Engaging Students with the Right Apps

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We’re deep in the pandemic. Over the last 10 months, educators have been struggling with, striving for, and sometimes achieving student engagement in online learning. A lot of teachers are struggling though.

Through the last 20 years of SoundOut, I’ve learned that students can partner with adults to lead schools through the morass we’re all challenged with. We are dedicated to learning from K-12 students.

Towards that goal, we’ve been having conversations with young people across the country about what works for them. Following is a list of current tech to use in your classrooms. These websites and apps can build student engagement, promote student voice, and foster meaningful student involvement in your classrooms right now.

10 Apps to Use to Engage Students

These are apps and websites students choose to use on their own. Shouldn’t you use them too? If your district doesn’t allow one, look at the next one—there are 20 listed here. Remember, this is tech students currently use that can be used to build student engagement online, right now. If you have other tech to add to this list, please share them in the comments below!

  1. Discord. Imagine a platform where you can talk either by voice or typing. Then visualize it free to use. And students like using it. Now meet Discord. Originally popular with gamers, we believe it is well suited for classroom use, too. It’s free to set up and use, and when you learn to use it and configure it for learning, it can be a powerful tool for student voice. Here are more details about how to use Discord in the classroom »
  2. TikTok. You know about TikTok and you might use it personally. Have you seen how students are talking about COVID-19 there? Have you explored how students represent themselves using the tool? In the comments section, students freely discuss schools, learning, technology, and more, as well as everything else that matters to them. TikTok is easily the most popular social media platform today. Even if you don’t promote using it in class, you should be learning about student engagement there. Here’s an article from Ed Week on using TikTok in the classroom »
  3. WhatsApp. Whether they’re using WhatsApp or other messaging platforms, students are talking about culture, politics, music, and their lives. Educators can use these tools to create neutral spaces with familiar faces for students. Instant messaging provides students with low-barrier ways to connect in appropriate ways with supportive adults in meaningful conversations. Here Pearson shares 5 ways to use WhatsApp in ELL classes that can be applied throughout schools »
  4. Instagram Stories. Teachers are using Instagram Stories to host Q&A sessions, share powerful and fast content, and to grab students’ attention. These sessions can help you take the pulse of where students are with class content, assessments and other benchmarks. They can also help you adjust your lessons accordingly. Here’s a great post on how to use Instagram Stories in the classroom »
  5. Twitch. Twitch is where video gamers go to show the world how good they are at video games by live-streaming to viewers. However, it can be much more. Highly innovative teachers are streaming teaching, learning, and leadership in schools to engage students stuck in their homes. Here are some of the educational channels already on Twitch »
  6. Instagram Posts. Doing a quiz on Instagram can be an easy and accessible way to switch up learning. Decide the topic, prepare images beforehand, and direct students to answer your quiz via comments on with direct messages right on Instagram. You can set a predefined amount of time for responses. Here’s a great post on how to use Instagram in the classroom »
  7. Simple games. Just like your in-class experiences, students need to have fun together. There are ways to play Connect Four on Twitter, scavenger hunts with Google, and tic-tac-toe on Instagram. Challenge your students to play on your school’s account, create worksheets students can share in Google Classrooms, and remember to have fun with students. Here are 16 Ways Teachers Can Use Social Media in the Classroom »
  8. Instagram Live. Use Instagram Live to build student engagement with a platform many students already use daily. Live videos can be a chance for a light discussion on centered around a particular topic, and it doesn’t always need to be serious, either. Hosting a live stream is super easy. After the live stream, you can keep the conversation going on other platforms too. Here’s a great podcast on how to use Instagram Live in the classroom »
  9. Host guest speakers with Instagram Live. Did you know that you can add other users on your Instagram Live? You could plan a live stream with an expert on a particular topic and add other speakers in the stream without having to be physically in the same place. To add another person, they have to request to be added via the chat in the live stream. You could also have guest students speak by having them appear in the live stream as well. Here are 3 reasons to use Instagram Live in your school »
  10. PicMonkey. Fostering students’ critical thinking about media and advertising is definitely a necessary area to cover in classrooms today. You can share opportunities for students to create ads with PicMonkey, which has a free version to create graphics that could potentially be integrated throughout social media about the subject of their choice, or specific topics in your classes. Have students work on a write-up and discuss the mockup of the ad they have created using social media, and if they post them, reflect on what they learned from the process of moving from passive recipients of content towards become active creators. Here’s an intro to PicMonkey for teachers »

Tips

  • Learn your district’s rules for apps and websites.
  • Be careful about the topics and structure when you use these apps and websites.
  • Create a classroom social media plan.
  • Allocate time to be “on-call” for students.
  • Foster safe and supportive environments within social media and instant messaging platforms.
  • Host Q&A sessions on topics separate from your class. Remember students face other issues that have not disappeared.
  • Q&A sessions are also an excellent way to take the pulse of what young people are talking about right now and tackle these topics with other approaches if need be.
  • If you host a live event, make sure you infuse it into your regular class time so students know they get credit for participating. If there is an archive, share the link so students who missed can still watch it.

What would you add to the list above? What tips would you share? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Adam F.C. Fletcher is available to consult, speak, and write.

#StudentVoice is NOT the Same as #EdTech

Technology in education is not student voice. Using tech in schools is not student voice. In no way, shape or form does student voice require tech. When it comes to student voice, BYOD, 1:1, tablets, smartphones, labs, carts, texting, social media are OPTIONS, not requirements.

There’s a myth being sold by some ed tech companies today that using their specific kind of tech, their unique product, or their proprietary program. That’s simply not true.

Student voice does not belong to any one company, nonprofit, approach or activity. This is as true for ed tech as it is for curriculum writers, test writers, policymakers, or anyone else. Just like there can’t be a student voice robot that speaks for students, there can’t be a single technology, innovation or activity that wholesales student expression.

This is true for many reasons, but perhaps the elemental reason is the very definition of student voice. Student voice is any expression of any student about anything related to education and learning. People don’t like that definition because it doesn’t meet their particular desire for students.

From my own experience working with a variety of partners in ed tech, I have found a few who are earnestly committed to engaging student voice throughout education.

However, a large number of ed tech professionals are more committed to selling product and making schools do what they want them to than they are to student voice. VERY few people today are earnestly committed to student voice.

I am not a Luddite or anti-tech, largely because I’m committed to authentic student engagement. Tech can authentically engage students. However, tech is not student voice; there’s a difference.

 


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The Freechild Project—Connecting young people and social change.

SoundOut—Promoting Meaningful Student Involvement in school change.

Adam Fletcher—Youth engagement consultant, speaker and writer