Engaging relationships

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:
http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/science/article/pii/S0360131508001061

Dunleavy, J. & Milton, P. (2010). Student engagement for effective teaching and deep learning. Canadian Education association, 48(5), 4-8. Retrieved from:
http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/student-engagement-effective-teaching-and-deep-learning

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

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3 Responses to Engaging relationships

  1. Really enjoyed this post. I like your insights and reflections on your teaching practice.

    • kelasher says:

      Thanks! Still feels strange to be putting my thoughts out there and wondering if anyone ever reads them (other than those in my course!) I appreciate the feedback.

  2. Skye says:

    Kim, your quote about the leading the horse to water was gold! I couldn’t agree more! I found the Cole (2009) Wiki study fascinating. My first thoughts before reading the article were that it must have been engaging for students to use a Wiki because they were used to using online forums to communicate however, it never ceases to amaze me that there are issues surrounding online technology that actually promote disengagement. Cole describes many reasons for the lack of student participation, “academic pressure from other courses (educational constraint) to ease of use concerns (technical constraint) to issues of self-confidence (personal constraint) and finally a total lack of interest” (p.144). Just because technology exists doesn’t mean it is engaging for students to learn using it, it requires scaffolding no matter what grade level or academic setting the learning is taking place in. But what does technology provide to better promote engagement? Does it even promote better engagement?

    You aptly discuss the relationship between student engagement and technology stating that “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” which is exactly the balance that I believe needs to be met by educators in the academic world. It is the ways in which educators integrate the technology that allow for students to become more deeply engaged. Dunleavy & Milton (2008, p. 4) explain that the ideals of student engagement “means solving real problems, engaging with knowledge that matters, making a difference in the world, feeling respected, learning subjects that are connected to other subjects, learning from and with each other and people in their communities, and connecting with experts and expertise”. Technology is the medium in which we can most efficiently facilitate many of these facets for a higher capacity classrooms and greater diversity of learners.

    Reference:

    Cole, M. (2009). Using Wiki technology to support student engagement: Lessons from the trenches, 52(1), 141–146.

    Dunleavy, J. & Milton, P. (2010). Student engagement for effective teaching and deep learning. Canadian Education association, 48(5), 4-8.

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