Students like using technology in the classroom… but does its absence have an impact on engagement and success?

Through our recent “Today’s Student” project (conducted with the Work Institute), we asked students to share and explain how they define their “best” and “worst” classes. The findings are summarized in our recent white paper, The Not-So-Powerful PowerPoint®: Students Weigh the “Best” Classes against the “Worst.”

Among “worst” classes, students were largely disengaged with technology, with “Don’t Know/Not Applicable” characterizing the majority of responses.

Students are often disengaged with technology in their worst classes

Students’ feedback has shown us that today’s learners respond to active learning techniques, such as multiple application activities. They also derive confidence from knowing their instructors are fully engaged and invested in student success. Furthermore, the results show that technology that serves a purpose enhances the course experience for students.

Looking to ensure that your classroom experience engages students and provides an environment that fosters learning, discovery, and success? Below, we have some suggestions that can help you use tech tools to do just that.

Using technology to foster an active learning environment: Three tips

1. Consider how to make the most of the tools you and your students are already using! These might include laptops, your course LMS, software such as Microsoft PowerPoint, smartphones, discussion boards, tablets, and videos; you might also employ smartboards, videoconferencing, “clickers,” or other tools and resources specific to your discipline or field. Once you’ve thought this through ask yourself: are students using these in an active manner, which engages them in the learning process? If the answer is “no,” “not really,” or “sometimes,” can you think of different ways to use these tools to encourage increased interaction, collaboration, and discovery among your students?

2. Promote both student inquiry and digital literacy through tech-based activities. For example, you could create an assignment that requires students to search your library’s databases for a scholarly article that addresses current research or hot issues in your field. Once they’ve read their articles, they can make (and share) a brief video, digital “poster,” or multimedia presentation in which they summarize the authors’ key points.

You could also ask students to find a website related to a topic you’re covering in class, then evaluate and think critically about the information they find on that website. They can discuss their findings on your course discussion board; or, you could have them break into groups for a discussion during class time. The resulting conversation could open students’ eyes to the variety and relative reliability of the information they find on the open web.

3. Use the data you’re collecting in your online gradebook as a springboard for providing feedback to students. After a quiz, check your online gradebook to see how students performed. Then, take time during the next class session to review concepts that a large percentage of the class struggled with or missed. To re-check students’ understanding after you’ve re-covered the material, you can ask them to use a “clicker” or another app like PollEverywhere to let you know if they feel more confident in their knowledge of the topic.


Learn more about the factors that students say make for the “best college classes”!

» Download the whitepaper: “The Not-So-Powerful PowerPoint®: Students Weigh the ‘Best’ Classes against the ‘Worst’”

What are your tips for using technology to create an active learning environment for students? Share your ideas in the comments.