Student engagement requires more than edtech tools



Key points:

Student engagement is critical to academic achievement, but it can often be a struggle to engage students in meaningful and relevant ways. During a session at FETC 2024, Tom Murray, Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, dove into just what, exactly, makes for the effective use of edtech in supporting student engagement.

“Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it’s any good,” Murray said. “We could be 100 percent digital and also at 100 percent low-level learning.”

Simply incorporating a device into the classroom doesn’t mean students will automatically engage with their learning.

“A Chromebook can be a digital worksheet storage hub, but it also can be a pathway to unleash genius,” because the level of student engagement comes from how a device is used – the device itself is neutral, Murray said.

There are three components involved in finding edtech tools that work and support student engagement:

1. Interactive learning: Consider how much interaction the student has while using the tool

2. Use of tech to explore, design, and create–not a digital drill and kill: Evaluate the levels of learning. Leveraging technology for low level tasks leads to time invested in low-level learning.

3. The right blend of teachers and technology: What’s right for one student may be different than what’s right for another.

The Department of Education’s newly-updated National Educational Technology Plan introduces a component Murray said is critical for the nation–not just the digital divide, but the digital use divide. Closing the digital use divide ensures that all students understand how to use technology as a tool to engage in creative and productive learning, he noted.

“The more time we invest in passive use, the more time we are investing in low-level learning. So how do we focus on the interactive piece?” he asked. Active use includes media production, global connections, peer collaboration, and immersive simulation. To that end, Murray linked session attendees to a Google Doc with tech tools for student engagement. Resources in that document include instructional tools, digital content, assessment tools, tools for efficiency and management, communication tools, and more.

Citing his 2019 book, Personal & Authentic, Murray said: “In the classroom, teachers can be amazingly innovative with little to no technology, and extremely traditional with all possible tech tools at their fingertips.”

Laura Ascione
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