Using Technology to Teach and Course Adjustment to Capture Student Attention
By Annjanette Bennar, Director of Mathematics, Computer Literacy and Communications and Assistant Professor
At Goodwin University, I teach an introductory computer applications class covering computer hardware and software, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. When I’m not demonstrating how to use Microsoft Office, I teach technology concepts like computer components, Internet safety, and social media.
As a department, we had a common technology-themed PowerPoint that would project on the screen. The lesson was over 60 slides and extremely lecture heavy. I dreaded every semester when it was time to teach that section of the course. As hard as I tried to spark engagement, it always seemed like I was the one doing all the talking. You could see the students’ eyes glaze over by the middle of the presentation, and I knew I had lost their interest.
Lack of student interest ignites Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
As an educator, I thought back to Universal Design for Learning, an educational framework that expands opportunities for all learners. I recalled the three main UDL principles — Engagement, Representation, and Action and Expression — and I decided to look at the Engagement principle to see what I could do to increase student interest.
Using the UDL checkpoints as a guide, the pedagogy provided the following suggestions:
- Optimize individual choice and autonomy
- Optimize relevance, value, and authenticity
- Minimize threats and distractions
Through the UDL learning structure lens, I reflected on my class practices, and I realized that it was not the students’ fault they were not engaged; it was mine. The way I presented the material was the barrier, and I needed to change my methods if I wanted students to be more involved. I thought, if the lesson gave learners options, were more relevant to their lives, and minimized distractions, perhaps student interest would be piqued.
Proposing new presentation methods
The first thing I did to improve the lesson was break it up into multiple short mini-lessons. Sixty slides were way too much material to cover in one class. I focused on grouping the material into common themes to instruct over a few class sessions.
One lesson that I revised was a section about Internet security. This lesson covered different types of malware, phishing scams, and staying safe online. I wanted to find a more exciting way to engage the students in the lesson. I thought back to my UDL training, and the mentioning of multiple technology solutions.
I then decided to try out an age and ability-appropriate application, Nearpod. Nearpod claims to make every lesson interactive, and I was looking to incorporate an element that allowed for increased participation. Giving students the flexible option to use the app increased individual choice and autonomy while also providing new tools and supports to supplement the lesson plan. A benefit was that students could access Nearpod on a computer, tablet, or phone, which made it easily accessible for all and provided students a level of independence, as they could choose whichever method made them most comfortable.
Being a computer teacher, I was able to play around with the app and create my own Nearpod presentation without much difficulty. I then uploaded the new portion of the Internet security PowerPoint into the Nearpod lesson.
Tech initiatives inspire classroom presence and participation
To maintain student attention, I incorporated questions that participants needed to answer during the lesson. To provide alternative options for assessing skills, after a few slides, I inserted an open-ended or multiple-choice question. One of the first questions was, ‘What are some potential risks to your online identity and your computer’s safety?’ I then instructed students to respond to the question by typing the reaction into their device. Questions like these invited individual replies and self-reflection into the coursework, personalizing the task to the learners’ lives. Ultimately, the inquiries highlighted the relevance of learning for students through this meaningful question and answer activity.
Since I had Nearpod open on the SMARTboard, I could see the responses in real-time. I chose to anonymize the answers, giving students a preference of their preferred recognition. Even though there was also an option to display the students’ names next to their comments, I felt that students would feel more comfortable answering the questions if they didn’t have to put themselves out there. As the instructor, I could later pull the students’ answers at the end of the lesson and identify the responses to the respective names.
In addition to the open-ended questions, I also included some yes/no or true/false polls and a mini quiz at the end of the presentation to check for understanding. I could tell by the participation numbers that the students were immersed in the lesson. I included a question or interactive website every two slides to keep the students engaged, and it worked.
UDL options provide optimal learning
When I introduced Nearpod, the students were a little hesitant because the application was new to them. Since we were in a computer lab, many participated on the classroom computers, and others used their phone to connect to the lesson. Immediately one student exclaimed, “This is so cool!” They were truly enjoying looking around and the ability to follow along in the virtual field trip. Each question asked during the presentation was followed by thoughtful responses and rich discussion. It was great to see the students so absorbed in the class and topic.
The success of trying something new is why I love Universal Design for Learning. UDL has opened my eyes as an educator to a different way to think about students and to create an optimal learning environment.
Overall, I found the UDL improved presentation a success. I optimized student choice and relevance through the revised lesson plan, and I created a safe space for learning to occur. I also varied the social demands for learning with individual anonymous answers and open discussions, and through the application, I allowed learners to participate fully by elevating the classroom’s engagement. Disinterested students, with eyes once glazed over, were now intent with intrigue and in-tune to the coursework.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.