Ideally, the classroom should be a place where everybody feels comfortable and free to express themselves – regardless of their abilities. In reality, there are some students who find it hard to participate if they feel embarrassed asking for help, or believe speaking in front of everybody will bring unwanted attention to them. While students should never feel pressured or forced to speak up in class, the lack of contribution to class discussions can hinder a person’s learning, as suggested by various studies (Carini et al. 2006). Participating in class discussions allows students to:
- Build their confidence
- Learn how to articulate their thoughts to other people
- Receive feedback on their response
- Work collaboratively as part of a group.
From the perspective of a teacher, a lack of class participation can make it difficult to identify who has a good understanding of the lesson content, and those who are struggling. Consequently, quieter students may feel excluded from class if they fall behind.
1:1 learning using internet connected devices is set to revolutionize teaching. Interaction between the teacher and all students are facilitated through the easy exchange of information and ideas between the mobile devices, allowing teachers to provide individualised feedback. Solely relying on traditional pen-and-paper learning techniques is no longer effective; technology has the ability to engage learners in innovative ways, as well as efficiently produce and share learning resources. Along with the support and encouragement from teachers, the wide range of technological resources available can help facilitate student participation through different methods. Here are five ways technology can be used to increase class participation:
- Use 1:1 mobile devices for class quizzes
Simple question-and-answer learning activities can increase student participation. The thought of sharing one’s response in a formal setting such as a classroom can be very daunting; students may feel as though there is little margin for error, and that their peers will judge the quality of their response. However, the learning environment can be made more fun by integrating games into the lesson. Kahoot is a quiz-based gaming platform where students answer questions set by the teacher using a mobile device. Points, called Kahoots, are awarded for answering correctly, and scoreboards for the top five players are displayed at the end of the game. This encourages students to engage with their learning in a fun and stimulating manner. Kahoot can also be used collaboratively by putting students into groups so they can work together to score points. Socrative is another example of a great tool which uses 1:1 devices for quiz-based learning. The teacher uses the Socrative Teacher app to ask a question, which is displayed on students’ mobile devices. Users can then answer using the Socrative Student app. This fosters inclusivity by encouraging everyone to join in with class activities, rather than the select few who are picked by the teacher to speak.
- Encourage whole group discussions
Online participation is another way to increase a student’s involvement in class activity. Students can share their response with the whole class and with the teacher using Padlet. Padlet is a collaborative tool which acts as an online pinboard; anyone with a link to the pinboard can add text-based comments or images. It is easy to use to and quick to launch; integrate it into class discussion by posing a question which students respond to using their mobile device. If you would prefer to create a more structured board, you can also upload templates which students can add to. Pupils are encouraged to participate in class without the worry of verbalizing their thoughts, meaning they can still be part of the conversation and not feel left out.
- Collaborate on projects and presentations
Collaborative learning methods are key to an inclusive learning environment. Together, students can construct knowledge through sharing their responses with one another to solve a problem or question. However, student participation does not have to be limited to whole-class verbal discussions. Explain Everything is a screen capturing app which animates presentations, ideal for group projects. Using their own tablet device, each group member can create screencasts and then upload them onto Dropbox or Google Drive to share the creation with the rest of the team. These files can then be imported and collated into one project, resulting in a screencast which is produced by a group of people. Explain Everything can also bring lesson resources such as slideshow presentations to life. Add annotations, comments, and even voice recordings which students can engage with and reflect on when they view the screencast. Alternatively, try using Nearpod – an app where teachers upload presentations which are synchronized with any internet-connected device. Students can enlarge pictures; answer questions with drawings or by selecting a response from a choice of answers; and browse websites which teachers choose to display on their device. By allowing students to freely explore lesson content using their personal device, there are more opportunities for students to contribute to class discussion.
Blendspace is a tool which allows you to pull in resources anywhere from the web. This can be used within the classroom for seamless transition from one piece of content to the next. Blendspace is also great for group work, as collaborators can be added and change the project – similar to Google Docs. By using a note-taking app such as Notability, students can create visually pleasing documents which are especially useful for revising exam material. Users can draw pictures to illustrate their notes; and even record audio which are automatically transcribed. Students are less preoccupied with taking notes and are able to fully engage with what the teacher is saying, opening up opportunities for them to ask questions. The app can be used for group projects, as Notability has a sharing function whereby team members to easily share their creations via email, Google Drive and Dropbox.
- Provide active assessment
A reason for a student’s unwillingness to participate in class may be a lack of conviction in their response. Praise can boost a student’s self-esteem and empower them to continue engaging in classroom activities; whereas constructive feedback helps the student to understand how their response could be improved. Technology has improved the efficiency of assessing work. For instance, Kaizena is an app where educators provide feedback on pieces of work uploaded to Google Drive via voice recordings, allowing for more in-depth commentary compared to written comments. Its other features include a messaging system which students can use to query their teachers about specific comments.
- Monitor and reward participatory behaviour
Monitoring behaviour is not just about discipline and obedience – it is also linked with participation. ClassDojo is a tool which aims to increase the ease of communication between teachers, students, and parents. It has a Randomizer feature which randomly selects a member of the class, and rewards participants with a point every time they share a response. By giving students an incentive to participate, they may be more willing to fully engage with the lesson. The randomizer feature does not mean the student is obligated to provide an answer – but they are at least given an opportunity to share their thoughts.
Technology can be a great way to increase student engagement in class discussion and activities. 1:1 learning has changed the dynamics of class participation by allowing teachers to interact with all their students – not just the dominant voices. However, Spiral have gone further and brought collaborative learning apps into the third dimension, utilising a unique three-way view where responses are shown on the whiteboard; the teacher’s device; and the student’s device. As responses are anonymously displayed on the whiteboard, students can participate without the embarrassment of getting answers wrong. The teacher’s view from their personal device allows them to view each pupil’s response – allowing teachers to give individualized feedback. This immediate feedback is displayed in real-time to the student’s personal device, enabling them to see whether their answer requires more development, or is correct – helping to build their confidence. By identifying how well the class understands the lesson content, teachers can adapt their teaching methods to best suit the learning needs of the class. Along with on-going support from their teachers and peers, technology can help facilitate the voice of all students so that they can benefit from class participation.
Photo Credit: Brad Flickinger/Flickr under the creative commons license
Carini, R. M., Kuh, G. D., & Klein, S. P. (2006). Student engagement and student learning: Testing the linkages. Research in Higher Education, 47(1), 1-32.