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Deploying ICT: Engagement vs Enhancement

Engaging students is often considered an end goal—and it’s certainly a worthy objective to aim for. We would rather learners be involved, focused, and participating than the alternative.

ICT is a successful way to engage students. Most teachers will have noticed that the use of gadgets can increase the interest levels of a class like no other tool. We live in a digital age! However, is ICT always enhancing learning as well as engaging the learners?

This report released in the UK by the Department for Children, Schools and Families had some interesting insight on this topic.

“E” words explained

There is a significant difference between engagement and enhancement, and it’s something that teachers and kaiako must understand to make the best use of ICT.

Something which is engaging captivates attention; it keeps the focus of the learner and will entertain and interest them for longer. Engagement is a good place to start in any classroom, physical or digital—if you are engaged and therefore paying attention, you are much more likely to learn. ICT, the UK report posits, is “almost always” engaging:

“In almost all cases the pupils were clearly motivated and stimulated by the ICT approach they were demonstrating. In fewer than one in thirty of the activities demonstrated was the ICT a ‘distraction’ to learning and, as such, made little or no contribution to the achievement of the learning objectives in the core subject.”

Enhancement will result in deeper learning. It not only keeps the learner interested but adds to their understanding and their knowledge; it extends their experience and results in better learning outcomes. The good news is that ICT can also enhance learning, although the gap between engaging and enhancing is not always bridged:

“In some cases the use of ICT achieved high levels of engagement but little beyond that; the learning objectives were achieved but the use of ICT, in itself, did not lead to deeper learning. In about two-thirds of the activities the use of ICT provided opportunities to enhance the learning in ways that other teaching strategies probably would not have been able to do. As a consequence deeper learning was achieved.”

Achieving enhancement

The fact that ICT is engaging in “almost all” instances is encouraging. As mentioned earlier, engagement is an excellent place to start! For kaiako to be at their most effective when deploying ICT tools, however, it’s important to understand the difference between engagement and enhancement and know how to advance from the former to the latter.

According to the UK report, it’s not always a matter of choosing the right tools, although this is a significant factor. The most important aspect of enhancement was how the ICT was deployed.

The distinction between ‘engagement’ and ‘enhancement’ activities was often partly a consequence of the type of ICT resource being used. However, what was more important was how the ICT resource was being employed by the teacher.

It’s not what you’ve got but how you use it. Software and digital platforms in themselves are an extremely useful resource for kaiako, but good news: our jobs and expertise are still crucial to learning!

This, of course, begs the next question.

How do we enhance learning with ICT?

The UK report offers some examples of activities involving prudent, effective use of ICT which can deepen learning. Straight from the document, these are:

  • The use of digital cameras to create ‘photo-stories’, overlaid with pupils’ own text and sound effects or voice recordings to capture an event, for example.

  • The use of the internet to research information, such as archive footage.

  • The analysis of the way information is presented in a range of websites on a similar topic to detect bias.

  • The use of short films and animations to support visual literacy, for example, analysing the way the film techniques support the narrative process.

  • The use of podcasts to support speaking and listening through recount and recreation of real or imagined events.

  • Analysis and production of TV advertisements using multimedia approaches to support persuasive language.

  • The use of MS Word to compose and edit writing on screen. (Or, in our more modern context, the use of Word Online, OneNote and Google Docs! With new tools we can even edit and write collaboratively—or articulate thinking using audio or video thanks to apps like FlipGrid.)

What ties these activities together? Students creating, reflecting, discussing, finding patterns, manipulating, investing, and exploring. In short, the higher-order thinking activities that we already know are effective for enhancing learning and developing students' conceptual understanding.

The takeaway

We know that engagement is valuable—and that ICT makes engagement easy. From this foundation, educators must continue to work towards enhancement. By combining the investigative, analytical, and creative activities that involve higher-order thinking with the amazing tool that is ICT, it’s possible to enhance learning and improve outcomes. And that’s why we do this job!


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