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Research, resources, and reflections on inquiry-based teaching and learning.

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What Does Engagement Look Like in Distance Learning?

Updated: Jun 16





What Does Engagement Really Mean?


One word that keeps popping up in the world of distance learning is engagement. From parents talking about their children being disengaged to surveys reporting that 75% of students are "less engaged" than ever before, student engagement seems to be a proxy for determining if students are learning. All of this talk has us wondering what we mean when we say ‘less engaged than before’ and how do we know?


Let’s get on the same page about what we mean when we talk about engagement. Dictionaries generally define it as “involved in an activity, busy, or occupied.” This definition works for tech companies - but not for education!


Facebook and other social media platforms want to keep us busy scrolling through our feeds - so they can show us ads and generate revenue. But we're talking about something deeper when we measure engagement in students, right?


Maybe not.


A recent New York Times article reported that, “Nearly 70 percent of district administrators considered engagement to be the most effective sign that a piece of educational technology is useful.” Unfortunately, they are often measuring engagement in the same way as social media companies: the number of accounts created and logins.


And if that was how we were measuring engagement when the students were in front of us, then what about in distance learning scenarios? There’s no doubt that when we talk about engagement in distance learning, we’re focused on metrics like hours logged - because that’s the only data we have.


What's an Inquiry-Based Definition of Engagement?


During the webinar we talked about how inquiry connects to the lived experience of students, how it engages curiosity, and how sets up open-ended challenges for students to explore. These essential characteristics promote engagement when students are together in the classroom or when they meet in the virtual space. We were honored to be joined by Chicago Public Schools Social Science & Civic Engagement Specialist, Shawn Reddy, and Yellow Springs Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Terri Holden. 


Elementary Distance Learning Resource


inquirED's Together When Apart

  • Free weekly distance learning inquiries for both early learners (K-2) and intermediate (3-6). It was designed according to the principles above.


Finally, if you were not able to attend the webinar, please view the recording below.