Whether it’s a multimedia presentation or interactive quiz, learning podcast or lecture capture, the availability of digital learning resources is ever-expanding. We have Coursera, iTunesU, Open Yale Courses, YouTube, TEDx Talks and OER Commons, to name just a handful, and the quality has never been better. With an abundance of smart tools, apps and professional quality resources, there’s always something from which to repurpose, adapt or simply draw a little last-minute inspiration.
Technology Enhanced Learning, of course, can be an excellent way to promote learner engagement and is linked to improved student satisfaction and learning outcomes (not to mention retention). Not surprising, then, that so many institutions are moving to blended approaches with many now experimenting with flipped instruction.
But, as any educator or learning technologist will know, even the most thoughtfully produced and valuable resources can languish forgotten on the institutional VLE like dusty old files in a virtual cabinet. Not forgetting, either, that just because many of our students are the ‘net generation’ and arrive on courses with expectations of a digital learning experience, doesn't mean that they will intuitively understand how to engage with our online resources.
Certainly, little should be assumed at the outset and many educators find it helpful to embed opportunities for interactivity; perhaps encouraging learners to question, challenge or otherwise respond to digital content provided. Depending on the subject and student group, some provide quizzes, polls and surveys while others encourage students to reflect on learning in a blog or journal. But either way, expectations of online behaviours and learner engagement should be made explicit and perhaps even a course requirement. In turn, resources should be thoughtfully organised and easily retrieved to ensure a positive user experience.
Of course, the best digital resources can be student-created (user-generated) rather than provided and this can present a good opportunity for higher-level engagement with learning. In an initiative described by JISC as ‘radical’, students of International Relations at the LSE, are required to submit an original ten-minute documentary film as part of the summative assessment process. These learner-produced films are then held online to be analysed by future student cohorts.
To encourage student engagement with digital, tutors might assign ‘student experts’ on a particular topic and challenge them to produce a learning resource of their own. Others might select a small number of students to host a digital Q&A for their peers. Flipped learning practitioners might ask a group to make notes from a lecture capture in advance of a seminar or lead their own session with ideas from online pre-reading. Some create opportunities for real-world collaborative problem solving through an online group or social media.
Designed with active learning in mind, Kortext, the UK's leading digital learning platform, transforms traditionally static learning materials, such as textbooks and journals, into rich, web 2.0 learning smart tools that provide opportunities for interactive annotation, student discussion and sharing.
With a host of collaborative learning features, including a student chat function and integration with social tools such as Twitter and Facebook, Kortext provides welcome opportunities for students to engage more actively with their etextbooks. Learners can, for instance, highlight key passages from a text, colour code questions for later clarification or copy ideas to an online group for further discussion. Moreover, educators with access to the digital learning platform can assign their own student groups and monitor engagement with etetxtbooks.
It’s not always necessary to measure learner engagement with online resources, but this information can provide helpful insight regarding resource popularity, points of particular interest and ideas for future learning. Often, educators can learn a great deal simply from observing discussion forums; noting learner engagement, recurring questions and ‘points of muddiness’.
While technology is no magic bullet to greater engagement, it can considerably enhance the student experience when thoughtfully integrated into teaching and learning. As Paul Bartholomew of Ulster University so aptly reminded us at DigiFest 2017, technology enhanced learning doesn’t contribute to teaching excellence in itself, but depends upon successful human design, input and implementation.