Technology has been a centrepiece of learning for some time now and its prevalence has surged even further as a result of COVID-19 – something that is likely to last well beyond the return to the classroom. At the same time, it’s gradually becoming clear that the amount of time students are spending on devices both inside and outside of school is having a significant impact on their learning, as well as their physical and mental wellbeing.
While practical issues of digital education are being solved as schools become accustomed to the increased presence of technology in the learning process, teachers are turning to the next challenge: how to address the potential negative effects of technology and keep students engaged.
So, as the world of education continues to grapple with the benefits and drawbacks technology brings, here is what you need to know how technology impacts student learning, along with ways to maintain student engagement in an increasingly digitised learning environment.
How is Technology Affecting Student Engagement and Wellbeing?
Digital technology has undoubtedly opened new opportunities for teaching and learning, but the constant connectivity also comes with potential downsides, with many health experts and researchers voicing concerns about the effects of heavy screen use.
One such study is Growing Up Digital Australia, a multi-phase research project led by the Gonski Institute for Education at the University of New South Wales. The latest data from the study analyses what the post-COVID-19 world will looks like and seeks to understand how the widespread use of technology is impacting Australian children.
On the positive side, the survey revealed that 43% of Australian teachers and principals believe technology enhances their learning activities, and 60% say it has improved the learning experience for students with disabilities. However, the research also indicates that there are some significant issues regarding student wellbeing and engagement, as well as access and equity when it comes to learning that is heavily reliant on technology:
There are a number of factors that could be influencing the downward trends in students’ concentration and engagement in learning, but as the biggest change in the lives of children over the last 10 years, it’s hard to look past technology usage as a potential cause.
Tips to Support Student Engagement in the Digitised Learning Environment
Amid the constant distractions that digital technologies can bring, there are several student engagement strategies that teachers can use to drive participation, interest and enjoyment in lessons. Whether you are in the classroom or teaching remotely, some of the most effective ways to support student engagement are outlined below:
1. Provide opportunities for collaboration
One of the drawbacks of heavy technology use is that it often reduces (or, in some cases, replaces) the social interactions students would normally engage in. Many students rely on their peers to drive their learning, which is why providing opportunities for them to collaborate is so important.
Arrange students into pairs or small groups and have them work together to achieve a goal, especially if it’s something that would be difficult to achieve alone. Activities such as debates, experiments, presentations and problem-solving tasks are all great ways to incorporate collaborative learning, and can help to foster a sense of belonging as well as develop valuable skills related to communication, negotiation and compromise.
2. Utilise microlearning
In this increasingly digital world, many students have relatively short attention spans, so engaging them in lengthy lessons can be a challenge. Microlearning (which was originally linked with eLearning), is an effective way to make lessons easier to digest by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable units.
Rather than preparing a full 60-minute lesson plan, consider narrowing the units into shorter, more focused sprints (i.e. 15 minutes each), interspersed with interactive activities. This can go a long way towards keeping students engaged throughout the lesson, and can also help to increase knowledge retention.
3. Encourage healthy screen behaviours
Hand-in-hand with keeping students engaged within the modern learning environment is the importance of protecting their wellbeing. This doesn’t just mean educating them around issues such as security, privacy and cyberbullying, but also teaching them about safe and responsible use of digital technologies, including regulating usage and taking breaks. After all, the overuse of devices is often linked with reduced focus, desensitisation and overstimulation. A good place to start is modelling healthy screen behaviours within the classroom and, where possible, encouraging parents to get involved and do the same at home.
4. Include non-digital learning opportunities
Although digital technologies can be valuable enhancements to the curriculum, striking a balance is key. Requiring students to spend hours at a time sitting in front of a computer can negatively affect learning outcomes, not to mention their physical and mental health, so it’s important to regularly include opportunities for learning away from devices as well.
Be intentional about designing learning activities with elements that don’t require any technology. For instance, projects that include building, drawing or library research can be easily done without devices, and can provide a respite from technology that may improve engagement levels overall.
While technology is sometimes seen as a threat (and it does have its drawbacks), it also offers new ways for students to interact and engage with the curriculum and extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom. The good news is that, if used with intention, technology can be transformed from a distraction to an effective teaching tool.