Engage using digital media

Digital media can be a great way to engage students.

Instead of banning technology like phones or laptops, connect technology to the classroom. Have students search the internet as part of their research, take photos and videos, get them to interview each other.

Introduce technology as a tool, and teach them to question the positives and negatives of the multi-tasking mind-set. Teach your students to use the technology as a tool and not as a distraction. This is a skill to be taught and learned.

© Convergence Academies
© Convergence Academies https://www.flickr.com/photos/convergenceacademies/

Examples for use:

Instead of using the media to talk about the media through dry technical lectures, try to let the media fade to the background while focusing on larger topics. 

Here is an example project that uses digital media as a tool to engage students. Note that the topic is not digital media. Instead, students have a larger “umbrella” topic that could easily be without digital media tools. Here the teacher adds in the use of the internet, digital cameras, and possibly computer applications to use the technology as a tool to engage.

© Convergence Academies
© Convergence Academies https://www.flickr.com/photos/convergenceacademies/

Activity: Public Park Renewal Project


Designing a shared space is a challenge. The designer needs to consider many users and their experiences through market research and analysis before getting to the details.

This project is aimed at students grades 4+


Have them play with photography to capture a public park near the school that needs improvement such as pot-holes, torn-up cement, lack of trees, and play spaces for kids. Have them research the possibilities on the internet, including asking the students to look for landscape design, public parks, and the history of shared spaces. When students collaborate, they learn a great deal, so do not be afraid to have them work in groups.


Now that they know the challenge, have students create a list desired changes. Get them started by analyzing projected images of existing dream parks. Next, have the students create rough drawings of the space on large paper. Have them create cut-out shapes of the changes they would like to see. Ask them to move around the paper cut-outs to try different iterations of ways to use the space. With each iteration, have them photograph what they did before wiping the page clean to try something new.


The final product is a mock-up in three dimensions. Using foam core, paint, and paper. Or for upper-level students have them create the mock-ups using computer programs like Adobe Photoshop with imagery they either find or create, or 3D rendering with AutoCAD or SketchUp.


A blog is a great way to share and critically respond to the research and creations. As a teacher, create a shared blog space with multiple users, or be sole user. Have the initial photographs of the park, the photographs of the paper cut-out exercise, and their final outcomes photographed and put on the blog. Have your students help with posting the pictures to relate the images of the park and their re-design ideas. Caption the images with their analysis. Use the blog to have discussions along the way, instead of waiting until the final solution.

–Unit based on Digital Media Mentor KW interview


“If this device is going to do anything, it’s going to at least [get] them to sit-up or get involved in some way.” –Digital Media Mentor AN

“I think having that access to an audience was really engaging for them and being able to hold the iPad in their hands and be able to be the one who navigated it and went to the next slide. You could just tell they had more vitality in them than they would have if we were just handing them a report. There’s that drama of being front and center…what we are seeing is their genuine attempt to communicate with an audience and their peers.” –Digital Media Mentor AN

“I would have been more engaged in this subject if there would have been somebody to come in and say it doesn’t have to be just the textbook way of looking at it, there’s this whole other method of engaging in that. That’s something I’m proud of, that we are able to do that and offer that to these students.” –Digital Media Mentor AN

“My goal is to give them points of entrance. Like with photography for instance, like I said, everyone has a cell phone. It is not about making the best picture, and it is not about spending a lot of time on figuring out how you do that…I don’t want technology to get in the way.” –Digital Media Mentor LL

“It does not matter how you get to the picture, it does not matter if you use the programs I am teaching you. What matters is that you understand that this picture connects to storytelling.” –Digital Media Mentor LL

‘You want me to use my phone?’…instead of saying what they are doing is bad but actually making them use them for a purpose in the classroom, it is such an amazing twist. It is something that you use in your life so why are we not incorporating that into the classroom? Then it is not like, ‘Stop being on your phone.’ It is like, ‘You are on your phone for the right purposes.'” –Digital Media Mentor LL

“It was very much about the process and using photography as one of the ways to teach stuff. You do not just wake up and make a beautiful photograph. You think about ‘What do I want to show?’ You try, and then you see what is working, what is not, and then you try again. They had little critique slips where they could put what is working, and they could fill it out for their friends. Then they could put what was confusing, and so the group of photographers would get all this feedback from everybody else in the class and be like, ‘Ok, they did not get this, so maybe we need to switch this up the next time,’ and their end photographs were gorgeous.” –Digital Media Mentor SM

“I used those classes as a way, not only to teach kids filmmaking, but also to give them a voice and the philosophy. Behind it was kind of like empower youth through media. Basically, give youth a voice, show them the skills…enable a platform for myself and the class to communicate and to open the conversation.” –Digital Media Mentor DM

© Participatory Learning Strategies