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How one teacher won the student attention war with cool apps

Adeesha Hack is a teacher and edtech enthusiast from Toronto, Canada. She recently brought joy to the Sparkol office with a lovely email about our new app Tawe. I spoke to Adeesha about teaching, what engagement means to her and the role of technology in the classroom.

Lovely to meet you Adeesha. Tell us, have you always been a teacher?

No. I used to work in employment services providing assistance to job seekers and with the provincial government as a policy analyst. I wanted to travel, but had no money. I thought one way to fund my journeys was to teach. I've since stayed in academics. AdeeshaHack

What did you want to be growing up?

I wanted to be a human rights lawyer or a journalist.

So how did you get into teaching?

While working for a government-funded employment centre, one of my duties was to deliver job-related workshops to clients. I was terrified and felt faint each time it was my turn. I decided to enrol in a teaching certificate program to get some strategies and calm my nerves. It worked and I enjoyed it. That was 15 years ago!

What do you think it means to be 'engaging'?

Being engaging means not just keeping the audience's attention, but making the content accessible to everyone. This takes some skill. It's not always easy to find ways to make a complicated concept understood. It's challenging, but doable with some planning and creativity.

And how do you keep students engaged in class?

Teachers have to compete with cell phones, tablets and laptops – so sometimes keeping students' attention is not easy.

I plan lessons incorporating a few activities, not simply lecturing. This may involve group work, pair work, audio-video material and games. Today's students can no longer stay attentive for more than 20 minutes at a time, sometimes less.

I think Tawe has a lot of potential and my students will benefit from the videos I make. This will also save me quite a bit of time, which as a teacher I really appreciate because we don't have much time to create materials.

The material must also be 'relatable' and relevant. Students must feel that the material will either benefit them somehow, or impact their field of study or career.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

My job allows me to meet people with rich experiences – educators, researchers and teachers. Working in Toronto means that I have students with varied backgrounds: nationality, ethnicity, languages, life experience, age, religion.

TorontoSkyline

I feel I have the world in my classroom. This lends itself well to a classroom environment as all students contribute their knowledge and experience. We all learn from each other.

Also, the constant planning of classes means I have to keep up to date, which naturally gives me the opportunity to be a lifelong learner. This is one aspect that I really appreciate. I can't really instil the value of lifelong learning unless I practice it.

You teach an online class too. What's it about and who's it for?

My students are Canadian-born, recent immigrants and overseas. Some speak 2 or more languages. They're anywhere from 17 years and older; I've had students in their 50s and 60s. These students can range in technical ability, from beginner to advanced.

I teach a few online classes actually. The one I enjoy the most is called Understanding Globalization. This introductory class explores the impact of globalization from the perspective of emerging economies. We analyse how modern capitalism has affected local businesses, environment and culture.

How important is technology to your job?

It's becoming vitally important. For me, it's needed to conduct research and plan lessons. For class delivery, I use a variety of online tools to present material and engage students in activities.

Thank you for developing another great product [Tawe]. I have VideoScribe as well. These types of resources really do assist teachers in making their classes more interesting so thank you very very much.

Without technology, class activities would require significant rethinking.

Finally, who's the most engaging person you can think of?

The activist and diplomat Stephen Lewis is by far the most engaging person I've encountered. Ironically, he uses no technology. Whether seen live or not, he has the ability to get your attention and keep it.

StephenLewis

This goes to show that content is vitally important. Technology is great, but if substance is lacking, the audience will simply not care about the message.

Great talking to you Adeesha, thanks for your time.

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