Digital Learning and Grit: Tech Tools for Teachers in Flipped (and all) Classrooms that help support grit, perseverance, and tenacity

Meghan Enga teaches 6th and 7th grade at Banting Middle School in Vancouver, BC. She uses a 3D learning platform called Quest Atlantis (QA). In QA, students undertake virtual quests that feel a lot like playing a video game, but with a story line that inspires social awareness. In the game, they can take on the role of a scientist, doctor, or mathematician. From those characters, they can gather information and interact with other players. ‘There is a lot of engagement and use of play theory,’ Enga says. “Embedded beneath all of this cool, engaged, and connected activity is a scaffold for the development of a set of skills vital for the students’ future success. This important toolkit for the future can be called ‘grit, perseverance and tenacity’.

A new draft report from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Technology, entitled “Promoting Grit, Perseverance, and Tenacity: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century, discusses the role of technology as a tool to support the “non-cognitive factors, attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources” that support student success. The reportis part of a move to recognize and define a set of essential skills that will help students who are on the journey to realizing their full potential.

These attributes can be described in many ways. For clarity, the report defines grit as “perseverance to accomplish long-term or higher-order goals in the face of challenges and setbacks, engaging the student’s psychological resources, such as academic mindsets, and having the ability to look beyond current situations to future goals, strategies, and tactics.” Here you’ll find a few examples of the use of digital learning environments, online resources, and tools for teachers drawn from this line of research. These examples offer a glimpse into the potential of technology to support grit, tenacity, and perseverance.

How can technology leaders, and flipped classroom educators in particular, use the information in this report?

The flipped classroom presents a special opportunity because extra time in class makes room for a more engaging learning space. It paves the way for the creation of a more motivating learning environment. Some educators are using engaging, immersive digital worlds full of optimally challenging tasks as part of their ‘flipped’ equation.

Tools for immersive digital learning environments

Meghan Enga’s Quest Atlantis classroom, above, is an example of a digital environment which provides resources for persistence, tenacity, and grit. The 3D GameLab is another such tool developed by a team from the Educational Technology department at Boise State University. Lisa Dawley and colleague Chris Haskell co-created the 3D GameLab quest-based learning platform to provide immersive experiences that lead students to persist. By using 3D GameLab Dawley says, “Students are rewarded for their work as they level up, they learn to stay persistent, and they engage in true mastery learning. Early research is showing that on average, students remained more persistent in quest-based learning compared to traditional assignments.”

In the immersive, blended-genre physics game Impulse!, students find themselves in a simulation of ambient particles obeying Newton’s laws. Impulse requires the player to apply a force (an impulse) through a touch or click input, either on the Web or handheld device. To succeed in the game, players must develop strategies as they also become more knowledgeable about the behavior of particles. This immersive game gets more challenging the longer students play, which offers challenging and engaging experiences. This is a combination that leads to perseverance while learning physics.

Tools for the development of academic mindsets

A belief that effort will make students smarter and more successful – known as ‘growth mindset’--is perhaps the most fundamental foundation of grit, tenacity, and perseverance for learners. Brainology is a blended learning program that offers 2.5 hours of online instruction and additional activities. Already in use in schools and districts, the program providesa structured path for all students to develop a growth mindset. The researchers of Transforming the Engagement of Students Learning Algebra, or TESLA, partnered with Brainology to implement an abridged version of the program. TESLA focuses on algebra content in an immersive environment while providing support for students' motivation using a variety of technology-based tools. As part of a research project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, TESLA developers are studying the effects of student participation in problem-based scenarios with scaffolds to support the development of students' motivation in math. The research is charting a path to make algebra relevant while preparing students for success in STEM careers.

Tools for promoting a supportive classroom climate

A supportive classroom climate helps students persist and stay on task. Programs such as ClassDojo and Kickboard for Teachers provide an array of tools to manage the climate of the classroom. ClassDojo includes tools to track and reinforce students’ own expectations for behavior and work time. Kickboard for Teachers also provides tools for tracking classroom behavior, which is folded into a tool to analyze classroom and school culture.

Next steps

The digital environments and tools mentioned here represent some of the opportunities to support the development of grit, tenacity, and perseverance. While these tools are supportive for the flipped classroom, all students, educators, and districts can benefit from a focus on grit.


US Department of Education Office of Technology Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century

Quest Atlantis

Video Interview with Meghan Enga, Quest Atlantis educator

3D GameLab

Impulse! from EDGE@TERC

Transforming Engagement of Students Learning Algebra (TESLA)


Class Dojo

Kickboard for Teachers