ISTE Standard 4: Learning Designer ISTE Standards for Coaching

Pedagogy before Technology: Why the Cart Shouldn’t Be Put Before the Horse When Integrating Technology into Student Learning Experiences

“Without careful planning and sound pedagogy, technology can promote disengagement and impede rather than help learning.”

Bond, et al., 2020

With an abundance of digital tools available these days, it is tempting for educators to integrate technology into learning activities with the assumption that these modern enhancements to our curricula will be the ticket to increasing student engagement and more meaningful learning.  They could very well have those effects. However, when it comes to technology integration, it is important to begin the instructional design process by thinking through our intentions for using various digital tools in our curriculum. These are important conversations to have in instructional coaching sessions.

If a coachee is asking for support in improving a lesson plan, for example, before diving into possibilities of digital tools that might be useful, the coach and coachee should collaboratively assess the current lesson plan to discuss what is working well and areas that could be improved. These discussions should take into consideration how the lesson plan is designed to meet the following type of standards (Foltos, 2013):

Further, in their collaborative work towards improving a lesson plan, the coach and coachee will need to have a mutual understanding of the following aspects of the lesson plan design:

  • Learning context: This aspect of lesson design includes pre-requisite knowledge, connections to previous learning activities to reinforce knowledge and skills, and the ability of students to “explain what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how the activity relates to previous learning activities” (Foltos, 2013, p. 126).
  • Assessment plan and resources: This component of lesson design includes how the curriculum standards associated with the learning activity are measured and how feedback is provided to students (Foltos, 2013).  
  • A specific area of improvement I am interested in exploring is how student engagement in the learning process can be enhanced through use of technology. This inquiry was prompted by my peer coaching experiences over the past few months. My coachee expressed that her number one goal in our coaching partnership is to obtain coaching support around student engagement and utilization of digital technology.

Image source:

My question for this blog post is as follows:  What are some ways in which technology can be used to increase student engagement in active learning experiences? My question aligns with ISTE Coaching Standard 4 Learning Designer: Coaches model and support educators to design learning experiences and environments to meet the needs and interests of all students, and 4a: Coaches collaborate with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery and allow students to demonstrate their competency.

A helpful tool that can be used to guide lesson plan improvement in coaching sessions is the Learning Design Matrix, which is a list of activities that emphasizes “the value of inquiry in learning” (Foltos, 2013). Two of the four quadrants represented in this tool that I will be focusing on provide ideas for increasing student engagement and integrating technology to improve student learning.

In an article titled How to increase student engagement with technology, the author discusses several reasons why the integration of technology into learning activities can increase student engagement.  Reasons cited include the following:

  • Rethinking technology from being a distraction to students to an effective tool to increase student engagement
  • Technology use can be a catalyst to deeper learning in a student’s areas of interests (think voice and choice)
  • Technology enables students to learn beyond the classroom walls and more easily connect with others who have similar interests, such as subject experts and students in other areas of the world.  

Image source:

Some of the learning activities included in the Learning Design Matrix mirror suggestions provided in the above article. They are as follows:

Engaging Tasks:

  • “Bring their experiences outside the classroom to bear to create a product/performance or gain competencies that have value to them and others outside of school”
  • “Receive real-world feedback on their work from an audience or subject-matter expert from outside the school.”
  • “Apply what they learn to new, real-life problems or situations” (Peer-Ed, 2018).

Technology enables and accelerates learning:

  • “Engage with their online communities comprised of students, educators, subject matter experts, or others throughout the world to shape, investigate, and solve real world tasks.”
  •  “Give each other feedback and receive feedback from outside the classroom including from subject matter experts.”
  • “Create knowledge, share and use it with authentic audiences” (Peer-Ed, 2018).  

Now that we have explored how learning activities can be structured to increase engagement and utilize technology to accelerate learning, what types of digital tools can support these efforts?

Engaging learning activities that integrate technology include students doing the following:

  • Developing blogs, pod casts, or videos
  • Recording presentations using PowerPoint or Google slides
  • Creating infographics
  • Conducting synchronous online class sessions using a digital platform, such as Zoom, which may incorporate additional digital tools to engage with other students, such as Kahoot and Poll Everywhere   
  • Collaborating with a subject expert or peer outside of their school using a digital platform, such as Microsoft Teams  
  • Utilizing discussion boards for asynchronous engagement
  • Incorporating an online peer review tool to provide feedback to other students’ work and to receive peer feedback
  • Integrating shared documents for collaborative projects, such as Google docs
  • Engaging in chat boxes and breakout rooms available on several digital platforms

Utilizing the Backward Design framework developed by Wiggins and McTighe would accomplish the goal of determining how specific learning activities are designed with the intended results and evidence of learning in mind (Bowen, 2017).

Image Source:

Instead of putting the cart before the horse when selecting digital tools to enhance student learning activities, students will likely have more meaningful learning experiences if digital tools are determined after taking into account curriculum standards, learning context, and assessment procedures.


Author unknown. How to increase student engagement with technology.

Bond, M., Buntins, K., Bedenlier, S., Zawacki-Richter, O., Kerres, M. (2020). Mapping research in student engagement and educational technology in higher education: A systematic evidence map. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. 17(2).

Bowen, R.S. (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Buckle, J. (n.d.). A comprehensive guide to 21st century skills. Panorama Education.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Corwin.

Foltos, L. (2018). Learning Design Matrix. Peer-Ed.

Glantz, E., Gamrat, C., Lenze, L., Bardzell, J. (2021). Improved student engagement in higher education’s next normal.

International Society for Technology in Education.

4 replies on “Pedagogy before Technology: Why the Cart Shouldn’t Be Put Before the Horse When Integrating Technology into Student Learning Experiences”

“I am interested in exploring is how student engagement in the learning process can be enhanced through use of technology.” This does feel like it should be the focal point or all of our coaching work. Thanks for sharing such valuable resources, particularly the “Engaging learning activities that integrate technology…” While we are rapidly running out of time to offer you opportunties for reflection on how you worked to reach this goal, the topic is too important to drop at the end of the class. I hope you share blog posts you may write on this topic, articles you publish or conference presentations you provide. We, all of the DEL cohorts, would benefit from exploring your experiences!!

This was a meaningful reminder for me as I think about my own coaching activities for this quarter. I also think your points in this post create such an approachable starting point for teachers (and coaches!) at all points on the digital literacy spectrum (i.e., improving instruction with technology doesn’t first start with being a tech wiz and having specialized knowledge of a bunch of different platforms). Sound pedagogy will naturally lend itself to opportunities for meaningful tech integration, so let’s start by looking at the big picture (or working backwards as you’ve suggested with UBD). Thank you for the thoughts and resources you’ve provided here. Great post.

This is an important reminder for our coaching. We must think about this issue at the very beginning, how the technology we choose can improve and encourage students to learn.

I am also interested in how we should evaluate this aspect to ensure that coaching or curriculum design is constantly measuring whether the technology selected in the plan can achieve the goal of encouraging students and expected results.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *