How can edtech ignite learning engagement?

Written by: Al Kingsley | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

How is technology helping to keep students engaged in their education and what safety issues must schools consider? Al Kingsley explains


We all know how hard it is to be interested in something when you just don’t see the point. Unfortunately, that’s a daily reality for some young people who struggle to engage with school – the learning, the rules, the teachers, the other children in their class.

Can technology help elevate learning from being “boring” and convince these students that it has something to offer them?


Reinvention rules

Every school turned to technology during the pandemic lockdowns, simply because it was the only option. For some students, it was a poor substitute for being in class and learning together; however, for others, it proved an opportunity to learn in new ways.

This break from the norm gave the students who are usually disengaged a chance to learn differently, free from the usual teacher and peer pressures – and, critically, they could learn at their own pace.

We have heard about the many successes of teachers using technology during remote instruction to deliver learning in bite-size chunks and providing video exemplars of topics that the students could replay until they understood the concepts.

And, in some ways, communicating with teachers via methods such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom meant that some students had greater interaction with staff on a one-to-one level than they would have had in the regular scheme of things. This was especially important for younger pupils, vulnerable and SEND students.


Lockdown edtech in alternative provision

For the students who were already detached from learning, the shift to the new circumstances of the school and remote instruction provoked a slight uplift in interest – and, as the chair of an alternative provision academy, I can confirm this was certainly the case in our school.

The lockdown era was a whole new beginning that eased the pressure for students to turn up to class, simply because nobody else was there either. The new requirement to “attend” by simply logging into Microsoft Teams removed the initial barriers of having to get up, get ready, catch the bus, and so on, far less effort for any student.

Remote education gave educators the chance to do something a little different and careful selection of gamified learning materials often made learning not seem like learning, which was perfect for the disrupted circumstances.

Other solutions were chosen to better support personalised learning, allowing students the freedom to progress at their own pace without needing to compare themselves to everyone else in the class and thereby avoiding the stigma of being labelled as “slow” or getting left behind.

Some schools elected to use quizzing platforms structured to build learners’ confidence and with the facility to backtrack on material when needed – and these methods all gained a degree of traction with the students who would not normally be interested, listen or contribute to a lesson.

The next challenge is to continue the momentum of engaging these students creatively with edtech for more sustained periods at a deeper level. We should not simply fall into a rut of continuing to deliver what has previously “worked”.

After all, even games get boring when repeated endlessly. Now, wise to edtech’s potential, the next stage for schools is to investigate solutions that provide a more immersive experience to spark further engagement all round, such as AR and VR, to bring subjects to life – and potentially prepare students for the metaverse!


Skills to stay safe online

As much as I am a strong believer in the power of technology to change education for the better, I am also acutely aware that it is not all plain sailing. The more technology we place in the hands of students, the more potential there is for them to be exposed to online risks. So how do we best ensure their safety when using online tools?

The answer is two-fold. First, the onus is on the school to only choose solutions that have a responsible, defined plan for how students’ personal data is stored and how long it is kept. Every school should undertake a data protection impact assessment (see further information) before implementing any new technology – and any edtech vendor worth their salt will not only ensure that their solution handles individuals’ data responsibly but is upfront about the process.

The second part of the staying safe online equation is the comprehensive teaching of digital citizenship skills. These skills ensure that students can be aware of the situations that may occur online and protect themselves and others by making good, responsible decisions. Digital citizenship instruction should run through every lesson and every subject, in fact every time that students use any online learning product.

This is especially important for disengaged students. To gain traction with them, the digital citizenship teaching they encounter should be meaningful and address real-life issues, e.g., teaching them about their digital footprint, the dangers of disinhibition and hate speech – plus the fact that you can be held accountable for what you say online.

For schools, technology that can monitor and flag safeguarding topics, provide intelligence for staff of what is going on and enable them to stage the right kind of intervention is invaluable. With this insight, there may be an opportunity to prevent the disengaged students most at risk of grooming, online sexual exploitation, gang involvement and so on from taking that questionable path in their lives.

Digital citizenship skills are life skills and will protect students long after they have finished school, helping them navigate changing technologies and online risks in years to come.


Hope for the future

So, can edtech help disengaged students to become more involved in learning? The answer is that it can make a positive contribution, but it can’t be expected to solve the wider societal issues of disadvantaged students’ non-engagement. But any progress is welcome and if it means even the slightest degree of greater participation, then it is at least a foundation to build upon.

  • Al Kingsley is chair of Hampton Academies Trust in Peterborough, the KWEST Trust in Norfolk, and managing director of NetSupport. He is the author of My Secret Edtech Diary. Read his previous articles for SecEd at http://bit.ly/seced-kingsley


My Secret Edtech Diary

My Secret EdTech Diary by Al Kingsley (John Catt Educational, 2021) tackles the potential of technology to improve things across the board in our schools. The book also charts the journey of edtech pre and post-Covid, offering some practical advice and insights. Visit https://bit.ly/3COe2Mg

Further information & resources

  • Information Commissioner: Data protection impact assessments: https://bit.ly/3thUjky
  • SecEd Podcast: Technology and digital strategy in schools (featuring Al Kingsley), July 2020: https://bit.ly/2ROhu3Q
  • SecEd Podcast: Edtech 2.0: Making the most of technology in schools (featuring Al Kingsley), February 2022: https://bit.ly/34OHXIt


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