Many of us can remember the days when having the window seat in class was enough of a distraction to lose focus. Today, students have much more than the window seat vying for their attention; they have smartphones, laptops, tablets, social media, and an endless stream of high-quality content at their fingertips.
Competing with that kind of distraction is tough, but there’s a better way: Work with it instead.
Embracing technology in the classroom is a must to keep students engaged. That’s where learning management systems (LMS) come in handy. But figuring out how to use your LMS effectively? That’s not as clear cut.
To help, we chatted with three experts from the education industry and compiled their strategies for boosting student engagement in the digital era into three useful tips.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Tip #1: Present subject matter in a variety of digital formats
From memes on social media to high production value videos from their favorite YouTubers, students are consuming hours of entertaining, up-to-date digital media every day. That’s why traditional classroom tools (like heavy textbooks and lengthy lectures) don’t hold their attention. Instead, today’s educators need to embrace a variety of digital tools and media types to keep their students engaged.
We spoke with Hilary Bird, a tutor and marketing manager at Render Pilots (a production company that helps instructors turn their lessons into engaging online videos) about this reality. She explained that educators should embrace students’ short attention spans rather than deem them negative.
“Technology tools help instructors work with the natural ‘flow’ of a student’s mind by breaking lessons up into digestible chunks. For example, use the Google Suite to first share PowerPoint slides, then run a quick poll in class to re-engage students and spark conversation, then show a YouTube video that supports your lesson. The constant changing of medium used throughout class challenges a student to refocus, and helps activate different parts of the brain.”
The right course creation software can help you create engaging lessons with a mix of digital media types. Most solutions will allow for text, audio, and video, but many also include the ability to incorporate interactive content such as click-and-reveal features, animated gifs, and pop-ups.
Video content in a course created with BrainCert (Source)
Tip #2: Don’t lecture, have an active discussion
Educators are often competing with many distractions (smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc.) for students’ attention. Lecturing without pause is a guaranteed way to lose out to those distractions, but there’s an easy way around this: ditch the lecture and have a conversation about the subject matter instead.
Asking your students questions and encouraging them to ask you questions in return turns lessons into active discussions. Students are more likely to be engaged if there’s an expectation that they’ll have to provide answers or opinions.
We spoke with D. Gilson, PhD, a writer and researcher who has taught writing and cultural studies at the university level for over a decade. Gilson uses polls to engage students and spark conversations during class.
“These polls take one of two forms in my classes. One way to use them is to poll to see if students are understanding a concept, which is also a way to promote active listening during class. Another way, and the way I typically use Poll Everywhere, is to get students’ opinions on a topic we are discussing. This can lead to further in-class discussions, which are always great.”
D. Gilson, PhD
Running a poll with PollEverywhere (Source)
Tip #3: Make real-life connections
Almost every educator has heard a version of the question: “When will I use this in real life?” It’s common for students to ask this when they’re having trouble imagining a future application for the concepts they’re being taught in the classroom. Being able to answer this question in a compelling way is a great strategy to gain students’ attention and interest in the subject matter at hand.
Debbie Lopez is the director of content marketing for Zivadream (an education advocacy and test prep review website) and has been teaching and tutoring for over 24 years. We asked Lopez what techniques she uses to boost student engagement; here’s what she told us:
“If students can connect what they are learning to relevant situations or developments in their home or community, they are more likely to deem what they are learning as valuable and worthy of their effort. You might invite guest speakers from the community. Students will have the opportunity to learn something from a new perspective and create or improve community relationships at the same time.”
The truth is that not every student will connect with the subject matter, but for those that do, offering a real-life application of the topic of discussion can inspire and encourage them to further pursue their educational goals.
One way to put Lopez’s advice into practice is to invite a professional guest to speak to your class. You can even reach out to relevant experts outside of your local community and connect with them via video conferencing software.
Video conferencing with GoToMeeting (Source)
Need a recap? Check out our short summary video of the three tips covered in this article:
The software applications referenced in this article that were cited by the interviewee in context are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.
The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.