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Aurora Institute

Press Release

How Can Schools Foster Student Agency and Engagement in Distance Learning?

New Aurora Institute Issue Brief Offers Seven Action Steps

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 7, 2021—School leaders mustn’t lose sight of the need for student agency and student engagement as they contend with the myriad challenges posed by COVID-19. In fact, they must re-imagine what agency and engagement can look like in cases when students are learning virtually and also when they are unable to connect.

Mere Engagement: Reflections about the Connections Between Online Learning, Student Agency, and Student Engagement, a new brief published today by the Aurora Institute (@Aurora_Inst) offers school leaders seven action steps to support students’ sense of mastery and ownership of their learning, along with promoting their sense of connection and belonging.

“Student agency gives students voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn,” said Susan Patrick, Aurora President and CEO. “Agency puts students in the driver’s seat to take charge of their learning and gives them the confidence and knowledge to become lifelong learners who drive our society forward.”

In many communities contending with COVID-19, students aren’t physically present. That means educators need new skills to determine learners’ level of engagement and understanding. With the upheaval of the pandemic, students’ need for checking in and feelings of belonging have not only not gone away, they’ve been intensified.

Although many high-priority considerations are vying for the attention of school leaders as they grapple with what school will look like in the coming and subsequent school terms, they can stem the tide against the vast amount of learning loss school communities have suffered by tending to issues of engagement. Mere Engagement offers seven strategies to translate in-person engagement activities to distance learning environment, including:

  • Making the implicit explicit by providing clear communications in multiple formats.
  • Ensuring anytime, anyplace learning with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities.
  • Enabling competency-based learning where students demonstrate mastery of content. 
  • Keeping families in the loop.
  • Designing lessons that link student interests with the environment.
  • Checking for learning along the way.
  • Creating equitable opportunities to learn.

Aurora’s mission is to drive the transformation of education systems and accelerate the advancement of breakthrough policies and practices to ensure high-quality learning for all. Aurora is shaping the future of teaching and learning for more than 14 million students through its work in policy advocacy, research, and field-building/convening. We work on systems change in K-12 education, promote best practices, examine policy barriers, and make recommendations for change. Aurora has a national and global view of education innovation and lifts up promising policies and practices that yield improved outcomes for students. Aurora envisions a world where all people are empowered to attain the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to achieve success, contribute to their communities, and advance society.

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Office: (703) 752-6216

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