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4 ways to use technology to boost student engagement

Suzanna Doran
June 3, 2021

Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

Today’s students are digital natives: they’ve grown up using mobile devices, wifi and ‘Google’ as a verb. In fact, such is our dependence on the internet that a survey conducted by OFCOM in 2018 showed that 29% of UK adults would feel lost without the internet (source). At that time, the nation was spending an average of 3 hours and 11 minutes online daily. Now, in the wake of even more rapid digitisation due to the pandemic, that figure has increased to 4 hours and 2 minutes (source). In other parts of the world, there’s a similar pattern: in the US, Millenials spend a daily average of 4 hours and 12 minutes on their smartphones and computers (source).

Despite the fact that today’s young adults spend so much time online, it can be difficult to know how to bridge the gap between day-to-day technology use and purposeful but engaging educational use. For example, many students are used to casually looking up information about current affairs but may not know how to verify sources for more official research.

So how can you meaningfully engage students with technology? Here are four key methods that you should consider.

1- Ensure staff have the skills and tools they need to teach effectively

The JISC Student Digital Experience Survey 2020 posed the question: What one thing could universities do to improve the quality of digital teaching and learning? Many students felt that one of the most important factors was to help teaching staff to develop digital skills (source). Given that only 43% of educators globally say that they feel prepared for the use of ICT in teaching, this isn’t all that surprising (source). 

But how can you ensure that all teaching staff are on the same page? The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Educators set out a clear roadmap for improving technology use in teaching and learning. With 7 stages, from ‘learner’ to ‘analyst’, the standards provide clear guidelines for how to improve practice, including guidance for professional development, collaboration and classroom activities. 

2- Experiment with tools that students use outside the classroom

If students are familiar with and engaged by tools such as social media in their daily lives, why not bring them into educational settings? A recent study carried out by the Fundani Centre for Higher Education Development at Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa suggests that tools such as Facebook and blogging sites have a positive impact on student engagement (source). Lecturers used Facebook to share course information with their students while students used blogs to keep online learning diaries. They found that these tools facilitated communication between students and staff, created a sense of community and belonging, and provided a way for students to market themselves to future employers.

Using social media in the classroom is also a good opportunity to teach students about online safety, protecting personal data and managing their digital identities. According to the JISC study, relatively few students feel that their universities already cover these issues: 41%, 45% and 17% respectively for each of the areas mentioned (source). As students develop their professional identities, being aware of the pros and cons of their social media presence is more important than ever before. 

3- Support students in developing their digital skills 

Today’s students are increasingly aware of the need to develop their digital skills while they’re in education. The JISC survey shows that “the content they wanted to cover was wide-ranging, but the most often requested skills were specialist skills related to their course of study, career skills, and research skills such as data analysis.” The responses indicate that students would most like to be able to develop these skills as an integral part of their course, followed by workshops or via online resources such as videos and interactive tutorials (source). 

Incorporating digital competence education into existing courses doesn’t necessarily have to involve a complete overhaul of the material. Part of this could involve developing research skills such as understanding which sources are reliable and how to find information efficiently on the internet, which may require a slight adjustment to existing research teaching. Or perhaps it may involve incorporating career-relevant assignments using specialist software, if suitable for the course. On the other hand, encouraging students to develop attitudes such as creativity, collaboration and flexibility is likely to be beneficial for their futures in an ever-changing digital world.

4- Make assessment more authentic

Similarly, students are all too aware of the need to be competitive in the job market, so it’s important that they can demonstrate skills that are relevant to their role and sector. Debbie Bartlett, Principal Lecturer at the University of Greenwich, argues that a large part of this is rethinking assessment: hours spent writing with pen and paper isn’t what they’ll do in the workplace and so it’s unlikely to feel authentic (source).

Instead, students could be given real-world projects that incorporate relevant skills and tools. For many, this is likely to involve technology: for example, an accountant is much more likely to use a digital platform in their work than paper spreadsheets. But even for those students who aren’t training for a specific job, using online tools for assessment will bolster their all-important digital skills. To find out more about online assessment and its importance in education today, visit our page about the benefits of online assessment.

With 83% of students saying that they feel motivated to use technology to support their learning (source), it’s a better time than ever to optimise your courses for today’s learners. Not only will this create more engagement at your institution, but it will also provide much-needed skills for future opportunities. 

Do you want to find out more about student satisfaction? Join us at the Digital Examinations Forum this June to hear from experts around the world about how online assessment can make a positive impact on the student experience.

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