Using Technology to Innovate Pedagogy & Improve Student Outcomes

How technology can enable high-engagement practices (HEPs) that unlock student engagement and improve student outcomes.

Philippa Hardman

Former VP Learning @ Aula

Whether we teach online, in person, or through a combination of the two, keeping students engaged with their learning experience (i.e. ensuring they show up, actively participate, and are motivated to persist and achieve) is one of our biggest challenges.

As higher ed teachers, we’ve probably felt first-hand what Coates and others have proved in theory: that the more students are engaged in their learning — they more they show up, actively participate and go beyond minimum expectations — the more likely we are to see them stay and persist, see them achieve improved grades and have them report higher levels of satisfaction.

Robust evidence links student engagement to achievement, satisfaction, and retention

However, most educators don’t have the time or resources to explore the connection between engagement and student success, or the capacity to rethink how we design and deliver our teaching to maximise engagement. Instead, they default to teaching practices like the lecture, which fail to optimise learning experiences for retention, achievement or satisfaction.

At Aula, we have first hand experience of how we can best support educators to maximise their students’ engagement and outcomes by enabling them to design (through Learning Design Coaching) and deliver (using the Aula platform) learning experiences which have the potential to impact significantly on student outcomes.

Related reading → Coventry University’s shift away from lecture-based teaching and learning to tech-enhanced learning on Aula (Times Higher Ed)

🚀 78% of students reported feeling part of a community, compared to the 41% Jisc sector benchmark.

🚀 75% of modules received satisfaction scores higher than 90%.

🚀 Several academics who had never taught online received perfect satisfaction scores, even through the rigours of lockdown.

The four high-engagement practices (HEPs) that unlock student engagement & improve student outcomes

Aula’s platform enables the delivery of four high-engagement practices, or HEPs, that are proven to positively impact student outcomes:

  • Active learning
  • Feedback
  • Teacher presence
  • Collaboration

High-engagement practice #1: active learning

Evidence shows that students are engaged and learn best when they are assigned activities that require them to be active participants in the learning experience. Rather than merely consuming content like they would during a lecture or with an alternative platform, students on Aula:

  • Are assigned regular (e.g. weekly) hands-on activities they must complete before and after a lecture
  • Are given both in-and-out-of class opportunities to discuss & apply learning with their peers
  • Have regular opportunities to test and demonstrate their learning in action through presentations and problem sets, or by trying out learning in real-world settings

See it in action → in the example below, an educator has scheduled a weekly ‘pre-class challenge’ (e.g. micro-lectures, short quizzes, pre-reading, etc.) for students to complete ahead of an in-person session. They also set up a post-class activity that gives students the opportunity to review what they have just learned and test their own knowledge and understanding.

An example of pre-class challenges for students in Aula

High-engagement practice #2: feedback

Evidence shows that students learn best when they collaborate around content and are provided opportunities to test and demonstrate their learning and receive targeted & contextualised feedback. Aula facilitates this approach, because:

  • Students can receive frequent (e.g. at least weekly) feedback on their work
  • Feedback is both targeted to specific tasks and highly personalised
  • Individual students can post in the Aula Community anytime and ask their peers and/or an educator for feedback

See it in action → in the example below, an educator gives a student specific feedback that invites them to rework part of their initial argument. In the same comment, the educator also provides an additional learning resource that all students in the community can review.

An example of educator feedback for students in Aula

High-engagement practice #3: teacher presence

Evidence shows that students are engaged and learn best when they feel connected and visible to staff and peers as part of a trusting and supportive learning community. As well as through feedback (HEP #2), your presence is established through specific actions you and your teaching staff can take in Aula:

  • Educators present themselves socially (as a human) as well as academically (as an educator)
  • Educators drive learning by being visible and communicative
  • Educators actively build a sense of community by modelling & setting a culture of inclusion and mutual care, trust, and support

See it in action → in the example below, an educator uses Aula Community to introduce himself to his students before the semester begins. This simple action can encourage students to do the same and share personal stories and information with their colleagues, which in turn contributes to the creation of an engaged community.

An example of introduction by an educator in Aula

High-engagement practice #4: collaboration

Finally, evidence shows that students learn best by collaborating with their peers. Rather than experiencing a module alone, each student in Aula works collaboratively (either as a full class or in teams) on a weekly basis. Throughout their learning journey, they have frequent and regular opportunities to:

  • Work together on specific assignments
  • Give each other feedback
  • Demonstrate mutual trust and support (for example, by answering each other’s questions, commenting, reacting, etc.)

See it in action → in the example below, students exchange direct messages while working on a group project. They can use multimedia resources such as slide decks and recorded audio notes to work together asynchronously.

Direct group messages for students in Aula

Students can also collaborate by sharing information and resources in Aula Community publicly; in the example below, a student posts a link to a relevant documentary that kick-starts a public conversation between peers:

Students sharing resources with one another in Aula

Final thoughts

Aula is built to enable you to quickly and easily deliver up to four high-engagement practices (HEP) that are proven to improve engagement and positively impact student outcomes.

When you join Aula, you also join a large number of academics and institutions who have already seen increases in their student retention, achievement, and satisfaction.

Want to see how Aula could help you easily build an engaged learning community? Learn more.


Coates, H., A model of online and general campus‐based student engagement, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 32:2 (2007)

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