Student engagement has become a prominent strategic priority and buzzword in higher education with conversations focusing on the best ways to keep students interested, motivated and engaged, leading to optimal academic performance. As a result, various software solutions exist to help combat student disengagement. But, first of all, why all the fuss over student engagement?
What Is Student Engagement?
According to The Glossary of Education Reform, 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.”
The concept of student engagement is based on the belief that students are more engaged to learn when they are motivated, interested and inspired, and less engaged to learn, or disengaged, when they are bored, uninterested and distracted. Makes sense, right?
Student Engagement and Generation Z
As technology rapidly changed in the early 2000s, especially with the rise of smartphones and social media, individuals, particularly students, were faced with more opportunities for distraction than ever before in this increasingly connected, digital world. And, considering that these mobile technologies have been designed to capture and sustain our attention, it’s become critical for higher education leaders to ensure that students are engaged in their learning. This concern paved the way for increased emphasis on student engagement, as higher education administrators cannot expect that students will automatically be engaged simply because they are enrolled at a college or university. These leaders must work harder in today’s digital world to gain the attention of students.
Australian social researcher, speaker and author Claire Madden shares her perspective in an article for CGMA. “The use of smart devices and the internet is ubiquitous for Gen Zs today,” she says. “With the democratization of information in today’s digital age, there’s been a dramatic shift in how students learn. The smartphone — almost guaranteed to be within arm’s reach of a Gen Z at any point — has provided much quicker access to a much broader world of information than instructors can.”
Why Does Student Engagement Software Exist?
Student engagement software exists to capture the attention and interest of today’s digital native college students. According to Ryan Jenkins, author of The Generation Z Guide, this generation tends to be more independent in learning and working than previous generations. “They have a DIY attitude and, through tools like YouTube, they find the resources they need to do things on their own,” he says (via CGMA).
Jason Dorsey, speaker, generational issues researcher and author, explains to CGMA that members of Gen Z also have “much higher expectations around the integration of technology” in the classroom compared to Millennials. “Gen Z students expect to access classroom learning outside of the classroom, on-demand and unique to them,” he says. “Our research shows they expect faculty to integrate the latest technology, from adaptive learning resources to video collaboration and knowledge-sharing tools. We’re seeing the highest student engagement when faculty members leverage mobile learning, interactive learning experiences, and individualized assessment to keep students on track.”
Student Engagement Trends
Now that we’ve explained the topic of student engagement and established why student engagement is critical to Gen Z’s success, let’s consider six of the latest student engagement strategies and trends for use in the classroom.
1. Student-Focused Learning Experiences
To engage college students these days, you need to speak their language. By doing so, they are more likely to engage with what they’re learning. Gen Z’s ease and familiarity with technology that provides quick and simple user experiences has led higher education leaders and curriculum developers to design learning experiences that appeal to these students. After all, according to Element451, if a process is not simplified and fails to capture students’ attention early, you’ll risk losing them. By tailoring learning experiences to appeal directly to students’ needs, you put them in the driver’s seat, making it easier to capture their interest and keep them engaged.
2. Personalized Learning
The trend of personalized learning similarly gives students more control over how they learn. When students are learning in a way that appeals to their needs, it’s only natural they will be more engaged. Personalized learning, noted Fierce Education, consists of activities where individual items are tailored for students’ individual skill levels. This type of adaptive assessment begins with easier questions and advances to more difficult ones once a certain mastery level is met.
Think about it this way: When students start off with the harder questions, they are more likely to become frustrated and lose interest. By adapting items to students’ individual skill levels, they are rewarded with positive reinforcement which increases their confidence and, therefore, leads to more positive learning experiences.
3. Project-Based Learning
Similar to active learning, project-based learning is a trend that keeps students actively engaged through hands-on projects rather than sitting passively listening to lectures. As Fierce Education points out, engaging in short-term projects allows students to put their organizational, time management, teamwork and critical thinking skills into practice, which will no doubt be useful later in their professional careers.
4. Active Learning
Active learning is all about making learning hands-on, enabling students to take ownership of their education. “In a classroom that is using specific strategies to target engagement and active learning, you will not see students sitting quietly at their desks listening to a teacher speak about the content. Instead, you’ll see them participating and exploring, sitting on different types of seats, standing up, using interactive technology, playing games, engaging in discussion, or creating their own projects,” Dr. Stacy Ness of Walden University explains in an article for K-12 Dive.
Active learning leads to increased student engagement because it’s designed not to be a passive learning strategy. In active learning lessons, teachers spend additional time selecting projects that appeal to their students’ interests and aptitudes. She adds, “The students become much more invested in their own learning because it’s tailored to their interests, strengths and needs—which really increases their intrinsic motivation.”
5. Flipped Classroom Learning
Another hot trend for student engagement is the flipped classroom. This model of learning “flips” the traditional model of instruction on its head. Instead of receiving a lecture or lesson about a new concept in class, students complete this work the night before by reading texts, watching videos or listening to podcasts. Then, in class, they work on an assignment based on the lesson – basically the traditional form of “homework.”
By having the teacher present while students work on the activity, instructors are able to help students with specific questions. Class time may also be used for discussions or more interactive lessons based on the content. “If it works the way it’s intended and the students are really doing this work at home, they get very engaged in school and the teachers can check students’ understanding before they do assessments,” says Ness.
6. Focus on Security Measures
While it can be tedious, paying increased attention to security is a trend that’s here to stay. Data breaches occur often, making it crucial for schools to keep students’ personal data safe and secure. As Element451 noted, requiring stronger passwords, implementing two-factor authentication and encrypting sensitive data are steps that may take time and effort up front but are worth it in the end.
Student Engagement Software Solutions
While some of these trends for improving student engagement can be implemented in the classroom using traditional methods and materials, many of them can be enhanced by implementing a variety of software solutions. These solutions for enhancing student engagement in higher education often come at a reasonable cost, are simple to implement and are relatively user-friendly for both instructors and students.
1. Student Response Systems and Gamification Software
Student response systems, sometimes referred to as “clickers,” promote active, personalized and student-focused learning experiences. They enable all students in class to answer a question posed without fear of being called on and having the wrong answer. According to K-12 Dive, various free apps enable students to compete against each other. Because they are individual apps, no sophisticated technology is required – just a connected device, whether a smartphone or a tablet. These types of in-class learning experiences keep students engaged through their use of gamification features. Plainly said, they make learning fun.
“The students’ responses can be immediately graphed and presented to the whole class. Using a response system keeps students attending and engaged during classroom instruction,” describes Ness. These types of technologies also appeal to students’ need for instant feedback. Adds Shannon Johnson, an elementary school teacher-turned-curriculum designer, “That’s where technology in the classroom is headed. Students are on their own devices, and teachers are able to instantly see their work and put it up on the electronic whiteboard or interactive panel.”
2. Real-Time Data Integration / Data Insight to Data Action
These days, data is everything. Gathering and interpreting this data can provide numerous insights about students and how they learn best. To effectively personalize learning experiences for students, instructors must first have the data to understand their students’ strengths and weaknesses and how they learn best. Additionally, by accessing this data in real time, instructors are able to provide the instant feedback their students desire. Higher education leaders can also leverage these technologies to learn which programs and initiatives best contribute to student success and use this information to conveniently figure out which areas students may need additional support (per Element451).
3. All-In-One Communication Platforms
By implementing all-in-one communication platforms, which include features such as convenient chatbots and text messaging, students get the type of instant feedback in which they’ve become accustomed. These platforms can be especially beneficial for implementing active learning strategies and flipped classroom instructional models, as they give students immediate access to support. Since these all-in-one communication platforms help simplify communication throughout various learning experiences while also serving as a cost-effective solution, they are a win-win for colleges and universities (via Element451).
4. Virtual and Augmented Reality
Similar to gamification software, virtual and augmented reality promote hands-on, active learning and can easily be incorporated in project-based learning. “VR offers students the ability to explore something in 3-D right, such as looking at different parts of a heart, or visiting places in the world or times in history that you could only read about in the past,” Johnson says. “They’re going to provide valuable hands-on experience for students.”
Suitable’s Guided Pathways and Co-Curricular Transcripts are examples of simple software solutions that appeal to today’s students, thereby helping to increase student engagement. By incorporating gamification techniques such as digital badges and real-time progress, Guided Pathways gives students more control over their higher education learning experiences, keeping them more engaged throughout. Similarly, Suitable’s Co-Curricular Transcripts provides a dynamic, real-time look at students' individual experiential and co-curricular college experiences, conveying their individual stories in a clear and engaging way.