Guest Contributors: Chloe Ryan & Brandon Pinette

At this week’s SXSWedu festival in Austin, Cengage Learning sponsored a panel focused on the student voice.  The panel featured four diverse student voices and covered topics ranging from the role of social media in the classroom to gamified education experiences and how digital tools can enhance learning.

Technology in the classroom

The students agreed that as technology plays a central role in all other aspects of life, it’s necessary for instructors to find thoughtful and creative ways to use digital tools inside and outside of the classroom.  Zak Malamed, Executive Director of Student Voice, led the conversation and pointed out that students need to see the relevancy and purpose of the technology in order to engage with the product.

The smart use of digital tools presents an opportunity to build a classroom around a personalized way of learning. However, the tools need to work as seamlessly as all of the other apps and programs students use in their lives, or they risk losing their legitimacy. Students expect a certain level of design and seamlessness in all of their digital tools, which includes learning products.

SXSWedu Student Voice Panelists

Elana Golub, a sophomore and student journalist at Northwestern University, pointed out that technology has enabled students to learn in different ways and has increased the accessibility of the classroom.  “Even when we are stuck in our dorms during a snow storm, everything is accessible online, so we don’t miss out on any learning,” she said.

This accessibility has increased accountability for both students and professors.  Students are going to class for different reasons than in the past as much of the learning material is available online.  The physical classroom presents the opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience and engaging encounters with their instructors and other students.

Gamification in learning

On the topic of using gaming to engage the learner, Matt Bilotti, a student at Northeastern University and product manager at Drift, talked about the importance of the mechanics behind the game.  If the game works well, it can be rewarding to master an intricate process through play.  “When the game works, the learning experience feels tangible,” he said.

JoAnna Zalkovsky, a student at Navarro College in Texas and mother of three, emphasized that technology has opened many doors for her because it has enabled her to pursue her education through online courses.  It has also helped her build a relationship of trust with her instructors as they are able to communicate on a more regular basis.  “The digital tools have helped enhance the learning experience outside the classroom as professors are accessible during non-school hours.  This allows the instructor to focus on individualized learning while in the classroom,” she said.