Smarter Classroom Learning

How to increase student engagement and productivity.

GUEST COLUMN | by Michael Yarbrough

CREDIT Echo360As a student, I remember my educators wearing a lot of hats to make their students stay focused and interested during a lesson. Numerous cards, illustrations, and other handouts were regularly exchanged for new ones to work at a rather quick pace. Those days are gone. Now, being an instructor myself with nearly six years of experience, I do understand how hard it is to stay on the same page with students, and especially in keeping them highly engaged all the time.

To keep track of student performance and attendance, Chicago’s public schools launched the Check and Connect program. As part of it, each student was matched up with a specially qualified mentor who took great care of the students to help prevent them from dropping

Something like 54% of children start using mobile devices between the ages of 5 and 8. This means that even in early childhood gadgets become ingrained into their lives.

out of school. Can other educational institutions create similar programs? Sure they can. But much still depends on each educator and the actions or approaches he or she will decide to take. Technologies are among the things that can come in handy to achieve better student engagement and productivity.

Something like 54% of children start using mobile devices between the ages of 5 and 8. This means that even in early childhood gadgets become ingrained into their lives. Does it mean you as an educator should teach students how not to be gadget-addicted? Or is it better to show how these devices can be used for studying and interacting with others in the class? I think the second option makes more sense.

Modern students are seeking immediate responses, advice or feedback. They tend to spend more time online than offline. Why not make them think of their devices as academic interaction channels with their peers and instructors and teach them how to effectively balance online and offline work?

Choosing Appropriate Classroom Tools

When choosing tech solutions for broader student engagement, you need to carefully study them. In the best-case scenario, a free trial will help you decide if one is worthy or not.

So, to understand whether a tool is good or not, pay attention to the following criteria:

  • Startup time, which shouldn’t be too long;
  • Simple interface, which shouldn’t require additional training to understand how all functions work;
  • Supporting multiple formats of work including individual and group activities;
  • Possibility to be adapted to different devices.

For example, if you choose a so-called “flipped” learning model, which implies watching lectures at home and accomplishing assignments under an instructor’s supervision in the classroom, you will obviously need a platform allowing the sharing of video materials and creating group activities for students.

As for me, I give preference to the tools and apps that can boost students’ creative thinking as well and make them interested in finding out how to write unique papers. Below is a list of some of them. Hopefully, you will find them of great help too.


Echo360 is a multifunctional platform for capturing lectures or lessons in real-time, creating live webcasts, or recording presentations from the comfort of your office or home. This tool is suitable for the “flipped” learning model I mentioned above. You can prepare a series of lectures or presentations for students to watch at home and then proceed working with them on related assignments in the classroom.

Additionally, you can make interactive polls and quizzes to check students’ understanding of the subject you explained in the recorded material. This tool lets you dedicate more time to discussions and group work. The platform keeps track of each student’s learning index including participation in discussions, number of video views or notes taken, attendance, and more.


Offering various types of checks and detailed reports with clickable original sources, the online plagiarism checker Unplag can be used as a learning tool as well. Quite often students have a negative attitude towards plagiarism detectors. That’s why I try my best to change their point of view by turning them into reliable assistants helping students write originally and cite all the sources in their works.

To show students how to do it in practice, you just need to ask them to open accounts and check the same text to analyze all the duplications the checker highlights. By making all necessary edits, ask students to scan the text once again so they can notice how the similarity rate decreases. In addition, the tool can exclude citations and references from the search to show more accurate results.


This tool helps boost both speaking and creative thinking skills. GoAnimate allows for the creation of videos with animated characters and choosing different backgrounds, music, and props from its library.

Ask your students to come up with how-to guides, stories, book summaries, or visual explanations of complex terms or phenomena and present them to other peers. GoAnimate works well for honing writing and listening skills as well. To make everybody in the classroom engaged, let one of the students hold a presentation while all the others should take brief notes of the speech and then analyze its pluses and minuses.

Some Final Thoughts 

Whenever you incorporate any new tool into your lessons, ask your students to participate in a quick poll and speak their mind on each one. The majority of votes will help you decide which ones to keep using since the key to successful student engagement is having them participate in the decision-making process.

Besides, technologies should also be used for off-classroom communication. For that I often use Google Hangouts. By initiating live video chats with several students or giving advice to each student individually, you strengthen your instructor-student connection and contribute much to establishing long-term trust-based relationships.

Michael Yarbrough is a former school teacher, currently working as an ESL tutor. On a daily basis, he encourages his students and assists them in reaching their biggest dreams – and does this with pleasure. He will be happy to meet you on Twitter or Google+.

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