Engaging or Empowering

Posted: March 19, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

So I’ve been thinking about student engagement and empowerment. A few weeks ago I wrote about technology’s ability to add sparkle and perhaps encourage students to lean in to a topic. My original post was about engaging students partly because it began from some frustration with technology resistors. In particular I was thinking about folks who resisting tech integration on the grounds that technology adds fun and fun is bad.

I had some conversations with others, via the comments and Twitter, that are the basis for this post. In a comment of my previous post, Philip Cummings (@Philip_Cummings) made the very good point that engaging isn’t always enough.

I worry that too often we take stuff that just isn’t engaging to kids and try to infuse it with technology in order to engage them. For example, grammar drills aren’t going to become magically engaging just because you ask kids to do them on an iPad. Engaging learning is purposeful, meaningful, and timely to the learner. It connects with their passions and interests; the learners must think it matters (and not just for the test on Friday). My school is 1:1 with tons of technology-infused into lessons, but students still aren’t always engaged. The shiny might help for a little while, but I think it wears off fast.

I totally agree with Philip as I said in my reply to him. I was making a case, though perhaps not very effectively, for including technology as one of the ways teachers try to encourage students to lean in to a topic–as a hook to real purposeful learning not as a flashy cover for boring rote stuff.

Then on Twitter I had a conversation with Christina Brennan (@christybrenn) The key word in that conversation was empowering.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 11.22.16 PM

I think both of them were talking about the much bigger and more significant step of empowering students with technology. Again, I totally agree. (I was back there being frustrated about who was taking the very first step.) My big picture goals for students’ technology use include empowerment. Faculty believing that technology might help to engage students in meaningful work is a start and only a start. Setting a goal of using technology to empower students is much more impressive, important, forward-thinking, and interesting. And, let’s face it, maybe terrifying.

So, I started with the less threatening engaging. But is it less threatening a reasonable early step or is it a side step that doesn’t really get us on the path to empowerment?

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