Transform Learning through Engagement
By Robert Iskander
In the world of remote and hybrid learning, measuring student engagement is the key.
Virtual and hybrid learning have been like a dream for many students, thriving on these new learning models. For other students, it’s more like a nightmare, either from a lack of technology in which to participate, or because they may lack the necessary skills for online learning and collaboration.
For educators, many of the same plusses and minuses exist. Fortunately, training is available and educators are finding themselves becoming more skilled in delivering online instruction. However, with all the newly found and purchased technology, there is an elephant in the room, an obstacle that is preventing us from taking learning to its deserved newfound height.
What is that obstacle? Lack of Superman’s X-Ray vision. As a classroom teacher, you can generally tell if your students are engaged. It is written on their faces. You can hear their feedback. You can see when they are taking notes, watching you or attending to their device. And even though some students can have you fooled, with in-person learning you can at least tell if they are in the room or not.
Contrast that with remote learning. Aside from seeing if they log in to synchronous activities like a Zoom meeting, how can you be sure what they are up to? Where are they actually looking at on the Internet when they are online? How much time are they spending on research? On specific subjects? On specific sites? What are they reading? What apps are they using? For how long? Where are they learning?
The challenge of getting students to participate in remote and/or hybrid learning has intensified to a large degree. As remote learning becomes much more mainstream, it is necessary to be able to measure student engagement in a variety of ways.
First, we need to figure out if they are participating at all. As basic as that sounds, that is a necessary first step. And if they are, indeed, showing up, to what degree are they engaged?
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is assuming that because these learners are digital natives that they know their way around the software they are being asked to use. The truth is, they do not. They need technology, but they also need a teacher to keep them engaged. There is a major difference between being on social media and understanding their etiquette vs logging into a Zoom classroom and understanding that there is a different etiquette during an online meeting. Even little things can become big obstacles. For example, if a student is required to be on camera, you may have lost them already. The number of children who are embarrassed by their home or the way they live is astounding. Many children will not appear online simply because they are embarrassed by the way their room look.
Student engagement occurs when students really try to learn the content being offered. Engagement affects student achievement. Getting students engaged and helping them form a strong sense of connection requires some strategy. Here are a few time-tested strategies teachers have shared to encourage participation:
- Use a variety of formats to keep it interesting: videos, podcasts, short stories, articles, news clips, etc.
- Connect one-on-one with students at least three times per week over the phone or video conferencing. Ask open-ended questions when talking with students.
- Set up small groups and include small-group activities and assignments. Keep the small groups rotating so different students can work with each other frequently.
- Include numerous interactive activities – polls, short quizzes with no penalties, games, trivia or jeopardy-type games using study material as content.
- Have students create their own podcasts and videos.
- Monitor students’ level of engagement and make adjustments in the curriculum, as needed.
- Reward students for their engagement.
Once students are engaged, it’s time to clearly understand where the engagement is coming from. School leaders want to instantly see how learning is being accomplished across all devices. There is a need to understand what is working and what isn’t. Analyzing engagement can help teachers better connect with students and assign content based on each student’s individual needs with the overall goal of improving student performance.
You’ll want daily and weekly statistics, by student, both individual and aggregated. Statistics can include:
- Websites visited
- Time engaged on website(s)
- Reading time
- Media selected (books, articles, etc.)
- Reading level accessed
- Topics (literature, news, science and nature, politics, travel, history, etc.)
- Which programs are being used? For how long?
- Which apps are being used? For how long?
This is critical information for remote learning but it also unlocks an opportunity to transform learning.
There is an old saying from the business world – if you can measure it, you can manage it. In some ways, that saying applies to education, as well. The first step is to actually get your students engaged. Nothing happens until you do. Once you are there, you need to a way to measure that engagement to improve student outcomes.
About the author
Robert Iskander is a global business transformation leader passionate about leveraging technology to improve the quality of life for all, with a special focus on K-12 education and was nominated as one of the Top 100 EdTech Influencers in 2017 by EdTech Magazine. Prior to his current role as CEO at GG4L, whose newest product is School Passport Engagement, Robert had several corporate leadership roles over the past 30 years, including General Manager of Sun Microsystems in the Middle East and Global Director of Education at Sun Microsystems (now Oracle). He also ran SchoolMessenger for several years and grew its customer base to 63,000 schools in the US and Canada.