Many of the students in your classes are fully accustomed to using tech tools in their everyday lives. In fact, these tools are part of their daily routines: they check social media to keep up with friends and family, communicate with text messages and video chats, monitor their physical activity with a digital fitness tracker, and keep track of their activities using a calendar that’s synced with their laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

Given the ubiquity of technology in our lives today, it’s fairly natural that students would want, and expect, to find that experience within their college courses. So to what extent might the use of technology impact students’ perception of a successful (or less-than-successful) course?

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

In reviewing the data, we noted that many students are, indeed, enthusiastic about bringing technology into an active-learning classroom. From laptops to discussion boards to videos and mobile devices, online resources rank well in “best” class rankings.

Learning technologies used in the best classes according to college students - Cengage Learning

You may be a tech-savvy instructor who’s already incorporating the use of technology into your classes. However, if you’re currently not using any technology in the classroom—or, if you’d like to increase your use of tech tools—review our list of tips, and gather some ideas that you can implement in your own course.

Using online resources to increase engagement in your course: Four tips

Plan activities that encourage use of mobile devices. In a previous survey, 92% of instructors told us that they see smartphones in their classrooms, and 77% of students said that they bring their smartphones to class. Why not take advantage of this? Encourage students to bring their smartphones and tablets to class, then use those for brief activities that call upon students to search for information, respond to questions, and share their findings with the class.

Granted, not every student has a mobile device, so you might want to consider ways that students can work on these activities in pairs or small groups.

Use tech tools to enhance an active-learning environment. Think about the technology you use in your day-to-day work as an instructor and as a professional in your field. How might you bring that same experience to students within the class session? If you’re a social-media maven, try an engagement activity that makes the most of those skills. Or, if you employ a given technology in another professional setting (such as a cutting-edge “tool of the trade” or specialized software), demo it for students, then give them the opportunity to react to—or, better yet, use—the tool.

If you think something might work in your classroom, try it out, and measure students’ response to the activity. You might find that it engages  you, as well as your students!

Stuck for ideas? Ask your students about the tools they use (or would like to use); they may suggest something that’s both creative and applicable to use within the class setting. As an example, in his entry to our “Instructor for a Day” student video contest, runner-up finalist Austin Otto, a student at the University of St. Thomas, suggested that he’d use flipped-classroom strategies, 3-D printing technologies, and a course-specific app to turn the classroom into an active, hands-on learning environment.

Incorporate video into class sessions. In and of itself, a video is not necessarily more engaging than a lecture… especially if it’s just used as a replacement for the lecture. However, if a video is used to illustrate the key point of that day’s lecture, demonstrate or clarify a challenging concept, add another perspective to your coverage of the topic, or simply impart a bit of humor, then it can certainly enhance students’ engagement with and experience in your course.

What are some ideas for using video effectively? First, think of the videos that have made an impact on how you understand or perceive a topic in your field, and find out if there’s a way to incorporate that video (or a brief segment of the video) into class. Additional ideas: start class with a humorous clip that warms students up for your lecture; show an archival film clip that brings in a historical perspective on a topic or event; or, use video conferencing to bring in a guest speaker. Whatever you choose, that video should mesh with (and not distract from) your overall goal for that day’s class session.

Keep the conversation going with engaging online discussions. You can have fantastic discussions during a class session… but, you’re still limited to a schedule. What can you do when time’s up, but you want to keep the dialogue going? Invite students to use the class discussion board as a place where they can continue to communicate about those topics. (This also gives students who didn’t get a chance to speak the opportunity to voice their insights and opinions.)

Alternately, you could use the discussion board as a way to explore the topic from other angles. To spark conversation, use questions designed to spark students’ creativity and critical-thinking skills. In her post “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About! … How About What REALLY Works in Online Course Discussions,” Bridgett McGowen-Hawkins writes: “Aim to ask involving discussion questions (DQs), questions that bring out serious substance (B.O.S.S.), questions that require divergent thinking and/or evaluative thinking, not DQs that require convergent thinking and standard answers that do not call for creativity.”

Using your own ingenuity, as well as your knowledge of your field, you can certainly find some ways to incorporate technology into your course in a meaningful and relevant way!

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 making lectures more meaningful to students? Share your ideas in the comments.