About gwilson10

Educator. Enjoy living and working in country NSW. Working in K-12 school. Like science in particular physics and astronomy. This blog is about issues in education. The view expressed here are my own and not those of my employer.

How do we measure student engagment?

Wordle: Student engagement What does student engagement in a classroom look like? How do you know that a student is engaged in learning?

We often hear that students or engaged in learning, classes are engaged in learning, that a particular task is engaging or that particular strategies such as games based learning or project based learning are engaging but how do you know they are engage students in learning?

 Some have argued that engagment is one of the most misused term in education. There is a difference between a student being on task and in task. A student who is on task may not be engaged they are “doing” the task but they may be cognitively disconnected from the task and not emotional commected to the task.

To be explicit I will follow the definition used in the Fair Go project   that suggests student engagement operates at three levels:

  • cognititive – thinking (head)
  • affective – feeling (heat)
  • operative – doing (hands)

So how do you know if a student is engaged (in task) that is they have their engaged their head, heart and hands in the task? Is engagement too difficult to measure within a classroom?

Do measures of enagement include:

  • the number of questions a students asks? Especially those the teacher does not know the answer?
  • the time the student spends on the task outside normal classroom times?
  • the discussions on the topic?

What are your measures of student engagement in the classroom?

Games based learning without the technology?

Games, games based learning are engaging. A question that I have been interested in “Is it possible to apply the principles of games mechanics (or games dynamics) to the classroom?” Can we use the principles of games design to make our classrooms more engaging for our students.

Several have discussed the game mechanics for example Amy Jo Kim, Rajat Paharia, Seth Priebatsch and Michael Wu. Quest to Learn use the form of games for the basis of their pedagogy. Even though each have different has a different focus and uses slightly different language, they have similarities. Setting aside the attention grabbing effects, games:

1.  Operate in what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi termed the flow. That is the level of challenge matches the skill level of the player. The challenge level is not too hign as to cause anxiety and not too low so the player is apathetic or bored. As the skill level of the player increases so does the level of the challenge.

2. Games reward the player using a variable reinforcement schedule. The player is rewarded with a small or large outcome where the player cannot predicted when or what actions will cause it. This is a powerful way to manipulate behaviour.

3. A purpose. This purpose may be to collect things (for example trading cards or friends in social media) or quest to save the World.  There can be multiple short and long term goals.

4. Players can earn points, which can be used to motivate and engage players. Points can be awarded by the game for achieving goals or mini goals or they can be social points awarded by others. Points can be used in competitive manner in the form of leader boards. Points are used to monitor progress and increase the level of difficulty.

5. Provide feedback either from the system or from other players. Feedback from the system can accelerate the drive for mastery. Feedback from others can drive engagement.

6. Structured social interaction. This can range from players taking turns adding a friend or adding a comment.

7.Games allow for customisation ie personalisation or player choice.

8. Cascading of information: Information and instruction are provided in small bits, usually in a just in time manner.

Bartle also suggests there are 4 player types that each game must cater to:

  • The socialiser who likes interactions and works with others,
  • The achiever who likes to gain points, levels and things,
  • The explorer who likes to work out the game, rules of the universe, and
  • The killer who likes to impose themselves on others.


What does this mean for a classroom?

Using the principals outlined above would mean:

  • There is a purpose or quest for the learning that is valued by the student.
  • That learning is personalised for each students in the classroom to ensure they are in the flow. That the task (or challenge) is not to hard or easy for their skill level. As each student will be at different skill levels there will be a variety of tasks, each with different levels of challenge. Information is provided to each student just as they need to learn it.
  • Students can personalise their learning and they have choices.
  • There are a variety of long term and short term learning goals.
  • Feedback from the system (the teacher) to each student is rapid, frequent and clear. This feedback would link student actions to consequences. Any effort is rewarded. There would need to be opportunities for feedback from others.
  • There are opportunitiesfor structured social interactions eg taking turns, adding a friend or adding comments.

It also raises questions:

  • How can we provide opportunities for students to “level up”?
  • How can we create a truly variable reinforcement schedule in the classroom? That is how do we create rewards that are valued by the player, that provide an element of uncertainty as to when the reward will appear and how big it is?

Technology allows game designers to incorporate all these elements and more into a single game. They provide the player with structured experiences with rules and goals that are fun.

As educators can we provide these experiences for our students in a traditional classroom?

How do we fit it all in?

The purpose of education in the 21st century identified important skills for students. It might be time to reframe and view what we are doing through the lens of this purpose to avoid an overly crowded curriculum .

That is we can view whatever we are teaching (the content) as opportunities for at least one of these skills: critical thinking, problem solving, developing information …..

For example the purpose of a Year 4 lesson on longitude and latitude is not just about longitude and latitude: its purpose is also the development of information skills. The content provides an opportunity to develop skills in finding information. Students learn how use a search engine, in particular how and what questions to ask the search engine.

When reframing the purpose of a lesson to include the skills of the 21st C there can be changes not just in how we teach, what we teach but how we assess. For example in the Year 4 lesson on longintude and latitude should the teacher assessment be based on the questions the students asked, the information found or a combination?

Wordle: porpose of education in 21st C

What is the purpose of Education in the 21st Century?

With the development of a National Curriculum in Australia it is timely to ask the question “What is the purpose of Education in the 21st Century?”.

Systemically the purpose of education in Australia is outlined in the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians that outlines two goals:

  1. Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence; and
  2. All Australian students become successful learners; confident and creative individuals; and active and informed citizens   

Some may argue that the purpose of education has changed little from the time of Plato who believedthat the purpose of education was to teach “good character, citizenship and leadership”. A common theme throughout the history of public education in the United States, the UK  and Australiais the the need of public education to be free, compulsory and secular. Also, education should produce informed, useful and active citizens. What has changed is what it means to be an active, useful and informed citizens.

Educator responses to a question in YAMMER “What is the purpose of education in the 21st Century?” indicated that there still is a strong belief that a purpose of education is still to develop citizens. Whether that be sustaining community, inter-cultural understanding, socialisation, preparing students for the society in which they will live, transmission of culture in society, develop the skills that will help them with their future lives, good people or to develop respectable, thoughtful and creative citizens who participate in the wider society.

Further it was suggested that there are skill that students will require include: 

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Creative expression
  • Communication skills
  • Access, interrogate and manipualte  information. Create content
  • Understand yourself. How you learn. Your perceptual and cognitive biases.
  • Collaborate
  • Peaceably resolve conflict
  • Knowledge of a discipline
  • Interdisciplinary knowledge

Some may see these as the skill necessary for students to become active and informed citizens in the 21st Century.

How we do and how we put it into a framework are questions for another time. But however we do this we must ensure that the love of learning is kept alive. “Education is about lighting that inner fire – not filling a bottle”

What do you see as the purpose of education in the 21st Century?