A student walks into a campus. They are apprehensive about their first day as a student. There are signs telling them where to go, but they can’t find anyone to ask for help. As they walk through the bricked walls, they can see classrooms behind doors, but can see into the doors to work out if that is their room. They try to open a few doors, but they are all locked. They finally come across a door that is unlocked, when a person shooes them away.
They finally find a line and take a number while they sit and wait to be served. They wait for what feels like hours when their number flashes and they walk to the glassed wall. A person pushes a piece of paper with instructions and then returns to their computer.
The student, feeling dejected, follows the instructions on the map. They take a couple of wrong turns and get there eventually.
When they sit in their assigned chair, they realise that they don’t know anyone in the class. They aren’t offered a chance to introduce themselves. On the desk is a bunch of papers, the student assumes they should read and so starts reading. The teacher sits in the corner, at a desk, silent. The student ponders if that is actually their teacher or just a cardboard cut out to make the students feel like they got value for their money.
At the end of the day, the student gets up and walks out.
The next day, the student arrives a little late and no one notices. The day is repeated. The cycle continues. They get to class later and later until they stop going altogether.
As an educator or manager, how would you feel if you heard this story? Horrified? Annoyed? Frustrated for the student.
Now compare this story with the experience of a student studying online:
- Is the learning management system is hard to navigate?
- What support is there for your students?
- What is the relationship for the student to other students/courses?
- Is there a help desk, or not how does the student access help?
- When in a course, what is the relationship between students?
- What is the role of the facilitator?
- What do the learning materials look like – is it just a heap of reading?
- What are the ongoing engagement strategies?
- How do you ensure your student is engaged?
- What do you do if your students are becoming disengaged?
There was a piece of research done by the (former) Australian Flexible Learning Framework (now the National VET E-learning Strategy) entitled ‘The role of Technology in Engaging Disengaged Youth’.1
During the initial scoping, there was a discussion about the focus of the paper – disengaged youth.2 How do you define someone as being disengaged? Is it the students who are sitting in the back of the class, the ones who don’t submit their assignments or the ones who don’t seem to care? It was important for the paper NOT to use the government definition of disengaged which is not in employment or study. The research focussed on the students who were disengaged in the learning process.
What did the research find?
- While some practitioners are using technology in confident and inventive ways, many others are using it in limited or tokenistic ways that underutilise its potential.
- While there is a strong pattern of unequal access to ICT amongst young learners, broad assumptions and generalisations about young people’s technological access and ease of use must be avoided.
- Even those young people who are typically most at risk of disengagement expect ICT to play an integral role in their learning.
- There is a significant gap between young people’s digital literacy and technological proficiency and that of their teachers and trainers.
- Technology in itself is not sufficient to ensure the engagement of young learners.3
The final dot point here is critical – just because you are using technology in your delivery and assessment, doesn’t mean you will necessarily engage your students. It’s all in the way you use the technology. I would argue that it is also about the role of facilitation in engaging students.
Most people can look back on a teacher who has made an impact on our lives, be it school, VET or University. In an online environment, teachers (practitioners) can still make a huge difference in their students’ lives. It just looks and feels a little different to when you were able to see students every few days.
When considering how you keep your students engaged, look objectively at the student experience and identify the areas where you might be losing them. If it makes it easier for you, contrast the experience to a bricks and mortar experience. Finally, talk to students about their online experiences – ask them what works and what doesn’t. The challenge for us as educators is to work out HOW to engage our students beyond the technology.
At Klevar, we specialise in using technology to engage your learners. Subscribe to our newsletter and this blog to keep up to date with the latest research in this area.
2 Discussion with Annie Fergusson, Business Activity Manager Benchmarking and Research (Feb 2011)
(This has been adapted from an article written to support the QVDC workshops Get Started in E-learning)
Image CC (by Orange42)