Engage Students to Learn: Using Digital Tools to Enhance Teaching Blended Courses

Concurrent Session 10

Brief Abstract

This presentation will focus on student engagement and blended learning by introducing five digital tools great for teaching blended courses. Anyone who is interested in blended learning will take away with practical ideas and free resources that can be used to engage students in blended learning.   


Hong Wang is an educator and advocate for innovative pedagogy and technology integration in teaching to create engaging learning experience for students, with a focus on blended and online learning. She has worked in higher education for 20 years with extensive experience in course design, technology integration in teaching, and professional development for faculty in blended and online learning. Hong holds a doctorate in educational technology and serves as Associate Director of Instructional Technology Training at NOVA Online for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community colleges in the United States. She has been managing the college's training program on blended learning and workshops related to online teaching. She enjoys collaborating with faculty and colleagues to build a community of effective practices in blended and online courses to support student success. She is also a certified Quality Matters Online Facilitator and Peer Course Reviewer. Hong has made numerous presentations at national and international conferences on educational technology and online learning.

Extended Abstract

Student engagement is a hot topic in higher education, and it is increasingly recognized as key to student success in higher education (Pascarella et al., 2010). Thomas (2010) found that student engagement is very prominent as it closely connects with student success:

“It has become increasingly clear that ‘success’ means helping all students to become more engaged and more effective learners in higher education, thus improving their academic outcomes and their progression opportunities after graduation (or when they exit higher education).”

According to the Higher Education Academy (2010) in the UK, student engagement has three key attributes: individual student engagement in learning, student engagement with structure and process, and student engagement with identity. Fredricks, Blemenfeld, and Paris (2004) defined three types of engagement: behavioral engagement, emotional engagement, and cognitive engagement. Behavioral engagement relates to participation in academic and social activities that lead to positive academic outcomes. Emotional engagement is about relationships with teachers, classmates and administrators that encourage a love of learning. Cognitive engagement refers to investment in deep learning of concepts and skills. The engagement in this presentation is focused on individual student engagement in learning and cognitive engagement.

Allen and Seaman (2016) categorized blended learning as 30-79% of learning online while the rest of learning occurs in the classroom. Graham (2006) stated that blended learning does not only blend online and face-to-face teaching but also blend instructional modalities (or delivery media) and blend instructional methods. Garrison and Kanuka (2004) defined blended learning as “the thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences” (p. 96). Picciano (2009) defined a blended course as “a course that integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner” (p. 97).

Blended learning has many benefits. Graham, Allen, and Ure (2005) cited three general purposes for blended adoption: 1) enhanced pedagogy, 2) increased access and flexibility, and 3) improved cost-effectiveness and resource use. Blended learning provide pedagogical benefits such as increased learning effectiveness, satisfaction, and efficiency (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004; Graham, 2013). Blended learning has also potential to increase access and flexibility for students who work full time or have family responsibilities or cater to students who prefer face-to-face interaction in addition to students who prefer online learning (Graham, 2006; Wallace & Young, 2010). Blended learning can also improve cost effectiveness and resource use such as classroom space and parking lots (Graham, 2013).

In addition to the benefits, blended learning has some potential challenges (King & Arnold, 2012). First, students may struggle with technology in the opening weeks of a course. Students need to have knowledge and accessibility to resources that enable them to be successful with the online learning component. Second, students may experience a lack of motivation to complete the coursework due to time management issues when the class does not meet in person (Vaughan, 2007; Holenko & Hoic-Bozic, 2008). Faculty also need to be prepared for the initial time commitment needed to prepare a blended course (Ho et al., 2006). Some faculty may also need to get used to the changing role from a lecturer or a sage on the stage to a coach and guide on the side so as not to fear losing their lecturing identity (Eynon, 2008).

As student engagement is key to student success and technology is one of the potential challenges related to blended courses, this presentation will introduce five digital tools that are great to engage students in blended courses, including X-Mind, Screencast-O-Matic, PollEeverywhere, EdPuzzle, and VoiceThread.

 X-Mind: X-Mind is one of the most popular concept mapping tools. With its ease in use and useful templates, users can easily create maps to visually display the relationships between concepts. This digital tool is great to engage students in learning by bridging prior learning and current learning as well as the face-to-face and online learning components in blended courses.

Screencast-O-Matic: Screencast-O-Matic is a screen capture tool that can be used to create online learning content, such as lectures, online tutorials, or a quick demonstration. It’s a cloud based application that a user can record the screen, the webcam, or both. A free account can capture a 15 minutes record that is often sufficient for most digital objects. The recording can be saved as .mp4 or uploaded to YouTube if a user has a YouTube account. This digital tool is great to engage students in learning content when planning and developing learning materials or demonstrations for the online component of blended courses.

PollEverywhere: PollEverywhere is an interactive polling tool that can be used in the classroom or a synchronous online session. One of the challenges many instructors for blended courses face is how to check whether students have done their work before coming to the classroom. This can be a great tool that is used to check students work before the class or check students’ understanding during the class so that instructors can adjust teaching accordingly. A free account is available for 25 people to respond a live poll. The poll can have multiple types of questions such as multiple choice, word cloud, Q & A, and open-ended questions. Audience can participate using a computer or a mobile device such as an iPhone or an iPad. The audience’s responses can be projected to the screen for display polling results to instructors and students. This digital tool is great to engage students during the face-to-face classroom time or a synchronous online session in blended courses.  

EdPuzzle: EdPuzzle is a web-based application that a user can easily take existing videos such as YouTube or Khan Academy, creating online quizzes to check students’ understanding or check whether they have watched the video before the face-to-face meetings in the classroom. An instructor can create a free account to share videos and related activities with students. This digital tool is great to engage students with online learning content such as open educational resources like YouTube.  

VoiceThread: VoiceThread is a cloud-based application that has been recently integrated with Blackboard learning management system. It can be used to present content in a multimedia format, including text, pictures, audio, and video; comment on or ask a question about a lecture or a presentation; and discuss a variety of topics in a visual and personalized way. This digital tool is great to connect face-to-face classroom learning and online learning in blended courses.

It is an exciting and challenging time to teach in the digital age. While we are provided more options to teach students, we also face a choice of selection among resources. These five digital tools are what I have found to be effective engaging students in blended learning. I hope you will also find them to be helpful in your teaching.


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