How Technology Can Boost Student Engagement

Kids interacting with a table touch screen

Gallup’s 2013 State of America’s Schools reported that 55% of US K-12 students are “engaged” in the learning process, while 28% are “not engaged,” and 17% are “actively disengaged.”

Technology may be one of the keys to increasing the number of engaged students in America’s classrooms. In our multi-phase Teaching in a Digital Age study, we are working with many partners to research digital teaching strategies and how they positively affect student learning. One of these positive effects reported by educators is the increased intensity of student engagement that occurs when technology is integrated into the classroom.

Technology as a tool helps teachers create and present content and instruction that is interesting and relevant to students. When learning is relevant to students, then they become engaged, active learners. How does this happen?

With increased access to learning resources, tools and information, students are drawn deeper into a topic than ever before. They can even direct their own learning. In fact, when done well, students don’t just learn with technology- they create. One educator noted:

“When students have this technology, they can create things. They can innovate things…. When they have Photoshop in front of them and I say do this, this, and this, what they can create is always going to be completely, uniquely different. And, they become artists with that or they become filmmakers, or they become web designers. Like they can take on a lot of really advanced roles, and I think that’s something that technology does uniquely provide, because you can’t be a web designer without that technology. You can’t create a film without that technology. And, I feel like that’s really different than a textbook…let me let you take your creativity, and using this technology, create something I would have never made.”

Educators in Meridian, Idaho noted the misconception that students are only engaged individually with technology. Their classrooms don’t look like separate students glued to a screen. Instead, educators can direct students to engage collaboratively with the use of technology. With technology, collaboration among students is easier and broader. It also opens doors to widen the audience and purpose of student work, giving meaning to the schoolwork.

And, with increased student engagement, comes increased learning. There is a strong research base that describes how technology strengthens student engagement and learning. For example, active learning is associated with improved student academic performance (Hake, 1998; Knight & Wood, 2005; Michael, 2006; Freeman, et al., 2007; Chaplin, 2009), and increased student engagement, critical thinking, and better attitudes toward learning (O’Dowd & Aguilar-Roca, 2009). Read more in my paper Teaching in a Digital Age.

If technology supports teachers’ efforts to focus on effective practices that engage students, then we have another tool to engage that half of US students who aren’t currently engaged.