Student Engagement

Harnessing Technology for Engaging Learning Experiences

Having students try podcasting or storytelling with virtual reality is an effective way to increase engagement and reinforce critical content.

March 4, 2024
SeventyFour / Shutterstock

In education, we often talk about student engagement. Years ago, I completely misunderstood what student engagement was, why it mattered, and its impact on student learning. Student engagement is more than just being attentive: It means that students become curious about learning and more interested in the content, and, as a result, process the information at higher levels. Engaged learners are more likely to develop their critical thinking skills and have a deeper understanding of the material, which will lead to academic success.

When we create learning experiences that shift students from consumers of content to creators, it helps to increase their engagement in and, hopefully, excitement for learning. So, how can we keep students engaged? We have to spark curiosity and perhaps take some risks in our classroom with new ideas. Providing a variety of options for students to develop their content area knowledge and skills in ways that meet their interests and needs also promotes autonomy and will lead to an increase in engagement. In my own classroom, teaching Spanish and an eighth-grade STEAM course, I decided to explore a few new ideas centered on telling stories—with the help of some emerging technology.

Immersive Storytelling

Storytelling is a fantastic way for students to be creative and engage in a variety of learning experiences that meet their specific interests and needs. Whether students create something using paper and markers or choose from the many digital options available, it is all about promoting choice in learning.

Rather than use the traditional tools that I had in the past, I took a risk and used CoSpaces Edu to explore immersive storytelling in my Spanish II class after some students asked why they couldn’t explore the augmented and virtual reality tools the way the STEAM class did. Whether using CoSpaces Edu like I did or using options available through resources like Experiments with Google, there are many ways to bring these opportunities to our students.

Although I was nervous about bringing alternate reality and virtual reality tools into the classroom, it seemed to be something they would enjoy. I thought that trying something new would boost their engagement. I randomly assigned students into groups and provided instructions for narrating a story that happened in the past.

Students could select any template and then had to work together to find the right objects and add animated characters with speech bubbles, audio, and more. The templates available helped students to get started and then focus on the content and how they could bring their stories to life. In all prior years of teaching the same content, I had not seen students enjoy an activity as much nor retain the content, especially learning how to tell stories using the different past tenses as they did. It was a risk worth taking and one that was a different way to engage students, especially with the use of an emerging technology. 

Sharing Stories through podcasts

As someone who has hosted a podcast for several years, I have always considered doing this in my classroom. This past school year, I tried something really different in my STEAM course, and I could not have predicted the benefits that I observed. We started by listening to a few podcasts that I had selected. I asked students about what they thought the focus was and if they could determine anything about the hosts or the “brand.”

When I revealed each podcast logo and host, the students were surprised at all of the different styles. I then dove into helping students design their own podcast and logo and create a brand for themselves. For some, it was uncomfortable at first, but with some guidance and collaboration with classmates, it didn’t take long for it to become something quite fun for them and me. 

I decided to focus on podcasting for about four weeks so that students could really learn about the value of podcasts and how to use them for their own learning as well as for building speaking skills and confidence. For our class, students would have time to explore podcasts before diving into creating their own. The learning activity required them to create a name, logo, intro, and topic first. Then, they had to record an intro and have some of their classmates provide feedback. The next step was to practice their interviewing skills by having a few classmates as guests. The final component was drafting an email to a teacher to invite them as a guest. I provided some templates for students to follow, and they had to take the lead to schedule and then produce the podcast. 

My students used either Spotify for Podcasters or Soundtrap for Education to record their podcasts and Canva to design the logo. As I listened to their episodes, it was great to hear their excitement, to see their confidence build during the experience, which allowed them to create, collaborate, problem-solve, and move through the classroom more. Students learned about each other and their teachers and developed their speaking skills and confidence. This was a fantastic way to learn more about my students and their interests. Students developed skills in collaboration, communication, creativity, and problem-solving that will benefit them in the future. Some students even decided to continue their podcasts after our work in class ended.

To keep students engaged, try a variety of methods and tools, and continue to model the excitement for learning.

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Filed Under

  • Student Engagement
  • Technology Integration
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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