Entertainment vs Engagement

It’s the time of year when the bloom is off the rose in the 1:1 program. The newness of the GoogleSite for PE fitness logs or the collaborative document for editing short stories has worn off and it’s become evident to students and teachers that underneath the “cool” is a pile of work. It’s the time of year when I get requests from teachers to block games, social networking sites, even some email.

It’s healthy when this happens because it makes us look at our teaching…again and again. There is a basic conflict in the approach to the tool between students and teachers that can sometimes be difficult to get over, and that is the difference between entertaining kids with technology and engaging them with it.

What’s the difference? Looking at the meanings of the two words will give you a start. Here are some of the definitions from Dictionary.com



“to hold the attention of pleasantly or agreeably” 

“divert, amuse”

“to hold in the mind”

“maintain, keep up”

“to occupy the attention or efforts of”

“to attract or hold fast”

“to bring into conflict”

“to occupy oneself, become involved”

“to interlock”

It’s fairly easy to see the difference- it’s passive vs. active. If I look to entertain you with technology, I’m looking for flashy websites, videos that tell you how to do something, and tools that get you to pay attention but honestly don’t require you to do much. It’s fun, it’s easy for you as a student, you’ll probably behave better for a while and it is a WHOLE lot of work for me because I have to keep upping the ante. When I engage you, it’s still lots of work for me, but it requires something from you as the student. The difference is the payoff.

So how do you, as a teacher, make the leap? It comes from taking a hard look at what you want students to know, and more importantly, why you want them to know it. Is it because it is a foundation skill for future learning? Is it connected to decisions they will have to make later in life? Is it preparing them for ways to approach problem solving? (It took me 35 years to realize this is why I had to learn math…). You need to be clear before you can begin to engage your students. Once you know, you can move on to getting your students on board with what they need them to do. 

Here are some guidelines. 

Engagement comes from connections. Over and over we hear students say “Why do I have to learn this?” Even if they don’t ask, we have the responsibility to convey to them just how this skill or knowledge piece fits into the rest of the world- and their life. When students are engaged in their learning, they begin to see connections between what they are working on now and what they have learned previously; or (even better) what they can learn in the future. It creates excitement.

How:  Challenge based learning, using tech to bring in experts, creating opportunities for authentic feedback from within your school and outside the school community.

Engagement causes discomfort. We will sometimes be challenging their views, morals, and ethics by what we bring to the classroom. We’ll require them to challenge their own thinking at times. They will squirm, inwardly and outwardly. This is good! Providing a safe environment in which to question the status quo is important. 

How: blogging (regular and microblogging) online debates such as aMap, social networking sites like Ning.

Engagement causes movement. We’ll be asking them  to do something ongoing with what they are learning. How can they use what they learn to affect someone or something else in a positive way? Learning shouldn’t stop because the unit test has been taken.

How: Create partnerships with local community organizations, set up “cause” websites to publicize their efforts and challenge others to join, engage in global projects.

Energized? Here are two links to help you move forward:
Blooms Digital Technology (Resource from Andrew Church that can be downloaded to your machine for reference)
Blooms Activity Analysis Worksheet (printable pdf that helps you figure out where your lesson stands)


4 responses to “Entertainment vs Engagement

  1. Great blog post. I’m glad I read it.

    I couldn’t agree more with the importance of active over passive learning. At times entertaining can also be engaging but it is the responsibility of the teacher and student to make it so.

    Andrew Pass

  2. This is an outstanding look at the difference between “wowing” kids with new technology and moving to involving kids with new technology. The difference is activity. This year we put in 35 Promethean boards. Right now the kids and teachers are in the entertainment stage, they are showing off the new technology but not really engaging students any differently. I think it is time that I start nudging them into the engagement with technology.
    Thank you for this post and for giving me the nudge to make this transformation happen.

  3. You make some great points. It’s easy for a teacher to just use a Smartboard as a blackboard. They think they are using new tech and the kids are excited at first because it’s new, but it wears off quickly.

    Teachers need to find ways to use their tech in a way that allows students to create and learn. One blog in October is not going to cut it long term. A blog for a semester with other classes will engage them and make them uncomfortable when new ideas from other parts of the school come their way.

    As teachers, we need to keep changing it up for the students to engage them in the content and show them in June that everything they did relates to the big picture of the content area.

  4. I agree with you! Entertainment is passive, engagement is active. For me it is the difference between doing old things in new ways (for example having students watch a PowerPoint or a video) as opposed to having students do new things in new ways to really harness the power of the technology – to have them actually create something that will be shared with others and to give them choices about how they show their learning and understanding.

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