement as participation in the social, academic, and intellectual dimensions of school life. (Dunleavy & Milton, 2010, p. 6). Other use a more simplified definition of engagement as “.. active participation in class and with the subject matter.” (Cole, 2009, p. 143). Regardless of how engagement is defined, what does seem to be clear is that there has been a shift from viewing engagement as a classroom management strategy designed to keep kids in school to a change in pedagogy for how to provide students with skills required for the 21st century.
To foster engagement in learning, suggested classroom experiences should include opportunities for student interaction and exploration, relevant subject matter, challenging instruction, and authentic assessment. (Parsons & Leah, 2011). Speaking from my own experience, I can attest to the increases in student engagement lessons and activities are planned with these in mind.
Technology is an effective tool for promoting all of these elements of engagement. As noted by Metri Group (2003), “Technology serves as a bridge to more engaged, relevant, meaningful, and personalized learning— all of which can lead to higher academic achievement.” (p. 12). Social media and collaboration software foster communication between students. Assistive technologies help scaffold and extend learning activities to match the level of each learner. Access to the internet using computers and mobile devices connects learners to timely, relevant and authentic subject matter. Perhaps most notably, students are generally eager to make use of these technologies, which can offer a greater sense of control and independence in their learning. However, as illustrated by a study of wiki use amongst university students, simply providing the technology will not ensure engagement. (Cole, 2009). As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water (or in this case a well planned, collaborative, authentic learning experience that provides choice and access to technology) but you cannot make it drink.
In describing engagement, Dunleavy &Milton (2010) add “..when the relationship between teacher and student, and among students themselves, is both reciprocal and generous in spirit,” as an essential component. (p. 8). I would absolutely concur. Fostering positive relationships for students is for me the most powerful and important work I do in the classroom; relationships with their teacher, each other, and most importantly themselves. It is through positive relationships that we can truly become engaged in learning, and in life.
Cole, M. (2009). Using Wiki technology to support student engagement: Lessons from the trenches, 52(1), 141–146. Retrieved from:
Dunleavy, J. & Milton, P. (2010). Student engagement for effective teaching and deep learning. Canadian Education association, 48(5), 4-8. Retrieved from:
Metri Group (2003). enGauge 21st century skills: Literacy in the Digital age. 1-88. Retrieved from: http://pict.sdsu.edu/engauge21st.pdf
Parsons, J., & Taylor, L. (2011). Student engagement: What do we know what should we know? University of Alberta, 1-59. Retrieved from: http://education.alberta.ca/media/6459431/student_engagement_literature_review_2011.pdf