Entertainment vs. Engagement (Part 1)

On Tuesday and Wednesday of #ticl2013, I heard a great speaker…more on the theory side of things, but great, nonetheless.  His name is Doug Johnson, (@blueskunkblog) the tech director of Mankato schools in Iowa. Wow, I loved listening to him speak…probably because he touched a lot on Creativity in every learner but more on that later.

I attended his session Rules of Engagement: Using Personal Technologies to Motivate Rather Than Distract because I wanted to get a handle on how to manage students with technology.  I wasn’t expecting anything life-shattering but I was blown away at how deep into it Doug Johnson got with the topic.  It was very simple, he made a this vs. that comparison of entertainment and engagement.  You can find all the information gathered here, on his wikispaces page.  But I just want to summarize for those of you looking for a fresh approach to engaging your students.

Engagement and Entertainment are two widely different things, I mean, just look at their definitions.

Engage: to hold the attention of; to induce to participate
Entertain: to provide entertainment (amusement or diversion provided especially by performers)

Merriam-Webster Online

Doug Johnson can be quoted to say “If you give a child a movie, she’ll be entertained for an hour, but if you give a child a camera, she’ll be engaged for a lifetime.”  How true this is and how it hit home to the art teacher in me. It became very clear how we need to approach our students’ learning.  You can entertain and engage students at the same time, but you don’t always need the entertainment quality in each lesson because engagement trumped entertainment, every time. “Entertainment’s primary purpose is to create an enjoyable experience; engagement’s primary purpose is to focus attention so learning occurs.

So what I have to do, is split this summary of my time with Doug Johnson into three blog posts – otherwise I would go on, and on, and on and onnnnn.  And I don’t want to bore you, I want to excite you. So we’ll start with the general take back I got from this first session, without the technology tied directly into it.  I’ll get to that next time.

Some key points I was tweeting out feverishly the entire 45-minute session?  I quoted things that DJ and cited them to give credit…everything else too came from him but was paraphrased so as to not misquote, I left them be.

“This is not rocket surgery.” – Doug Johnson A valid statement, that is intended to be funny but of course, holds some value.  Technology integration is a no-brainer, and a must needed advancement in our education system but with it comes challenges.  Those challenges must be faced head on and there are various ways to do so without make it miserable.

Kids do not need to be entertained, they need to be engaged. Using what we know, we must admit and practice engagement, not just entertainment.  We didn’t go to college for at least 4 years to entertain…we wanted to make a different in kids remember?

Purpose of entertainment is leisure, but the purpose of engagement is learning. There you have it, if you weren’t sure before what I was getting at, you are now.  Learning=Engagement so it’s simple, become the educator that engages students and the learning will be the end result.

The impact of entertainment is temporary, the impact of learning is forever. This goes back to DJ’s quote about movies and cameras.  Entertainment can make anything fun, and it’s not like we should do away with it – but if students are learning, then the entertainment comes from engagement and well, it’s just a domino effect!

“Perhaps the greatest distinction is that entertainment is often passive, whereas engagement is active or interactive.– word for word from the mouth of Doug Johnson And this too, is true, just like entertainment is temporary – it is also passive.  There is not aggression or passion within it besides the fleeting moment.  With engagement, you are involved and active.

“Entertainment is an escape from problems; engagement involves solving problems.– word for word from the mouth of Doug Johnson We go to the movies and read novels to get out of our world…that’s entertainment, but as we solve problems and apply situations, we become engaged in solving our own problems which leads to….

Problems in entertainment are overcome by others, engaging/authentic activities should be solved by students themselves. “Entertainment results through the creativity of others; engagement asks for creativity on the part of the learner.” – straight from the mouth of Doug Johnson. Probably one of my favorite take away – putting this in perspective.  When you are watching a show or a movie, you see the people in the movie solve the problems or the case…but in real life, with students, don’t show them movies that solve the problems for them – have the students solve those problems.  Which brings me to the authentic question.

An authentic question means the teacher doesn’t always know the answer…kids will genuinely know they answered it. This is a great conversation to have with your fellow educators.  Rather than ask questions of students that you know the answer to, change that practice.  Ask them questions, you yourself don’t know everything about.  This gives the student ownership of the problem and they will become more invested in the question, engaged in the outcome.  Kids will know they genuinely learned something new instead of something already learned by others.

Kids who are bored are the most disruptive. Give them something engaging and disruptions are eliminated. As an art teacher, duh.  We see this every day.  The kids who are the “most trouble” in school are the best for us.  I can’t say how often I’ve experienced this because it’s constant.  Part of this reasoning is because we are a hands-on, hopefully engaging environment so we are ahead of the rest…but once in a while, we come across that kid who is just not into it…not into art, whatever it might be. So now what? Time to engage them…but how?  Well, you have to acknowledge the difference between engagement and entertainment first…

The relevance of entertainment is minimal, the relevance of engagement must be high level. “Entertainment needs have little relevance to the reader/watcher/listener; engaging experiences most often relate directly to the learner.” -straight from the mouth of Doug Johnson.  Entertainment can mean nothing to us moments later – how often do we read a book and forget, a year later, that we read it until we get half way through it again and say “now wait a minute….”. This is why when we engage our students, we must make an effort to make all matters of it relevant and meaningul.

So as you can see, my take away was not small, and I’m far from done with this series of posts regarding Doug Johnson.  In fact, I am sure I will reference him often from in the future.  I just hope he knows how thankful I am to gather his knowledge and share it with others because I find it so applicable.  Remember, learning can be both entertaining and engaging but must be engaging no matter what.  If you wish to follow Doug Johnson on Twitter, do so by finding @BlueSkunkBlog.

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