Newsflash: “Student engagement” now seems to be rising as an indicator of school effectiveness, along with “hope” and “graduation rates.” It’s interesting that only one of those is easy to accurately measure; the other two are much more fluid, based on the opinions of students. That in and of itself is an interesting shift, and perhaps, an important one. (It’s also interesting to note that the percentage of kids who go to college really isn’t valued that much as an indicator.)
But it depends on how you define “engagement,” right? I wrote more about this at EML, but does it surprise anyone that “engagement” can be raised when learning is gamified? When getting the right answer becomes a race? When we throw technologies like iPads and clickers at kids? It shouldn’t. Kids, especially young kids, are easily moved by such tools and pedagogies.
But here’s the not so subtle question we need to ask: By doing these things, are we trying to get kids more engaged in school? Or are we trying to get them more engaged in learning? And yes, there is a big difference.
Too often, the educators I work with have bought new technologies or implemented new practices in an attempt to make school more palatable to kids. That may bump the numbers up in the next Gallup survey, but in the long run, it won’t do much to move a child’s desire to want to learn more about whatever they’re clicking answers to in class. That requires a much bigger shift in agency to the learner in ways that we all know (but for some reason are loathe to implement) lead to more powerful learning experiences for kids.
Almost half of our kids and two thirds of our teachers say they’re not engaged in school. What they’re really saying, both the kids and the adults, is that they’re not able to engage in learning about things that matter to them. No technology alone is going to solve that.