After listening to Sheninger’s 2018 audio book on digital leadership I was left asking how can I increase learner engagement in my classes and develop meaningful relevant learning to teach 21st century skills? For some time now I have noted that while my course has been consistently doing the same material and format as previous years as learner engagement levels dropped. I realized the need to examine my delivery model and bring it in-line with today’s learners needs.

In an effort to understand current course engagement I examined my Moodle user log-in statistics noting frequency and duration. It appeared that as the program progressed long-in durations were longer but frequency declined. Some users stopped accessing material entirely until the week leading up to the midterm exam, coinciding with the overall volume of log-ins increasing. It seemed that log-ins and duration were motivated by the pressures of an assessment or during periods of uncertainty caused by “newness”. I reasoned that engagement frequency could be increased if I allowed for access in the learner’s chosen time and space while allowing for more creative means of demonstrating understanding, removing the standardized midterm.

Sheninger notes that by allowing learners to choose their own tools with which to demonstrate learning,  development real world skills is enhanced (Sheninger, 2014) while integrating digital tools into the classroom increases student engagement and success (Sheninger, 2018). In order for me to understanding how to enable their use within the course curriculum I had to find out what applications the students were using and how they were using them. To do this I engaged the class in some candid conversations, giving them space to express ideas and concerns openly and freely.

After explaining my goal to increase engagement and incorporate digital content and interaction; I asked what their ideal lecture looked like. Using an open forum style chat session they were able to express what worked and what didn’t. Many referenced various digital communication mediums even offering insights how it could be used for class material. It was then that I realized that my lack of understanding of these apps, combined with a limited personal perspective was hindering my ability to be creative in their use. I was going to need a paradigm shift in how I viewed today’s social tools and that isn’t going to happen without concerted commitment on my part.

After considering all the student feedback and the Moodle data, I had a conversation with my department chair. I expressed my desire to increase engagement through the use of digital learning tools and provide skills our graduates will need for tomorrow’s jobs. I explained that from my interpretation of the Moodle data and the observations made by the student body I’d like to try my first Bring Your Own Device (B.Y.O.D.) class and begin the process of moving away from standardized testing; eliminating the written mid-term exam in favor of an individual student digital presentation.  Further expressing the need to start doing things in a new way.

In order to facilitate a change in practice that embraced 21st century teachings and stop doing Old Things in the old way and start doing New Things in a new way (Rijbel, 2019). I needed to move out of the Augmentation stage of the SAMR model of technology integration and into the Modification phase with an eye on Redefinition.

The SAMR model framework breaks down technology integration into four distinct phases. Starting at a position of no technology integration the instructor moves into the S phase, Substitution. This is followed by the Augmentation phase, A, then Modification and finally Redefinition, the R of the acronym S.A.M.R. Using this framework as a reference, I’d place myself somewhere near the end of the Substitution phase, using technology as a replacement for basic information sharing, and moving towards the Augmentation phase, where technology provides some functionality improvement. My ultimate goal is Redefinition but this goal requires a fundamental change my relationship with the digital tools and the on-line social world.

By slowly integrating these social tools into my personal world and making their use a part of my personal professional identity; I can begin to engage with learners and other educators. This will broaden my understandings of the creative use of digital tools for learner development and engagement.

The big question now is where to begin?

What would be your recommended starting point for someone just venturing into the connections of the digital world?




Rijbel, D. D. (2019, May 6). How to implement digital tools successfully in your classroom?

Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of Digital Leadership.

Sheninger, E. (2018, May 10). Digital Leadership Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. – Audiobook. Corwin.

Image credit:  How to implement digital tools successfully in your classroom.