Technology’s Role in Motivation

By Katie Ash — June 06, 2008 2 min read
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I just finished writing an article for Digital Directions about using digital video in the classroom. It was a fun article to write since all of the educators I spoke with about using digital media in the classroom were passionate and thoughtful speakers, which makes my job pretty easy. And it seems like every time I write about teachers who are using technology in their classes, student motivation is a topic that inevitably comes up. When I asked one art teacher in my story, Kristine Fontes, whether or not her students were more engaged when she used digital media, I think she summed it up pretty well with three words: “Are you kidding?”

All the teachers I spoke with observed a noticable increase in the level of engagement students exhibited with their projects when they were encouraged to use digital media. In fact, a lot of the projects that these teachers did with their classes were spearheaded by students who would come in after school, during recess, or during lunch to complete. Part of the appeal for students, teachers noted, was the idea of sharing their work with a wide variety of people from all over the world through the Internet. I completely relate to this phenomenon. After all, isn’t that one of the main attractions of blogging?

Another man I spoke with, Brock Dubbels, for my Digital Directions article about alternate-reality games had a really interesting point to make that I couldn’t exactly fit into the article, so I’ll share it here with you. Dubbels, who teaches 9th graders in the Minneapolis public school district, said that there’s a disconnect between today’s students and teachers who do not encourage the use of technology in the classroom. In their normal lives, kids really like technology, he says. They’re surrounded by it and use it for all sorts of reasons--entertainment, social networking, education, etc. Banning gadgets such as cell phones and video games from the classroom, he says, pits education against what kids are interested in, which is a battle teachers simply can’t win.

“By taking away the things [students like],” Dubbels told me, “you’re saying my values are more important than yours.” A better approach, he suggests, is to integrate technology with education and make the idea that you have to choose between them null and void. By recognizing where student interests lie and tapping into that, teachers can begin to develop a deeper relationship with students, he says.

It’s worth noting, though, that technology can be a distraction to learning, a nuisance, and students often use it for obnoxious purposes, such as to bully other students using online tools. Plus, the jury is still out on the impact technology actually has on student achievement--some suggests it helps, some that it has no impact at all.

But what do you think? Has the Internet and new technology helped you find better ways to motivate your students? What might prevent teachers from being able to follow Dubbels’ advice? On the other hand, what are the downsides of using technology in the classroom? How can it have a negative effect on student motivation?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.