This writing is cross-posted at the Elementary Connected Classrooms Project. It is focused on topics related to our work on the Growing Innovations grant project and my second contribution to our collaborative ECC blog. In less than one month, all the groups involved in Growing Innovations are attending an event showcasing each project. The following post is a response to one of the final questions we are to answer as the project timelines come to a close.
How has Connected Classrooms impacted student engagement in the classroom?
Starting with today
I looked through the doorway during a lesson this morning, peeking out to see what the group of students outside was doing. I could see what looked like a huddle of nine boys, all squeezing in around the one student holding the camera. They were watching the playback of a video clip they had just filmed. As I watched, the Aboriginal Student Support Worker supervising students working outside caught my eye. She smiled and said “they’re sure having fun!” As she spoke, the group suddenly broke apart, smiles on every face. They started running toward the classroom, having completed their video clip, ready to upload it to a netbook. Each student looked energized, happy, and motivated. They were fully engaged in their learning.
To put this in context, we started a multimedia unit last week in the Connected Classrooms. Today I introduced software for creating and editing videos. After a 15 minute lesson introducing the learning intentions, software and a quick review of royalty-free audio sites from the week before, I set students free to explore, create and direct their own learning.
That was when the learning started to get messy.
By messy, I mean that some students immediately went over to grab a camera and start filming video clips. One group of students began taking photos for a stop motion animation film. Several students opened up the royalty-free music sites from the week before and started downloading audio. Many students decided to try out the software for themselves and started creating a slideshow right away.
There were students working alone, lost in their own world of multimedia exploration, other students worked with a partner and learned from each other as they went along, and still other students working in small groups. Students were inside, outside, in the back room, out in the hallway and working in the room next door.
I could barely finish up with one student before another came up with an urgent question – How do I upload the video onto my flashdrive? How do I download this song? Where are all the cameras because we need one? – and on and on and on. The students wanted to know, needed to know, the answers so they could get on with creating their multimedia pieces. No hesitation to ask questions from this group.
And that was just the students in my classroom at Cayoosh. Watching the screen from time to time, I could see most of the students in Ashcroft and Lytton at their computers, but I wondered how many of my other students in those places were off with cameras and ideas during the connection. I also wondered if there were any questions from those students afar, but, thankfully, as both of my Connected Classroom colleagues are extremely tech-savvy when it comes to multimedia, I was confident that they were able to answer all questions at their sites.
It was a great class and the learning only stopped because lunch arrived. Students didn’t want to stop. They procrastinated when it came time to finish up – just let me download this one last song, I just need to get the photos off the camera, I want to show my friend the video I made – please Ms G? When I turned the microphone on to finish up the connected lesson with all three sites, I felt as if I was interrupting all the students. The Ashcroft and Lytton students seemed completely engaged as well. The chorus of “Goodbye!” was quieter than usual, and my guess is that students were so into the multimedia activities that our closing farewell faded in importance, a rare and unusual occurrence.
How has connected classrooms impacted student engagement?
Which brings me back to the original question: how has connected classrooms impacted student engagement in my classroom? Even reflecting solely on today’s lesson, there are so many ways to answer this question. There are the obvious answers based on the latest research focused on student engagement in schools. During the connected lesson, students were focused and on task. They wanted to keep going and didn’t want to stop and disengage from their activities. They took the initiative to ask questions and move beyond the walls of the classroom to get the photos or video footage they needed. They were animated, energetic and brought that ‘edge of chaos’ feeling to the learning environment that seems productive and alive.
Going beyond a quick study of student cues, I would argue that learning in an environment in which multimedia and new technologies are simply embedded into everyday activities is highly engaging for students. Our students have a variety of multimedia equipment available to learn with and from. The students constantly engage with multimedia content; showing them how to create multimedia themselves is of interest to them. They want to learn it. It is relevant to their lives. And in the Connected Classrooms, with resources and people to help, students couldn’t wait to get started on multimedia creations all their own.
I think that our role as ‘digital teachers’, an idea I developed during my Masters coursework, is also one aspect of the connected classrooms that impacts student engagement overall, and certainly within multimedia unit lessons like the one today. As connected classroom teachers, we create at least one multimedia project per month. The monthly news is created and shared from each site at the end of the month. While students help with this process by recording special events in photographs and video each month, the task of creating and editing the video falls to the teachers. We take this role seriously, showing students responsible, appropriate and safe ways to create and share content online.
Another way in which Connected Classrooms impacts student engagement is through teacher engagement. All three of us have choice as to what we teach. I still remember the shock I felt when my administrator asked me what I wanted to teach on my days as the lead teacher. Not surprisingly, we each teach an area that is highly interesting to us. Brooke’s passion for environmental stewardship comes through loud and clear during her Tuesday lessons on current events. Aislinn’s love of children’s literature is obvious not only in her Reading Power lesson activities, but also in her always new and interesting book choices. I love photography and multimedia and I know that my excitement passes along to the students during my Thursday lessons. Our authentic engagement with the topics we teach is obvious; the students get to learn from not one, but three people excited to share about a topic both personally and professionally important to them.
Student engagement is a tricky topic and the Connected Classroom is an extremely rich and complex learning environment so I’m quite certain I have not in any way adequately answered the Growing Innovation question, but hopefully my thoughts prompted by one lesson have at least made sense and perhaps inspired some new thinking along the way.