New School Year.  New Ideas.

The new school year is always an interesting time for consideration. As educators and education providers we know that education is a year round pursuit, but at the new school year and the new calendar year our professions has these “self imposed” informal think periods. Budgets and calendar drive these moments.  This is where we ask questions. We question how we are doing. We question how we are teaching. How we measuring. How we are performing.

Question How We Engage.

Engagement is a particularly interesting topic for education because from it we can then begin to craft more engaging solutions. Of course the challenge is that the only way to measure engagement is to have something from which you are trying to determine the amount of engagement.

But what if we want to step back even further? What if we wanted to use engagement as one of the key criteria for how we create and introduce new education ideas?

What To Do?

You start by asking questions. But as anyone who has asked enough questions knows, when you ask questions often times the people answering don’t often actually know what they want. Here is a great TED talk about spaghetti sauce to illustrate this point. (and by the way – this talk by Malcolm Gladwell is a wonderful way to spend 18 minutes of your life!)

What else To Do?

THIS is the big idea. With technology we are in an amazing place to really begin to see what people are interested in. We are also able to see how people are interested in accessing information, in digesting information and in sharing information.

The sharing part is critical as it seems fair to say that if someone shares a piece of content we can use that information to form the basis of an opinion that says they are engaged.

We can also use other technology metrics to begin to go further. Assuming we are going to use a flipped classroom model, we can also use real time student dashboards to monitor performance and also to be able to more adequately provide customized solutions based on the needs of each student.

We can use other methods from entirely other fields to help foster engagement. Things like the size of a video player. How big an impact sound quality has on attention. Font colors. Typography.  Font size based on the age and reading level of your audience.  Use of images.  These all have major impacts on how long people interact with a particular piece of media.  Engagement!

If we recognize that media is going to have a larger role moving forward, we as a nation have an amazing and rich history in the world of entertainment – suddenly the idea of utilizing Hollywood storytelling devices does not seem so outlandish. We’ll leave the talk about Hollywood budgets for the folks in Hollywood… The point being this group of people inside our economy happen to be among the best storytellers the world has ever known. Toward that end, take a look at this article on Drama Week in Education by the New York Times. Engagement!

We can also look at things like Apps (take a look at the iTunes App Store) and you begin to see how rich this world is. And yes, if you take the next step, go ahead and view the education category inside the iTunes App Store and you can see for yourself how big an impact past successes from entirely different App verticals have had on the App Education space. Engagement!

Other amazing areas that we can find for engagement inspiration are happening online. The Social Web in particular is truly defining. If we look at how students are engaging on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, not only are they providing us with amazing insider views into what they find engaging, but we can also use many of these same signals to determine how it is that the student of today is engaged. Towards that end make sure to check out this inforgraphic on Students and Social Media. And this idea is not limited to just students. Teachers are active in the social web. And so are parents. Amazing rich opportunities to mine for… Engagement!

New School Year. New Ways to Engage.

We all know this is one of those challenges that will continue to evolve, as will the problems, as will the solutions. But that does not mean we ever stop searching for the answer.

In particular as we are getting ready to start the new year it is critical that we all participate in this dialogue!  We all dig deep and continue to explore.  We continue to grow.  And yes, we all also continue to take stock of what we need and make sure we are not succumbing to “shiny object syndrome.”

Why Now?

What is so interesting is that this year, it does appear that education has once again entered the mainstream. It is extremely gratifying to see this year the conversation about education is happening across the country, from our kitchen tables through to the our national newscasts.

Perhaps that is a direct result of the fact that education is one aspect that everyone in our nation shares in?

Perhaps it is because education is something we all understand as a result of having all gone to school and it might be a very easy way to come to grips with the larger economic forces at play within our nation where we have seen a dramatic shift towards technology?

Perhaps it has to do with some dramatic shifts in the needs of our future work force?

Technology Already At Play.

Another interesting way to look at the issue of engagement is to take the view that many of the ideas and approaches we alluded to are already at play – and as a result of some early successes the entire idea of technology inside of education makes more sense because we are seeing some very promising early results.

Here at Why Science are big believers in value of technology inside our classroom, which makes sense as we provide STEM focused blended learning solutions, we have put into practice is a very agile framework for development that is heavily reliant on what is engaging.  And we are not alone.  It has been very fun to observe how so many other talented individuals and companies have approached this space and how so many of these companies have been able to utilize and advance engaging ideas from other spaces and bring them into their education solutions.

What is so exciting is that we are only at the beginning both of where this technology cycle is heading and also how it will continue to help shape the ways in which we teach and engage in the classroom.

Technology, Education and Engagement.

There are a number of truly amazing companies all working hard in this space, looking to integrate many of the best technology practices into our classrooms.  And in technology a big measurement is always based on engagement.  And perhaps that in large part is why technology and education fit so well together – they both require very high levels of engagement in order to be successful.


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