Engagement Online? Say What!?

I’ve had the good fortune of working in Face-to-Face (F2F) settings as well as fully cyber and even a hybrid school. I’ve seen what teaching looks like in all of those spaces, and the consistent gripe I hear is that you can’t truly engage learners online like you can in a F2F environment. I beg to differ.

From my dissertation, I wrote that the introduction of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) transformed skill sets needed for today’s world (Anderson, 2010).  Traditional classrooms imparted static information, while materials changed at unfathomable rates (Kurzweil, 2005).  ICT shifted teacher roles from “knowledge transmitter; primary source of information to learning facilitator, collaborator, coach, knowledge navigator and co-learner” and student roles from “passive recipient of information to active participant in the learning process” (Anderson, 2010, p. 15).  ICT changed the shape of education (Christensen, Horn, & Staker, 2013; November, 2012; Tan, et al., 2017; Vander Ark, 2012; Whitman & Kelleher, 2016).  Papert (1984) expounded decades ago “computers would blow up the school.  The whole [school] system was based on a set of structural concepts that were incompatible with the presence of the computer” (p. 38).  This flattened the classroom, removed the four concrete walls, and allowed technology to give students access to the world (Friedman, 2005).  The flat classroom does not exist with learning only happening inside the four walls of the classroom (Friedman, 2005).  “All of this has implications for lifelong learning because educators now recognize that learning does not stop” inside the classroom; it continues with equal access to the “global storehouse of knowledge” (Anderson, 2010, p. 19).  Technology helped to “deschool” the confines of the physical building, schedule, and organization that traditional schools reflected (Selwyn, 2017, p. 138). 

If Papert in 1984 knew that “computers would blow up the school,” then why are we still doing school the same way? Why are students still in rows? Why are they only heard when a hand is called upon, and why aren’t we opening the “four walls” of the classroom to the “global storehouse of knowledge?” Of course I’m generalizing from the majority of environments I’ve seen and the things I’ve heard from others in my university classes I teach. Why though are we still teaching the same way – just with handouts online now to read and type a discussion response and call that online learning. In my opinion that is not online learning. That is online busywork in an online filing cabinet.

My Class Meeting Using Zoom

Last night, I reviewed a flipgrid between the students in my course. The flipgrid was to be a reflection of our class the night before. Let me give some background on that class first. We met online using zoom which is an amazing online meeting tool. There were students from NY, CT, PA, VA, and I was actually in North Carolina on vacation at the time.

We introduced ourselves first then we got into the learning portion. I had created a lesson in Nearpod already and most had access to view it before we started. No point in keeping it a secret until we met. We split our screens to see each other in zoom and then worked through the Nearpod together. We read articles and responded on Collaborate boards, but the COOLEST thing we did was go into breakout rooms and work on a google doc together. I thought this was a normal online routine with zoom, but apparently, none had ever done anything like this before…and this is an online program for most of them. The comments I received in the reflection flipgrid later were awesome. Students made comments like, “last night was one of the most exciting times in a classroom that I have ever had since my graduate studies began. I did not know there were so many ways to use technology in an online class!” This actually choked me up a bit.

I think the other aspect of this course is that I do not require a “one answer is the right answer” or “one project is the only way project.” Whenever I create an assignment, I allow the learners to choose how they want to display the information they learned to me and to their classmates. In the padlet below, students read an article and chose which one they wanted to present and the format by which they wanted to present it. You can see, I created five columns for the five articles. Learners chose the article and some presented the information through Canva, Piktochart, Biteable, and Google Slides.

I think what I see is that we as teachers need to be willing to release control of our information and give more voice to students in our classes – whether online or F2F.


  1. Anderson, J. (2010).  ICT transforming education: A regional guide.  UNESCO.  Retrieved from https://unesdoc.unesco.org/in/documentViewer.xhtml?id=p::usmarcdef_0000189216&file=/in/rest/annotationSVC/DownloadWatermarkedAttachment/attach_import_86305f76-914b-453d-bbf2-f7172e67c3f5%3F_%3D189216eng.pdf&locale=en&multi=true&ark=/ark:/48223/pf0000189216/PDF/189216eng.pdf#page=14&zoom=auto
  2. Christensen, C., Horn, M., & Staker, H., (2013).  Is K-12 blended learning disruptive: An introduction of the theory of hybrids.  Retrieved from https://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Is-K-12-blended-learning-disruptive.pdf
  3. Friedman, T. L. (2005).  The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  4. Kurzweil, R. (2005).  The singularity is near.  New York City, New York: Penguin Group. 
  5. November, A. C. (2012). Who owns the learning?  Preparing students for success in the digital age.  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
  6. Papert, S. (1984). Trying to predict the future. Popular Computing, 3(13): 30-44.
  7. Selwyn, N. (2017). Education and technology: Key issues and debates. New York, New York: Bloomsbury.
  8. Tan, J., Choo, S., Kang, T., & Liem, G. A. D. (2017). Educating for twenty-first century competencies and future-ready learners: research perspectives from Singapore, Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 37:4, 425-436, DOI: 10.1080/02188791.2017.1405475
  9. Vander Ark, T. (2012). Getting smart: How digital learning is changing the world. [Kindle].  Retrieved from https://read.amazon.com/.
  10. Whitman, G., & Kelleher, I. (2016). Neuroteach: Brain science and the future of education. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.