When it’s used in the right way, technology can offer you a number of highly effective ways to get students motivated, to pique their interest and curiosity, to explain difficult concepts – as well as to encourage self-learning. So when we talk about keeping students “entertained”, it’s not about amusement for its own sake, but more in terms of focused engagement with the objective of your students meeting a specific educational goal – i.e. learning through enjoyment.
Whatever tools you’re using (and also when you’re encouraging independent research) there’s a crucial factor to consider: are our students safe? With this in mind, here are suggestions for making educational experiences engaging – all within a secure environment.
This isn’t about having your lesson plans crammed with games and puzzles just for the sake of it. Rather, it’s about understanding how some of the elements of game playing can motivate learning behaviour. Although the term ‘gamification’ is a relatively recent one in education, the principle has been around for ever: think about how a series of questions in a standard maths exercise is set out in ascending order of complexity so that students repeatedly ‘unlock the next level’ as they go through it, for instance.
Educational games can be used to step-deliver content on a subject area, provide simulations of a theory, encourage decision making – or simply serve as a starting point for a wider discussion. Especially if the games you intend to use are to be accessed by students online, it’s important to check out the platform beforehand. Is the domain secure – or does it provide instant access to an unregulated chatfield? Are students playing the desired game just a click away from something less suitable? If so, it’s important to put in place suitable blocks and restrictions before rolling out use of the site in the classroom.
The safest option is often to rely on games designed specifically for educators. However, sometimes it’s possible to access specially adapted general games: (check out Minecraftedu, for instance).
2. Snippets of tech to invigorate learning
While gamification can be a useful tool, over-reliance on it could be counter-productive. Your aim, after all, is to encourage engagement, and a big part of this involves offering an experience that is different in some way. In other words, students brought up with tech from the CBeebies app onwards may be highly familiar with the use of new technologies, but this does not mean that they are automatically inspired by them.
So an alternative way forward in many situations might be to essentially blend aspects of tech into an otherwise ‘traditional’ lesson plan. This might involve showing one or a series of video clips as a ‘way in’ to a topic, or to initiate a discussion for instance (as opposed to showing the entire broadcast).
3. Encouraging discovery and self-research
You want students to take ownership of their education. As such, especially for older students, there will be times when you will want to go beyond merely giving your students a list of URLs to check out as research. So the question is over how you can encourage independent learning within a safe environment?
This is where your school’s e-safety policies and procedures come in. Suitable restrictions on what can be accessed will be backed up by an acceptable usage policy that’s understood by pupils, staff and parents. A ‘whole school approach’ to security should include providing resources to parents to ensure a safe browsing environment is provided at home too.