How a school went from 0 to 50% student engagement in 2 months

How a school went from 0 to 50% student engagement in 2 months


The most important thing that schools can do is not to use technology in the classroom more, but to use it more effectively. – John G. Palfrey

The ubiquitous adoption of personal computing and mobile devices sets a new stage for the applications that could revolutionize the educational experience. The pertinent question remains, though, of how to utilize these devices to best enhance the classroom experience and education process.

One of the spaces where adopting technology has the potential to make a profound difference is higher education; it is here that the overwhelming majority of students have personal mobile devices that can be commandeered to deliver an unprecedented education experience.

According to research done by re:fuel, “at 85 percent, laptops are the most commonly owned device among students, with smartphones in second place at 69 percent. Among students who reported owning a tablet, 33 percent said they use them for work, research, and taking notes, and 37 percent said they read e-textbooks on them.”

In the 90s they were writing in notebooks. In the 2000s they were typing on laptops. Now they’re tabletting.

Tech on campus on the rise

Utilizing tablets in the classroom provides a landscape for powerful and engaged learning, and adopting this type of technology is a priority that’s making it to the top of the agenda for many institutions. In fact, the United States’ Education Department recently awarded 24 colleges and universities a total of $75 million to foster innovation and increase the quality of education outcomes for students.

The latest trend in technology, second to the flipped classroom, is the one-to-one tablet initiative.

Tablets in particular are becoming increasingly popular in schools as their functionality for education expands. As a result of this, campus-wide technology initiatives are on the rise. The latest trend in education technology, second to the flipped classroom, is the one-to-one (1:1) tablet initiative.  Many colleges and universities are providing students with a laptop or tablet (albeit as part of their tuition), or requiring students come prepared with one or both of these devices.

The problem arises when the tablets are provided to students with little intention or intricate planning with what the tablets will be used for. To provide this level of technology is powerful, but without content and application it’s useless for educational purposes. In fact, if not executed effectively, providing students with tablets runs the risk of handing them souped-up Game Boys that turn into tools of leisure and fun rather than engagement in education.

So what do you do when your tablet initiative goes wrong? Or worse, when it doesn’t “go” at all.

When your tablet initiative goes wrong

So let’s be clear, technology in the classroom is good. Providing technology that has little to no educational application results in wasted money.

The most common problem seen in implementing 1:1 initiatives is that students don’t use the devices, teachers don’t know how to utilize them, and neither party is trained on them. This means that money is lobbied for, spent, and wasted unless the tablets are used to enhance learning and improve the on-campus experience for students.

The answer is not what you think

This may come as a surprise, but the answer to more technology is more technology.

The intention of the Top Hat blog is to contribute information that will empower educators to provide life-long learning for their students, and we try not to make the content just about us — except in the case where we’ve made a monumental difference for our customers that will benefit other readers in a similar situation.

Take Winona State, for example

Winona State has a 1:1 initiative where they provide all students with tablets and laptops. The problem arose this year when the tablets began collecting dust. None of the students were using them, at least not for educational purposes. Before the tablets became obsolete, Winona State wanted to use a technology solution that would gain traction quickly and get people using the tablet.

In less than two months, the usage went from nearly 0% to around 50%...

So they got more technology. Winona State adopted Top Hat campus-wide. Because Top Hat allows professors to engage students in lectures through the devices students already own, the tablets finally had an educational function and purpose. In less than two months, the usage rate went from nearly 0% to around 50% of students who are using their tablets for educational purposes through Top Hat.

The response rate was so great that there are now 45 instructors and over 4,200 students using their tablets daily for educational purposes and to engage in class.

To make this adoption successful, Winona State has implemented training with both professors and students in groups, one-to-one demonstrations, as well as demonstrations in classes. Fortunately, mostly everyone has found Top Hat easy to use with their new tablets.

According to Norb Thomes, Learning Services and Systems Coordinator at Winona State, “where we’ve really seen the return is in making sure the tablets are used for educational purposes and used in the classroom.”

5 tips to getting your tablet initiative back on track

  1. Sign up for Top Hat. Just kidding. But seriously, implement some type of ubiquitous educational software that forces students to come back to the tablet every day for educational purposes.

  2. Upgrade your connection. There is nothing that more quickly discourages usage than difficulty connecting to the network. Humans now officially have an attention span of 8 seconds, so if it takes more than 2 or 3 seconds to get connected, most people will quit.

  3. Train everyone. And we mean everyone, students included. As Mr. Thomes so eloquently states, “we’re at a very unique point in history where everyone, professors and students, are learning and embracing new technology together.” Show students how they can use their tablets to enhance their education and provide professors with the tools to make the most of their tablets.

  4. Be methodical. Don’t just hand everyone a tablet and walk away. Roll it out in smaller groups. See what worked and what didn’t. Allow users to train their colleagues and peers.

  5. Use ebooks. Encourage professors to switch to ebooks for their students. It saves students money, is easier on the environment, and makes use of the tablets.

The implementation of campus-wide technology initiatives is at its infant stages and will continue to grow, eventually becoming the norm and something that’s expected. So embrace it, make the most of it, and use technology to enhance the education experience for students, professors, and institutions as a whole.

What are the ways you have seen tablet initiatives best utilized? Would you like to see a campus-wide 1:1 tablet initiative implemented at your school?

Technology is becoming increasingly pervasive throughout education, and as Winona State has shown, Top Hat makes best use of that technology. See a quick online demo of how Top Hat can make use of your tablet initiative or enhance your classroom.

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