Uses for Technology in the Classroom to Engage K-12 Students

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Click above to listen to this podcast episode. Below is the transcript for Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 57: “Uses for Technology in the Classroom to Engage Students“

In today’s global society, students want to learn how to use the technology around them along with understanding how the uses for technology in the classroom correlate with life outside of school. Before we even go into how you can use technology as a way to measure how students are engaged, let’s first look at how technology helps you in the classroom.

Many schools are turning to mobile devices like iPads and Chromebooks in order to keep students engaged and learning. The reason being is that these devices allow the entire classroom to interact with one another so no student feels left out or disconnected from class. Teachers can then use this technology in order to facilitate their own lessons, allowing for a dynamic lesson experience for both the teacher and student.

When it comes to using mobile devices in the classroom, you want to be aware of how your students are choosing to use them. This can change as technology becomes more popular or may depend on your school’s policy regarding different technologies and the way they’re used in the classroom. To keep track of student choices, let’s look at some of the options you have for measuring engagement and how some of these tools can be used to get student input.

Many teachers feel that students do not like to learn with technology, but this is just a myth. If you properly introduce the use of technology in your course and explain why it’s important, they will love using it more than they think. Students also increase their learning rate when they use new tools such as Skype or other social networks. So, do not be afraid of introducing new technologies in the classroom; your students will love it.

In order to encourage students to use the chat tool or any other technology that you have introduced, make sure to set up some incentives for them. Set rules and tell them what they are doing right and wrong so that if their behavior is inappropriate, you can let them know in advance.

There are a lot of pieces to consider when making sure that your uses for technology in the classroom are not only appropriate (an iPad is not a fancy worksheet tool) but are also perfect for what you want your lesson to achieve.

Social media platforms

There is a social network for just about everything these days. Students naturally gravitate to these networks because of how addictive they can be, but they have other uses aside from that.    

Using something like Edmodo as a way to connect with students and how they are interacting in their groups or with learning activities can give you insight into how engaged they are. By using Edmodo’s ‘Communication’ tab, you can see how often students are interacting and how much work is being done outside of class time.   

The communication tab is how you can see how much the students are communicating with each other, how often they log on, and how many messages are being sent between them. So if you notice how a certain group has been connected and communicating while working on a class project, then it’s safe to say that this is how engaged they are in class-related activities. 

Using Edmodo to communicate with students is how you can make it easier for them to share how they are feeling, how their day went and how engaged they were during class.

Uses for Technology in the Classroom to Engage Students

Social bookmarking services

This comes in handy when you need a forum on how students are interacting with the lesson plan or how much they have learned. It’s one thing for the students to tell you how engaged they are with class, it’s another when they show how much by sharing what they have learned on sites like Edmodo (as mentioned above) or how well they work together as a group.

Bookmarking services like Diigo are a great way for students to have forums on what they learned in lessons and how well they applied what you taught them to real-life applications.

Students can share how the lesson plan was useful to them or how it helped how their group worked together on a project. 

It is important that these sites are monitored regularly by teachers, otherwise, students can create forums with how much time they spent doing other things than working on class-related activities. 

Email monitoring services


You can monitor how many emails are sent and how often students are communicating with each other with email monitoring services. Even when they are not using technology to interact with one another, you should still be able to see how engaged they are in the classroom by checking how much communication is going on between them. 

Students are able to communicate much more effectively with one another today than they were even just a few years ago. Send messages between students in real-time through this solution and you won’t have to worry about working so hard on keeping the lines of communication open and strong, but it is important to make sure they are monitored appropriately.

You want to keep tabs on all communication so you are going to be able to see how much interaction there is between individuals in the class as well as with the team as a whole. The more they communicate, the better things are going to be for everyone.

It is important that students understand how you want them to communicate with each other and what they need to know about proper communication etiquette in this setting. This is one of the ways you can help them build their skills so they have a chance when it comes time for them to enter the workforce full-time.

By keeping tabs on the way communication is taking place in your class, you are going to be able to identify any problems or issues that may arise before they get out of hand. If there is a problem with communication, this can have an impact on performance both inside and outside of the classroom.

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Polling services

Students love to be asked how they felt about a lesson plan or how well the project went, but how can you find out this information if they don’t tell you?

A polling service is how you can ask students how engaged they are with what you are teaching. You can use this service to ask how they felt about how well the project went or how much they understood what you taught them. 

If you notice how students are answering the poll questions, that alone is how you can tell how engaged they are with the lesson plan. For example, if a majority of students answer ‘yes’ to the question “Did you enjoy how the lesson was presented to you?” then it is safe to say that they were engaged with how you taught them. 

It is a pretty simple way to tell if the lesson plan went well or not. Polling is also very helpful in determining what you can improve on or make better for future lessons. 

It really comes down to the type of polling service you use. There are free ones and then there are paid ones that do more than just ask questions; they also allow you to see the overall results of your polls.

In my experience, I would always use a free service first to get a feel for how it works and if there is enough data that comes back from the poll I just created. Make note of any limitations or where the service falls short when using it in your classroom. If you find that you’re using it a lot or could really benefit from the upgrades offered, then move on to a paid service. 

Poll Everywhere is a good start as a free polling service that allows you to ask questions from students through an email address. You just send out an email to the class and then all students reply back with their answers. It is that easy and it takes less than a minute to set up!

The only downside I have found is if you are asking questions from a large class size, the results do not always come back in time for your lesson. You can also ask for anonymous answers and after each response Email addresses are removed from the results. This service is perfect for smaller class sizes or even one-on-one interactions with students.

Time how long students stay on a page

If you have students working through a particular website, how many of them are really engaging with it? How much of their attention is being held by how they feel about how well the project is going along?

If a majority of them are spending most or all their time looking at one another’s computer screens or how they are putting their homework together, then it is safe to say that how much of your time is being wasted by students who aren’t even reading the content you’re showing them.

To put it bluntly: If your students aren’t actively working with the content, they’re wasting both their time and yours. How do you fix this? You can either eliminate the problem by collaborating with teachers who have more successful projects, or you must design a scaffolding that allows students to get involved in the project enough so that they will want to use it.

The most common way of doing a website-based project is to have kids visit the site, and then work on some sort of activity that’s been assigned to them. Even though you might be sitting in front of them as they do it, there still is too much unnecessary time being spent. For example:

If students are using the time to watch you type, they aren’t engaging with the site in any way. They’re just watching you do something. Sure, it may interest them to see what happens when a teacher makes mistakes while typing on the computer, but if that’s all they see—and don’t learn anything from it—then it’s a waste of time.

If students are using the time to watch you try and figure out what to do, they aren’t engaging with the site in any way. If they were to instead read or look at something that did teach them anything, it would be an improvement over just watching you fumble around.

If students are using the time to watch each other work on something else, they aren’t engaging with the site in any way. If they were instead comparing their own efforts against one another’s, that would be a positive change over just watching them do it together.

If students are using the time to visit unrelated websites or ask you about things for their homework, they aren’t engaging with the site in any way. If a few individual students need help or have questions, you could spend your time more productively by either answering their questions individually or asking them to save their questions for later.

This is all a big piece to monitor when using technology.

How much time they spend doing a certain digital assignment

If you notice that some students are spending most of their time doing one thing or another, then you know how engaged they are with the lesson plan. If most of them are working together to get an assignment done, then they’re clearly more engaged than the students who aren’t.

It is really important to designate the pieces of technology used in the lesson plan to divvy up the required parts and be able to monitor student progress.

This will help you collect data and watch for disengaged students. If a student is not doing something, then you know it’s time to intervene and see the problem.

However, one of the most key pieces of data that should work for instructional support purposes is when students are doing an activity or product in class, then chances are they’re engaged. Checking email during class? Probably not so much.  

How much energy they have

Students with high levels of energy will be so hyperactive that it is very hard for you to stop them from doing different things. Students whose energy is low will be dragging around as if they were tired. They may feel restless or have no motivation to get any work done until a certain time has gone by.

No amount of technology “sparkle” will counter this physiological issue (and can probably be argued that screens could make this even worse).

You can easily substitute that with the point where students are working together in class for whatever lesson plans you have and you will notice if any of the students are hyperactive or hypoactive, then adjust the technology accordingly.

If you have a student who is hyperactive or hypoactive and technology sparks their interest, then by all means use it. Technology can be very progressive when it comes to this point.

There are different degrees of the two things I just mentioned. Some students may not be able to sit still but can focus enough to read a book (that is primarily print) but not able to read a book with pictures (or use any other multi-media).

You can use all the technology in the world to educate these students, but it will not help them if it isn’t engaging them properly.

If you do have a student who is hyperactive or hypoactive, then find the medium that works best for them.

I personally know many high-functioning students with ADHD who love technology because it engages them in an efficient manner, but also gives them something to focus on. They may have been told they cannot use computers in class (which is what they do at home anyway), but that doesn’t mean they cannot use technology.

On the flip side, students who have trouble being motivated can be helped with technology if it is distributed properly. It has to be used correctly and at the right time. This is where a form of scaffolding comes into play. You must first engage them with whatever technology you are using, then provide more and clear expectations.

This is also true for high-functioning students as well, but it will take longer for them to adjust to this kind of scaffolding.

The next thing to do is create a routine for the student (if he/she has trouble with that as well). Digital technologies can easily be used on an individualized basis, but it will take a lot of effort and time from you and the student to make this work. The more students you have doing this, the more time it will take for you.

You have to first identify the student’s strengths and weaknesses, then create a lesson plan that fits their needs.

After implementation, you will have to collect data to see if this is working or not. If it isn’t, then try another strategy or modify your current one based on what you learned from your data.

If you cannot implement this kind of technology in class, then at least use it to help that student outside of the classroom. This is where having a solid relationship with the students comes into play because they will not open up about their strengths and weaknesses unless they are comfortable around you.

How much fun they’re having

Students who are fully engaged in what you’re teaching them and have no other place to go will feel as if their day is going by too fast. They’ll ask you how much time they have left in class and watch the clock constantly until you tell them it is time to go. On the other hand, students who are tired or disengaged will just sit there looking around thinking about what they’re going to do for fun when they get home from school.

Technology can be a huge piece in counteracting this. I often have students do projects or research through technology, which can be thought of as a “pay-to-play” service. This way, they get to use their cellphones or iPads on my lesson instead of putting them away during class.

This way, students are paying with their time by completing the assignment. If they have nothing to do in class, then they no longer have a reason to use a digital device. Not only does this generate higher motivation, but it allows you to show examples or demonstrate concepts with technology.

Electronic versus Traditional Learning

As a teacher, I have realized the best learning environments are ones that use technology in conjunction with traditional methods to achieve success. Technology is not going away any time soon so we might as well make the most of it.  As you can see, there are a lot more advantages than disadvantages when using technology in the classroom. I’m sure you’ve seen how everyday tasks have been revolutionized by this marvelous device and there is no doubt that the same can be done for education.  As long as we respect students’ privacy, stay away from plagiarism, and use technology responsibly, it has a bright future ahead in classrooms around the world.

The 4 Keys and Uses for Technology in the Classroom

There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom. If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.

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