What Online Platforms Help Increase Student Engagement & Learning?

Author: Jesse Melgares, Senior Director of Programs & Partnerships

My youngest sister is a senior in high school, so I asked her, “What is the most difficult part about distance learning?”

“Staying engaged,” she responded.

This surprised me because I would have thought that missing her friends would have been at the top of the list.

Then she added “It’s hard to stay engaged in front of the computer. I do better when my teachers are in person, constantly asking me questions and helping me understand.”

Her distance learning story is probably a familiar one that parents are witnessing all across the country. You know what it looks like: A student slouching in front of a zoom call, checking their phone, spacing out while checking NBA trade rumors (maybe that last one is just me).

Student engagement is also the most common concern I hear when I ask teachers, school administrators, and district leaders. When we think of student engagement we think of both the emotional and the cognitive parts necessary to create engagement. From an emotional standpoint, students need to feel safe to take academic risks in their virtual class. From a cognitive standpoint, students need challenging classwork, productive struggle, and multiple opportunities where the teacher checks for student understanding and provides feedback (this could be in the form of questions, cues, corrective feedback, etc.).

We know that there are many factors that contribute to building a strong plan for student engagement. This is the beginning of a series NTC will be developing focused on building student engagement in a virtual setting. Today we will tackle the question: Which technology platforms help increase the cognitive aspects of student engagement by leveraging constant checks for understanding and providing students feedback? Here are 3 ideas that you might try:

Interactive Videos–One of the most effective ways to leverage technology and provide students feedback is to use interactive videos such as Edpuzzle, PlayPosit or Spiral. Interactive videos have the highest known technology effect size on student learning (for my fellow data nerds, please see the bottom of the post for some correlation numbers). These videos (teacher created or found in a database) are embedded with questions to check for student understanding. Students will need to answer the question in the video in order to move forward with the rest of the video. If they answer it incorrectly, the student can go back to the section of the video that addresses the question. The embedded questions also provide teachers with rich data to look for trends to pull a small group of students, address with the whole class or check in one-on-one.

Intelligent Tutoring Systems–Another idea you might try is to leverage intelligent tutoring systems such as iReady, IXL or Freckle. They provide students with personalized pathways based on their strengths and needs along with constant feedback. They also provide teachers with rich data to be able to see trends to address with students.

Other Tools–Lastly, finding the time to review student work and give them feedback is key. By reading through student writing/work/exit tickets and providing timely feedback. Some ideas include:

  • Providing written feedback (like comments on a google doc), an audio recording (which might be faster than writing)
  • Recording a short video (which helps teachers save time by not having to coordinate schedules to get students to show up to a small group zoom call).
  • Addressing a common error with the whole class, and/or pulling students into small groups/one-on-one for more supports

We would love to hear from you. What are some of the most effective ways you are finding to keep students engaged during the pandemic?

P.S. I’ll keep you updated on my sister’s progress. 🙂


The New Teacher Center is happy to help your district or organization find solutions to your most pressing challenges. At Corning Union Elementary School District, we partnered with district leaders to help design differentiated learning modules for technology for teachers, which included Zoom, Google Classroom and Edpuzzle. We were then able to provide Principals with data to help target supports with the platforms. Contact us if you would like to talk through some of your challenges. You can check out our latest Virtual Case Study with Corning here to learn more.

For my fellow data nerds: Here is what the research says is the correlation between these practices and student learning. Anything that has a .4 or higher correlation is considered a high effect size on student learning. Student engagement has a .47 correlation to student learning and student disengagement has an effect size of -0.14 on student learning. Interactive videos can have a 0.54 effect on student learning, which is the highest known technology effect size on student learning. A good intelligent tutoring system can have an effect size of 0.51 on student learning. You can learn more about effect sizes on student learning by reading The Distance Learning Playbook by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey & John Hattie.

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