online education

Below what circumstances do digital instruments assist college students to achieve success?

An article originally published on The Conversation by Margault Sacré, PhD in Psychology and Education from the University of Liège.

The closure of universities and educational institutions during the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a massive use of digital tools in teaching and learning. At the end of this period, the teachers did not put away these computer tools and skills. On the contrary, hybrid training (combination of presence and online offers), which has been on the rise for several years, has become even more firmly established in the university landscape.

What adjustments are needed to continue to meet student expectations? How can digital tools meet their needs to support their success?

feel competent

Research has long demonstrated the positive impact of formative feedback, that is, feedback aimed at informing students of the level they are at rather than grading or grading them. This feedback can be given after exercises, work or activities as part of the course, and digital tools allow it to be automated. For example, it is possible to carry out MC questions, fill in the blank exercises, association or classification exercises and give students feedback based on their answers.

Feedback can include the correct answer with an explanation or additional information, but can also direct students to specific sections of the course. They are all the more effective because they contain information.

This approach enables students to be aware of the gaps that exist between the intended learning outcomes and their current state of knowledge, and guides them in the actions that need to be taken to close these gaps. Therefore, formative feedback strengthens self-regulation and enables students to take control of their own learning. Evaluations allow them to monitor their progress without academic involvement, and research shows that this mechanism can promote positive perceptions of their skills.

Offering this type of online activity to students also changes their relationship with mistakes. Students are less afraid of making mistakes when doing exercises online because if they make a mistake, it’s easier for them to go back and start over again. Additionally, receiving negative feedback from a machine rather than the teacher somehow erases the social pressures associated with it. Under these conditions, making mistakes would have little adverse effect on students’ sense of competence.

Feel autonomous

Studies suggest that in order to fulfill this need for autonomy, it is necessary to mobilize students’ intrinsic motivation, in particular by emphasizing interest in the content taught, fostering a deep understanding of it and explaining the links to professional practice. . Again, digital tools can support this sense of performing tasks through personal choice rather than coercion. Therefore, teachers can consider the following:

  • provide students with management tools – calendar, timetable, automatic reminders – so they can get an overview of the course and structure their learning;

  • Make key resources available from the beginning of the course – so they can work and progress at their own pace;

  • Allow students to record the tracks of their learning – ePortfolios, the ability to annotate, highlight, bookmark documents, etc.

  • Providing personalized learning plans based on student knowledge – individualization or differentiation of learning.

Another track to explore is the implementation of gamification elements in the classroom, such as B. Levels to achieve or challenges… In gamified devices, students tend to choose more difficult tasks and submit higher-quality work, reflecting greater intrinsic motivation.

Feel socially integrated

People-to-people interactions were sorely missed by students and teachers during the pandemic-related school closures, and digital interactions ultimately made up very little for the lack of face-to-face interactions. When the teachers delivered their lessons via videoconferencing, they “felt like they were speaking in a vacuum”: the majority of the students turned off their cameras and microphones, uncomfortable at the idea of ​​being in front of all the other students.

However, in the context of hybrid teaching, digital tools can be a way to expand or even generate face-to-face interactions, especially when teachers are targeting large cohorts of students. In fact, joint tasks, organizing debates, carrying out projects or tutoring are activities that are difficult to organize with groups of more than fifty students.

On the other hand, these activities can be facilitated by using different tools: spaces for collaboration with shared documents, instant discussion channels that allow the exchange of text, voice or video, asynchronous discussion forums.

In addition to their own interest, setting up this type of activity and allowing students to interact remotely can allow them to integrate and belong to a group – a promotion, a work group, or even a group of friends. Even if it mainly takes place face-to-face, the need for social closeness can be strengthened in different ways.

Obstacles to consider

The research makes it possible to find ways to support students’ needs, but also raises tensions around the changes in classroom practices. Even before the multiple restrictions, teachers were very reluctant to use digital tools.

Teachers are not necessarily trained in these tools and develop a low sense of self-efficacy about their use and computing in general. In some cases, they don’t realize their usefulness. That mood, coupled with sometimes disastrous experiences during the pandemic, only weakens teachers’ use of technology.

Despite everything, 60% of teachers (40% in Belgium, 45% in France) take part in professional development on the use of digital tools, showing that despite the obstacles, teachers are taking their professional development in their own hands in this area.

If we still doubt it, the “digital natives”, these young people who did not get to know the world without the Internet, are not naturally equipped with special computer skills. Even when they have access to the necessary materials, they sometimes lack instrumental skills (effective use) or strategic skills (searching, sorting, and evaluating information). Therefore, the use of digital tools in the classroom requires taking into account their basic needs, but also guiding them in their use. Showing students how to navigate institutional platforms to reach exercises and resources will save them time and avoid frustration.

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