Are the technologies you’re using really engaging students online?

Dr Eseta Tualaulelei and Dr Seyum Getenet, University of Southern Queensland

At times it can feel like technology is moving faster than we can keep up with and it can be difficult to know if what we’re doing is effective for students or not. To better understand the relationships between interactive technologies used in online teaching and online student engagement, we researched whether three technologies embedded in online teaching experiences enhanced student engagement.

Overhead photo of laptops on a desk

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

The technologies that were evaluated were those easily accessible to both students and teachers and ones that were smoothly integrated into our university’s learning management system. These were Google Docs (a cloud-based suite of office apps from Google), Padlet (a cloud-based noticeboard; Wallwisher, 2022), and video-embedded quizzes (hosted on a site to which the university subscribed; Panopto, 2022).

Using a design-based research approach, the study was carried out at a mid-sized regional university with over 75% of students studying online. We collected data – pre- and post-surveys, observations and web analytics – from two courses that we taught, an undergraduate fourth year mathematics course and a postgraduate first year literacy course. Our students were pre-service teachers learning through technology (a learning management system, videoconferencing etc.), about technology in their field (how to integrate ICT in teaching), and in some cases they were learning basic technology skills themselves (how to use Zoom, Powerpoint, Word etc.).

We analysed the data using an online engagement framework for higher education (Redmond et al., 2022) which posits that students’ online engagement is made up of five dimensions. Social engagement, where students create purposeful and trusting relationships with others; cognitive engagement which is “the active process of learning” (p. 191); behavioural engagement which involves demonstrating positive learning behaviors and attitudes (p. 193); collaborative engagement which is “the development of different relationships and networks that support learning, including collaboration with peers, instructors, industry, and the educational institution” (p. 194); and emotional engagement which “relates to [students’] feelings or attitudes towards learning” (p. 195). Each dimension can be broken down into more specific elements which, when combined, represent online student engagement.

So, how did each technology influence student engagement? Here’s what we uncovered:


Google Docs: This versatile tool managed to foster engagement across all five dimensions. When used synchronously in live tutorials, social and collaborative engagement flows from student opportunities to think critically and advance their knowledge alongside peers and educators.

Screebshot of GoolgeDocs links

When used in small groups, cognitive and behavioural engagement is enhanced as students integrate ideas and share experiences, knowledge and reflections. Asynchronous learners can engage in similar ways by accessing and contributing to Google Docs and viewing tutorials. Emotional engagement was also observed, for instance, in peer-to-peer discussions about study workloads. Although live collaborative tools need more initial direction from the educator, students quickly take charge once they become confident, and confidence with technology can, in turn, deepen student engagement (Montgomery et al., 2015).

Padlet: Proving the most effective in supporting social, collaborative, and emotional engagement, Padlet provided a flexible space for participation. Particularly, it was valuable in providing a flexible participation mode for students who did not want to talk but were happy to contribute anonymously and collaboratively, a finding also reported by Ellis (2015). It was the newer technology for most students, but it was the most viewed compared to other resources in both courses.

Padlet screenshot

Student use does tend to taper off after an initial flurry of activity, and Dianati et al. (2020) also found that Padlet becomes unwieldy for students when it contains large amounts of content. Padlet’s limited impact on cognitive engagement, particularly when used optionally and asynchronously, recommends its use for low-stakes activities such as student introductions or the collation of resources.

Video-embedded quizzes: These offered cognitive and behavioural engagement but far less opportunity for social, collaborative and emotional engagement as students tend to view lecture videos individually. This contrasts with findings from Jones et al. (2021), whose students found video-embedded quizzes engaging.

Screenshot showing Panoto quiz report for students


We also found that quizzes are better placed at the beginning or in the middle of lecture recordings because quizzes placed at the end of videos had lower student participation.

What comes next? As educators in higher education, we learned a bit more through this study about how the technologies we use engage our students. We also learned that technology should be used intentionally in online teaching, to maximise the benefits of using interactive technologies with students. Some fruitful areas for future research include exploring how learners engage with other technologies or combinations of technologies (Tualaulelei et al., 2022), as well as research into professional development about technology for tertiary educators. While the possibilities of technology appear endless, identifying and understanding its constraints is important if we want to maximise the potential of online learning environments.

You can read the full article about our study here.

Getenet, S., & Tualaulelei, E. (2023). Using interactive technologies to enhance student engagement in higher education online learning. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 1-15.



Dianati, S., Nguyen, M., Dao, P., Iwashita, N., & Vasquez, C. (2020). Student perceptions of technological tools for flipped instruction: The case of Padlet, Kahoot! and Cirrus. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 17(5), 4.

Ellis, D. (2015). Using Padlet to increase student engagement in lectures [Paper presentation]. 14th European Conference on e-Learning: ECEl2015, Hatfield, UK, 29-30 October.

Google. (2022). Google docs.

Jones, E. P., Wahlquist, A. E., Hortman, M., & Wisniewski, C. S. (2021). Motivating students to engage in preparation for flipped classrooms by using embedded quizzes in pre-class videos. Innovations in Pharmacy, 12(1), 6.

Montgomery, A. P., Hayward, D. V., Dunn, W., Carbonaro, M., & Amrhein, C. G. (2015). Blending for student engagement: Lessons learned for MOOCs and beyond. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 31(6). 12–24.

Panopto. (2022). Panopto.

Prince, T. (2016). “Panopto” for lecture capture – A first time user’s perspective. International Journal of Innovation and Research in Educational Sciences, 3(5), 2349-5219.

Redmond, P., Heffernan, A., Abawi, L., Brown, A., & Henderson, R. (2018). An online engagement framework for higher education. Online Learning, 22(1), 183–204.

Tualaulelei, E., Burke, K., Fanshawe, M., & Cameron, C. (2022). Mapping pedagogical touchpoints: Exploring online student engagement and course design. Active Learning in Higher Education, 23(3), 189-203.

Wallwisher. (2022). Padlet.