Excerpted from the book, "UnCommon Learning: Creating Schools That Work for Kids," by Eric Sheninger, published by Corwin, 2015.
Engagement Does Not Always Equate to Learning
No matter where I am, whether it is a physical location or virtual, I am always hearing conversations about how technology can be used to engage students effectively. This is extremely important as the majority of students spend six to eight hours a day in schools where they are completely disengaged. I for one can’t blame today’s learner for being bored in school when I all have to do is observe my own son at home playing Minecraft to see firsthand his high level of engagement. His Minecraft experiences provide meaning and relevance in an environment that is intellectually stimulating but, more importantly, fun. Schools and educators would be wise to take cues from the real world and make concerted efforts to integrate technology with the purpose to increase student engagement. Engagement, after all, is the impetus for learning in my opinion.
Hidden Curriculum (2014) provides the following definition of engagement:
In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. Generally speaking, the concept of "student engagement" is predicated on the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise "disengaged." Stronger student engagement or improved student engagement are common instructional objectives expressed by educators.
The last line in this description elicits a great deal of concern for me. With or without technology, there always seems to be a great deal of emphasis on student engagement, but the fact of the matter is that engagement does not necessarily equate to learning. I have observed numerous lessons where students were obviously engaged through the integration of technology, but there was no clear indication that students were learning. Having fun, collaborating, communicating, and being creative are all very important elements that should be embedded elements of pedagogically sound lessons, but we must not lose sight of the importance of the connection to, and evidence of, learning. Thus, students can walk away from a lesson or activity having been very engaged but with very little in the form of new knowledge construction, conceptual mastery, or evidence of applied skills. When speaking at events I often ask leaders and teachers how they measure the impact of technology on learning. More often than not I receive blank stares or an open admission that they have no idea. The allure of engagement can be blinding as well as misleading.