In my day-to-day work as an instructional coach for digital learning and as an influential education podcaster, I push myself to find or create opportunities for teachers to invest in students as content creators. I want to take teaching and learning out of the 20th Century industrial age and truly get students to be more future-focused and ready for the new jobs and demands that will lie ahead of them in the future. Why is it so important to have students as content creators, not consumers? It helps learning become more engaging, relevant, and authentic. Students at any age can begin to experience what it is like to put their work out to a wider audience than just their teacher. How many students, regardless of their age, follow or even want to become YouTubers or other influencers? A report by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and published by the World Economic Forum website called Transforming through Trust: How social innovators are transforming the lives of millions, discussed how social innovators play a vital role in systemic economic change. Finding ways to have students as content creators in school does not simply satisfy that dream. It builds valuable life and career skills that will likely serve them well in their future.
In another article by the The World Economic Forum called These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow – and how long it takes to learn them (Whiting, 2020), critical thinking and problem-solving top the list of skills employers believe will grow in prominence in the next five years. Additionally, the second-most important skill is active learning and learning strategies. These increasingly important skills for students align with what many educators consider “The Four C’s” – critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication, not to mention how they contribute to the age-old notion that the best way to learn something is to teach it to others. Furthermore, as any good educator should know, the top-most level of higher order thinking in Bloom’s Taxonomy is creating. Having students as content creators allows the students to demonstrate their learning in ways that contribute to better mastery of content and standards.
Introducing Student Content Creation
The good news for educators like me who are constantly looking to find and promote more opportunities to have students as creators, not consumers, is that there are plenty of creativity tools for students that will work great in order to achieve this goal. These student creation tools can promote building valuable skills as well as increasing opportunities for students to learn digital citizenship along the way. Students can gain experience producing work for a wider audience than just their teacher while also learning to be cognizant of their responsibilities to a more authentic audience. In the following sections, I will go through my ideas of five ways to empower students as content creators as well as some of the powerful student creation tools that can be used to do so.
1. Creation and Collaboration Through Presentations
One of the ways that educators have been embracing student content creation and collaboration for a long time is through the use of student presentations. More traditional presentation tools such as Powerpoint and Google Slides have allowed students to demonstrate their learning and to truly experience how “the best way to learn something is to teach it to others.” Additionally, more powerful tools such as Nearpod have come along and made presentations become even more engaging and interactive. In my experience, the more interactive presentation tools like Nearpod are mostly used by teachers to present information. However, if the goal is to have students as creators not consumers, teachers can look for more ways to get the students themselves to create interactive presentations, rather than the stagnant ones that the more traditional tools can create.
With Nearpod’s Student Accounts feature, available as part of the Premium Plus license, students can share their knowledge by creating and delivering their own Nearpods and enjoy seamless access to lessons using their accounts. Students can log into Nearpod to create lessons that feature all the interactivity teachers and students love. The student experience is limited to lesson creation and does not include the lesson library, so you don’t need to worry about students accessing their teacher lessons or any included answers.
Students can build more interactive presentations using tools like Nearpod to either showcase their learning throughout a lesson or unit, or they can present an original idea. Teachers and schools who incorporate genius hour or provide time for students to explore passion projects can especially benefit from having students present original content about concepts they are learning outside of the subject-area curriculum. The 4 C’s and other future-focused skills are embedded in presentations as an avenue for content creation. Presentations allow students to create their presentation slides, potentially collaborate with one another, and of course, communicate their ideas through their presentation content and spoken narration or other content delivery.
2. Written Communications Through Blogging
While writing is not for everyone and many students would prefer to demonstrate their learning in other ways, written communication still remains one of the most popular forms of communication. Whether through simple written communication such as letter writing, emailing, or even texting, students should know how important it is. One way to empower students as content creators not consumers is for teachers to provide opportunities for students to blog. Common Sense Education recommends several student creation tools for traditional blogging. Teachers can choose how “professional” they want student blog sites and posts to be. Simple blogs can even be created with standard tools that come with districtwide Google or Microsoft subscriptions using Google Docs, Slides, or Sites or using Microsoft Word, Sway, or Sharepoint.
Utilizing blogging as a type of content creation can obviously be easily introduced when working on reading and writing in the lower grades or in an English or language arts course in upper grades. However, it can be useful for having students to demonstrate mastery in other content areas as well. Students in math class can blog about which technique they used to solve a problem, why they used it, and to show their thought process and their work. In science, students can blog about a famous scientist and their contributions or they can create a how-to post about steps taken during a lab experiment. Students in Social Studies can blog about historical events or compare aspects of ancient history to those from modern times. The possibilities are endless.
3. The Power of Podcasting
As a podcaster myself, I am partial to this style of student content creation. The first opportunity I had to get students to create a podcast to demonstrate their learning came several years ago when three middle school boys used Soundcloud to create the “Brains, Braun, and Bulk” show to discuss what they had learned in their health class about physical and mental health and wellness. Podcasting can be a clever way of presenting information through audio that can typically be done quicker than writing. Many students may also find it easier to verbally convey concepts than to get bogged down by writing or typing or by the design elements that a slide presentation may require. What’s also great about podcasting is that, similar to presenting and blogging that I have already mentioned, believe it or not it does not require fancy equipment to create good ones.
Some popular creativity tools for students for podcasting include embedding audio in Google Slides or Sites, Flipgrid’s mic only mode, Soundtrap, or even using Nearpod’s open-ended question activity where students can record audio. As far as hardware goes, many people can get hung up on which microphones to use. The important thing to remember is that students will likely be recording while in a crowded room and with plenty of ambient noise. Therefore, it is best to use a dynamic microphone which is designed to only pick up the sound that is right in front of it, drowning out most of the room noise. Even earbuds with a built-in microphone like the ones that often come with a cell phone work really well. Of course, in a pinch students can still use the internal microphone that is built into a laptop, Chromebook, iPad, or whatever device the school can provide.
4. Storytelling Through Photo/Video Creation
Storytelling is such an important aspect of content creation as well as teaching and learning. Many of today’s students consume a great deal of content from YouTube. This is due in large part to the fact that YouTube has become the second most popular search engine only behind Google and is a digital curation of some amazingly entertaining and yes, educational content. I bet you have probably gone to YouTube to learn a new skill or trick at least once or twice. One time I saved my family dozens if not hundreds of dollars when I diagnosed a technical issue with our clothes dryer only to realize that it could be repaired simply and easily and for only about five dollars. Students love the opportunity to create video content that can emulate their favorite YouTubers. Students in English classes can create how-to videos. Students in math classes can “unbox” a new concept or solution. In social studies or science, students can create review-style videos where they analyze (also pretty high on Bloom’s Taxonomy) popular events, locations, and cultures, or famous figures, inventions, and ideals.
When it comes to creating video and photo content, once again, hardware can vary from the basic and inexpensive to the complex and costly. To get started, students can easily use the built-in cameras or webcams on their devices. For editing photos and videos, I love WeVideo for schools and districts with licenses. However, many district-issued devices will have access to simple editors and web-based platforms such as Adobe Creative Cloud apps or Canva. Students can also use Nearpod’s interactive video feature to share their creations.
These tools can allow students to create slideshows, presentations, and videos to capture photo content and become photojournalists and storytellers. Many students at my school have participated in the World History Day competition over the past few years. Getting to help them create documentary presentations and videos has been some of the most rewarding experiences I have had encouraging content creation in students. Plus, their creations have really turned out great!
5. Instructional Design Through Online Courses
This one is a bit of a dark horse pick but I truly think it will catch on as a more popular form of content creation that we will see emerge among young people and students over the next several years. A content creation avenue that has become more popular and is increasing in popularity among millennial entrepreneurs and online businesses is instructional design through online courses. As someone who has taken several online courses and has even completed two entire online degrees, I can attest to the value of online course content. Plus, I think we all saw
how valuable learn-from-home experiences became as learning and working during the pandemic quickly shifted to remote settings. Online learning platforms such as Coursera, FutureLearn, Udemy, Udacity, and Skillshare have become some of the most popular for people looking for courses, certificates, and even degrees on a wide array of subjects. Furthermore, many people have turned to online learning from apps such as Duolingo, Babbel, and Rosetta Stone to learn new languages.
In keeping with the theme of “the best way to learn something is to teach it to others,” students can create online course content to demonstrate their learning and to teach others a skill that they have mastered. If schools use a learning management system, Google Classroom, or Microsoft Teams, students may be able to post lessons and potentially engage and collaborate with others. Otherwise, Google Sites or Microsoft Sharepoint would work well as digital learning hubs. In my experience, even at the doctoral level, online courses can be just as engaging and powerful as in-person classes. Students can teach and learn concepts online as basic as how to do simple math to more difficult ones like how to understand the most advanced theories of biology, chemistry, and physics. What is great about this type of content creation is that students can even use any or all of the other creation types. Videos, presentations, and even audio content are very useful methods of delivering content in online courses.
To truly move teaching and learning toward future-readiness, providing opportunities to have students as content creators must become the norm rather than the exception in classrooms. With the world’s economy changing and adapting to new careers and industries, educators can no longer treat students as content consumers, simply absorbing information from their teachers who act as a sage on the stage. Instead, empowering students of all ages to become content creators emphasizes digital citizenship and provides authentic, more innovative and immersive learning experiences that will engage students and get them to better retain information and for longer. The best part? Most teachers and students are already equipped with the digital tools necessary to create these experiences. So, empower your students to start creating the kinds of learning activities and outcomes that will not just help them learn their subject area curricula but will prepare them with the essential skills they will need for their future.
Interested in reading more about this topic? Check out this blog post: 6 ways to create opportunities for student voice in Nearpod
Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. (2022, January). Transforming through trust: How social innovators are transforming the lives of millions. World Economic Forum. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Transforming_through_Trust_2022.pdf
Whiting, K. (2020, October 21). These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow – and how long it takes to learn them. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them/
Dr. Dan Kreiness is an educator, author, speaker, and host of the Leader of Learning Podcast. He works as an Instructional Coach for Digital Learning in Norwalk, CT. He is a Google Certified Educator, Microsoft Certified Educator, Nearpod PioNear, Flipgrid Ambassador, and WeVideo Certified Educator.