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Engagement alone does not lead to deep science learning

In a time where many ed tech products have a game element in which the students play a game ostensibly to learn or get rewarded with a “digital token” or some such thing, it is compelling to think that engagement/motivation will lead to greater or deeper learning. However, many researchers have shown that this is not a simple truism for a number of reasons. First, when there is a bump upward in engagement, it is often only temporary, due to the novelty of the gamified product. Second, engagement does not necessarily lead to deep learning; that is, engagement is a necessary but not sufficient condition for deep learning. Third, in a time when we are expecting students to learn critical reasoning skills needed for 21st century STEM careers, we cannot “pay them off” with things like “digital tokens”! The development of critical reasoning skills requires deep learning; “buying” kids’ attention with rewards sends very mixed messages to them, and as stated above, does not result in the sustained focus over time needed for deep science learning.

With Inq-ITS, recently ranked the best digital product for NGSS learning by Tech & Learning (, students conduct deep interactive inquiry with simulations of science phenomena. As they “show what they know”, all their inquiry steps and actions are logged in real time so that: 1) teachers grading is automatically done, and 2) Rex, our digital agent can help them when and specifically how they need it. Our research has shown that Rex’s help is robust in that it can be applied to new science topics and over long periods of time (tested up to 170 days). 3) Inq-ITS also generates real time alerts for teachers on their students’ competencies and specific difficulties so that the teacher can do data-driven instruction to help individual students, do differentiated instruction to small groups, or help the whole class if many students are struggling with the same inquiry competency. Our alerting dashboard, used both in-class and in remote settings, greatly increases the number of students who can be helped, as well as increases students’ deep learning such that it can be applied to new topics and over long periods of time. When we asked students what they think about teachers having detailed data about their science competencies, they said they “know that this is important for their learning!” This, to us, means students DO want to learn science and recognize the importance of it! And I’ll take that win over a digital token any day! To get a free trial of Inq-ITS, create an account here.

Janice Gobert is a Professor of Learning Sciences & Educational Psychology at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, and is the Founding CEO of Inq-ITS.


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