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4 good reasons to make courses more engaging

The need for digital innovation, with EdTech Demonstrator Scott Hayden

We recently had a chat with Scott Hayden, Digital Innovator at the Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT), to discuss his use of EdTech - and Wooclap in particular - in his courses.

In addition to teaching Creative Media Production, Hayden trains schools and colleges around the country as part of the Department for Education’s ‘EdTech Demonstrator’ programme. As a Digital Innovator, he helps other teachers - and students - use meaningful and relevant digital teaching, learning, and assessment tools to enhance their practice.

Hayden is a big believer in Education Technology, though never for its own sake, saying “tech is only ever a tool and never a panacea”. By definition, a tool must serve a purpose, and he considers digital tools a great way to engage students. His students’ engagement can take many forms, from answering Wooclap questions during a live lesson, to creating vlogs and websites to promote themselves to future employers.

Why is student engagement so important? Hayden mentioned 4 reasons why every teacher should work on optimising student engagement - and how Wooclap contributes to that goal.

1. It’s just good practice

Hayden believes it is “just good practice” for a teacher to include a starting activity or a check on learning in a lesson. Speaking to students for half an hour without interaction or interruption simply isn’t as effective as inviting them to participate. Unlike traditional teaching methods - the “sage on a stage”, as he calls it - Hayden sees lessons as a collaboration: ”You are doing this with me, as a team”.

This, he says, is now more important than ever. With many courses in higher education still taking place online, Hayden fears many students are logging into those lessons without actually engaging - or learning. According to him, having students passively listening and watching - whether in-class or online - is not good teaching.

In that regard, Hayden has found Wooclap to be particularly useful, because it allows students to show they are present and coming along with him. “I think these little checks on learning that Wooclap allows are like a toolkit. At any time, you can throw in a poll or a “true-or-false”, for example, and get a nice little snapshot of where the students are. Wooclap is really powerful for that reason. In the middle of a lesson, when I’m explaining a difficult concept or idea, I can quickly check whether the students have got it. The preparation is minimal, which is what makes Wooclap agile: I can insert it into short, naturally occurring moments in the lesson, and immediately ask everyone what they think. That’s fun, that’s interesting, that’s engagement.”

2. It prepares students for the workplace

When he first started using the cloud and collaborative platforms to teach media production, sharing files with his students through dropbox and wetransfer, it hadn’t occurred to Hayden that he was doing something out of the ordinary. After all, he was simply working the same way people in the industry were.

“I suppose people work in real life by using blended and flipped approaches. You’re expected to be independent, to engage a client, to interact and show good communication skills, and to think critically. It’s my job to infuse that into the curriculum, get people thinking about getting their qualifications, and ultimately prepare them for the job. That engagement and interactivity is very important to me. Particularly in lockdown, we’ve noticed - with tools like Wooclap - that interactivity has become crucial.”

Taylor Ellis, one of Hayden’s students, agrees, saying that “Wooclap allows students to engage as a team and show their understanding of new interactive technology to help students with using more creative features in their coursework”.

“Digital is the way of the future. It makes our students employable.”

Hayden believes it is important to teach students how to use digital tools, not only because of the needs of industry for learners to have independent and digital skills, but because it can be difficult for many of them, more so perhaps than people realise. He says it is similar to feeding vegetables to children: they may not always like it, but they will appreciate the benefits in the long run. That is why, for one hour a week, all students at BCoT learn to use digital tools independently as part of their course.

3. It’s how young people learn

Hayden and his team are always looking for new tools and interactive methods of engaging, because “that’s the nature of the world, and that’s how young people learn. If lessons aren’t as interesting or engaging as a great podcast or Youtube video, then shame on us as teachers. To that end, he emphasises the need to listen to the students and learn from them, finding out what they are interested in and how they like to learn.

Once the pandemic ends, Hayden wants to focus on practical, hands-on, human, activity-focused learning that benefits from being in a physical classroom. In addition, he will complement these live in-person sessions with more flipped, independent, self-paced tasks. “I do not want my students sitting at screens working on independent tasks in college. In college, time is for vibrant, engaging, and meaningful learning experiences.

In that setting, Hayden says Wooclap can be “a constant tool to enhance engagement in all lessons, to give us the checks on learning and evidence of engagement we need when facilitating groups through project-based learning tasks as well as in-class and outside of class learning.

Or, in Taylor Ellis’ words: “Wooclap is a very important tool when it comes to remote learning, as student engagement is key to our attendance and how we manage as a team. Wooclap helps to engage students and keep their minds focused on certain tasks that need to be completed during the lessons in our course curriculum.”

4. It gives teachers feedback on their own practice

Student engagement is not only beneficial to learners. Teachers can also improve their practice by interacting with their students, listening to their preferences, discovering what works and what doesn’t, and even learning from them. For example, the day after we spoke with him, Hayden was going to learn how to use live streaming software from a student.

However, there are also smaller ways in which teachers can open lines of communication with their students - like Wooclap. In Hayden’s experience, Wooclap is like a toolkit or a digital pencil case: you can grab any of these little activities to find out what people are thinking, and get a discussion going.

“Every lesson has its objectives and milestones, and Wooclap allows teachers to stop and ask themselves if they are explaining things clearly. It gets the students to reflect and check whether they understand the lesson, and helps consolidate that learning as well.”

Hayden sees Wooclap as a way to give him confidence as a teacher, seeing what worked and what the students liked, and as a tool that lets him know if he needs to explain something better. As he puts it: “Wooclap distils myriad different tools into one, so I can jump straight to that and help people with little checks on learning, which helps me to be secure that what I’m teaching is being understood.

Gauthier Lebbe

Gauthier Lebbe

Content Editor @ Wooclap, interested in and excited about applying EdTech to the educational needs of today’s students