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Online resources for engaging every student every day

4 min read


In the sweltering gym of my local high school, very deserving seniors collected trophies, plaques and scholarships during the senior awards assembly/graduation practice. I spent this morning with the other picture-snapping parents in the bleachers watching the festivities. A few deserving students needed help carrying their treasures as their names were read repeatedly, but in contrast the majority of students sat passively, observing and following the rules.

Today was a time to sit still, but looking at those bored students I wondered how many times they sat in classrooms passively consuming content during the past four years. To get students college- and career-ready, we need more than passive listening in our classrooms; we need students using the tech tools they will be using in the real world. I am a flag-waving fan of the bring-your-own-technology model — BYOT — for many reasons, but student engagement is No. 1.

Students that are engaged during a lesson are actively working with the content instead of passively consuming the information. Using their devices, students can participate in the class backchannel using the free website todaysmeet, answer questions using the free site PollEverywhere and collaboratively take notes using a document in Google Drive.

The engagement needs to continue outside of the class period. Students should be connected to other students, the teacher and the world through the creative use of technology. During the K-12 experience, students should have various opportunities to use technology tools to learn how to communicate with a broader audience.

Preparing students for college and career, all students should know and use the many free features of Skype. This free service is so much more than free video calling. Students and teachers should know how to fluently use Skype to instant message, share large files and connect with online experts. Google Hangouts, a part of Google+, has exciting possibilities for engagement outside of the classroom. Students could use this free service to create an online study group. As they learn the content they will have experience working with remote group participants, which is vital in today’s global workplace.

Collaboration using technology is essential today, and we need to prepare our students before graduation. Most colleges and universities have a learning management system making it possible to chat, discuss, turn in assignments and manage the course.

A learning management system used to be just for higher education, but today all students need to participate in this online interaction between teachers and other students. It takes practice to understand how to use a collaborative learning management system, and we should be doing that practice before our seniors graduate. There are many different learning management systems that educators could be using today. Some are free and others are low cost. I have worked as an adviser for the platform SchoolTown — a Chicago area startup that has created a learning platform with a great mix of social learning, gamification and file management and sharing. Edmodo is another learning platform that many teachers have started using, as a free option.

Our graduating seniors will have enough to adjust to if their journey takes them to a college or university campus, and I believe a lot of that prep includes using technology appropriately.

I’m glad that the class of 2013 sat still during graduation practice this morning, but next fall, I hope from kindergarten to the class of 2014 students are actively engaged using the devices that they will be using in college and careers.  After all of the end-of-the-year celebrations, I hope you can take time this summer to think about what can be done in your school system to make it possible to increase engagement for every student, in every classroom, every day.

Meg Ormiston (@megormi) has served as a curriculum coach, school-board member, keynote speaker, professional development specialist and grant facilitation specialist. Ormiston has also authored five books, written numerous articles and collaborated on professional videos and participates in many personal-learning communities. Her latest book, “Creating a Digital Rich Classroom: Teaching and Learning in a Web 2.0 World,” is being used as a summer book study for a number of administrative teams across the country.