Technology, Engagement, and Modeling


We have all heard the catch phrases before – engaged learners, student engagement. We need to keep our students engaged…as if that could ‘trick’ them into learning what it is we need want to teach them.

Very often we look to technology to do just that – get students engaged.

But, today I’m asking myself, what does engagement mean?

So, I looked it up online 🙂
Here are 5 definitions from Merriam Webster:
1: involved in activity : occupied, busy
2: pledged to be married : betrothed
3: greatly interested : committed
4: involved especially in a hostile encounter
5: partly embedded in a wall
6: being in gear : meshed
Engaged. (n.d.). Retrieved January 5, 2015, from

Of those definitions, I imagine numbers 1 and 3 to match what we think of when talking of student engagement : to be busy and interested.

But is this really all we want for our students?

When we bring technology into the classroom, it can automatically make our students appear busy and interested. But, while we hope the learners in our room are using their technology for good we can not remain blind to the fact that the busy-ness is actually the rapid clicking between browser tabs (with YouTube, Twitter, Hockey, etc… getting way more active screen time than the Google search for their essay topic…) as we walk around the room.

Technology can be distracting. I have often sat down at my computer or with my tablet for just a minute…only to get up an hour or more later. So we can blame technology for distracting students from their academic purpose. But at the same time, I remember hiding pocket books behind text books and notes to friends behind essay papers… and more recently I remember pretending to take notes at workshops when actually correcting student work. Boring is boring no matter how we package it.

I want more from the students I teach or the educators I work with than engagement with predetermined material.

Have you read or seen George Couros speak before? I invite you to visit his blog, he has so much good to offer education: “With the world now literally at our fingertips, “engagement” should not be the highest bar we set for our students. If we can develop meaningful learning opportunities that empower our students to make a difference, our impact will go beyond their time they spent in our classrooms. Technology alone will never provide this.” (from The Myths of Technology series – Technology Equals Engagement)

In fact, if we assume that our students know how to use technology in school we may be doing them a greater disservice than we realize. Technology by itself is not the key to learning and left on its own it can actually degrade the learning and lifestyles of our most vulnerable learners.


Students don’t necessarily know how to use technology properly.
Technology does not equal engagement.
(and engagement may not even be what we want for our students in the first place.)

Do I still think technology is important for education?


More important, though, is the teacher.

Years ago, Haim Ginott wrote about the teacher being the one who sets the tone in a classroom. The teacher is the ultimate model for learning.

Think about that for a minute. As teachers, we are the most important models in our students’ learning lives.

As teachers we need to model technology use, just as we need to model any other expectation. Yes, even with adult learners.

We do this not only by showing the learners in our care how to do certain things – like how to do an internet search that yields positive results – but by just using technology for good on a daily basis. We can no longer say that technology doesn’t belong in the classroom. Can you imagine any other profession refusing to use technology?

What? You want a colonoscopy? Sorry, I don’t believe in using technology.

It is part of how people do things.

Students look to us for inspiration and for lessons – we are models whether we like it or not! Our super powers lie in the choices we make about how we model. I sincerely believe that it is by choosing to model passion for learning that we created inspired, passionate learners.

I have come to a frightening conclusion.

I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis
will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.

Dr. Haim G. Ginott (1975), Teacher and child: A book for parents and teachers, New York, NY: Macmillan. ISBN 0-380-00323-6.