PIDP 3100/2 – The Impact of Technology on Student Engagement

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John Powszedny 2007

As a new instructor, I want to find out how the trends of technology are impacting student engagement in the modern classroom.  My goal is to explore the roles of the teacher and of the student.

In today’s society, technology is omnipresent.  Travel by bus or aircraft, and you can’t help but notice that most people are busy using their ubiquitous smart phones.  At work, much of the communication is delivered via email.  In our personal lives, communications between friends and loved ones has changed from handwritten letters to telegrams to telephones to emails to instant messaging. Maps have gone from carefully scaled specialized documents to GPS based ones and zeros that make virtually anyone an able navigator. Information was once only available after a careful search in a library .  Today, virtually all the knowledge accumulated in the history of mankind is available to the user by merely making a few clicks on a mouse or taps on a mobile screen. We are bombarded with information, in virtually every language known to man (including Vulcan and Esperanto).  OK, maybe not every tidbit of info is available in Vulcan.  Yet.

Don’t even get me started on the topic of social media.

My personal observations include seeing pre-teens texting at a bus stop to infants using a smartphone in public restaurants.  And I’ve also observed people become edgy when they are cut off from internet service.  Or worse, when they lose, break, or forget their mobile device at home. To think that a mere decade ago,  a smartphone was a luxury item. Today it has become a necessity for many.


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John Powszedny 2010

Trends and Roles: Technology and Students in the Classroom

In James Bryson’s “Engaging Adult Learners: Philosophy, Principles and Practices” (2003), he states that his 4 core beliefs for teaching adults are:



principal based practices

from Bryson 2003 page 14

Bryson believes that while a perfect level of “barrier free learning” is not entirely attainable, continuous improvement of providing education to a diverse population is attainable.  Therefore, continuous improvement should always be considered.

Bryson also notes that some learners have introduced imaginary barriers for teachers to overcome.  These learners:

  • are reluctant readers
  • have become technology dependent (obsessed? addicted?)
  • are transactive (do not memorize, rather they learn to find online etc.)
  • prefer passive learning to active learning
  • have limited capacity for sustained focus
  • are not proficient to higher order thinking
  • are dependent on teacher provided resources
  • find expressing ideas challenging (verbally and in written form)
  • use transactive rather than explicit memory
  • are anxious about the labour market

Bryson goes on to say that each barrier is an opportunity for the teacher’s skill development.   

In their presentation “Engaging Adults Learners with Technology“Saint Mary’s College of Minnesota suggests the following software for using technology in the adult classroom:

I am pledging to give these a try.

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John Powszedny 2007

Personal Reflections

The classroom where I teach hasn’t really changed much from when I was a student. Yes, the chalk board is now a whiteboard, the overhead projector is now a document camera, and the film reels have become powerpoint presentations and youtube videos.  But the format is the same; read the textbooks, discuss the theories, do examples on the document camera, and use animated powerpoints to demonstrate the theories with the class.

Smartphone use in the class is not permitted.  It has been demonstrated to be a distraction; not only for the smartphone user, but for the entire class.

Where my son goes to university (SFU), all the students are encouraged to bring a laptop to classroom lectures.  These are lectures with dozens of screens on, tuned to dozens of websites and applications.  I am skeptical about this.  I wonder how students can focus on the lecture when they have a billion other bits of information (and misinformation) at their fingertips?  Aren’t they distracted?

Mr. Craig Lovell, my assignment partner, noted that as information is available everywhere, the technology can be overwhelming. Information is available anytime anywhere.  With so much information available, when doing research it is easy to get off topic and go down tangential rabbit trails. As he gives presentations, older adults are more focused on the learning than the younger adults.  The older adults come to class with an outcome in mind.  The younger adults come to class for general interest.

It has been my observation that younger students are more comfortable with using electronic devices than older students.  They have always been around technology, take information for granted, and are adept at finding out what is relevant (and what isn’t).

Mr. Lovell postulated one way to reach out to the younger students would be to make a game out of learning.  For an on-line learning example, if students were to earn credits, tokens, or other certification while learning, there would be more satisfaction at achieving progressive levels and tasks.  He theorized that “gamification” would increase satisfaction in the learning.

In my own personal experience as a trades instructor, we introduce and demonstrate theories, and the students demonstrate the learning via exams and lab assignments.  After 10 weeks, they either pass (they require 70% or better) to the next level, or they must repeat the term.  This is similar to Mr. Lovell’s idea, whereas we give credits (marks) and certifications to the students who have been successful at learning.

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John Powszedny 2007

How to Move Forward?

I believe it is my role as a teacher to:

  • Identify and mitigate barriers to learning ” And each time we find ways to reduce barriers to student learning, we reduce barriers to our own enjoyment and satisfaction as teachers” (Bryson 2003)
  • Accomodate diversity (the students aren’t going to change so I should)
  • Embrace technology (if you aren’t moving with the times then you are standing still)
  • Continuously make improvements

One idea I have is to make the lectures available online, and make a textbook  mandatory reading.  Then if a student wanted to review a lecture, she could simply watch it at her leisure.

I believe in barrier-free learning, however, I do not believe that my entire course should be taught online.  Testing and exams must be done face to face.  We are certifying these students to become journeymen, and an incompetent journeyman has the potential to wreak havoc, even death, in an industrial environment.  Hence our standards are strictly governed by regulations.

What and how to move forward?  I believe we should take a blended approach.  A good start will be updating all of our learning materials.  Something simple (oh it is NEVER simple) like updating all of our booklets (new illustrations, page numbers, indexes and a table of contents would be very helpful!), making videos of lectures, and improving our library of powerpoint (or prezi!) presentations would be a start.  Stay tuned.  I will be covering this topic in future blog post updates.

Please post your comments on this topic.  It would be great to have a variety of observations and opinions here!




One thought on “PIDP 3100/2 – The Impact of Technology on Student Engagement

  1. Great post – I like your balanced approach to technology as an enabler but also potential barrier (sometimes even a crutch ?) to learning. Bryson’s four core beliefs are great too.


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