Motivating Students Through Technology
All educators are vexed at one time or another by that creature we have come to refer to as the “intentional non-learner”. The question of how to manage this breed of student, the one who seems to have no interest in or regard for their own education, can be a daunting one, even for the experienced teacher. While there has been considerable research and practice applied to this conundrum, one of the most effective approaches to motivating intentional non-learners has been through active, authentic, and student-driven use of technology.
In order to effectively motivate students to engage in technology-based classroom learning, it is necessary to ensure that such learning requires the students to be actively engaged with the technology, rather than being passively led or entertained by the technology. Gone should be the days of placing students in front of computers and allowing them to entertain themselves almost mindlessly through some variety of pedantic, didactic software. Similarly, it is necessary to move away from simply employing [wikipop]SmartBoards[/wikipop] to present material to enhance lectures, as if Smart Boards were nothing more than glorified PowerPoint projectors. Instead, teachers should be using whatever technological tools at hand to move away from lower-level memorization and fact regurgitation and toward higher-level analysis and synthesis of information. Research shows that “when students are using technology as a tool or a support for communicating with others, they are in an active role rather than the passive role of recipient of information transmitted by a teacher, textbook, or broadcast.”1 In order to accomplish this, technology should be intrinsically tied to the learning; if the same lesson could be accomplished without the use of a given technology, then students are likely to be in passive mode, in regards to both the technology and their learning. One way to further ensure that students are actively engaged in their learning through technology is to make sure that the learning is authentic.
Oftentimes, the first and loudest complaint voiced by an intentional non-learner is, “when am I ever going to use this in ‘real life’?” That question is a legitimate one. It’s sometimes difficult for students (even for teachers) to see how a particular lesson is relative to the world outside the classroom. If that can be made evident to students, preferably without the teacher having to explain the real world connection, then all students, even intentional non-learners, are much more likely to buy into and take an active role in their own learning. Authentic applications of technology might include tools such as word processing, database construction and management, web design, and graphing software. Such tools are the same as those used by professionals in business, communications, and research. Even a strategy such as a Webquest can and should be made more authentic when followed by an authentic application of the knowledge gained over the course of the Webquest. Soloway points out that it has long been established that “using technology for meaningful activities also helps integrate a variety of disciplines, more closely resembling activities that people undertake in the world beyond the classroom.” (as cited by Means, 1997)2 Students who are actively engaged, particularly in authentic tasks, will naturally begin to construct their own meanings and begin to take greater responsibility for their own learning, which may be the ultimate key to reaching the intentional non-learner.
While lecture certainly still has some place in most classrooms, teachers would be well-served to step away from the role of “all-powerful dispenser of knowledge most arcane”, and move toward the somewhat less-awe inspiring title of facilitator of education. Simple tactics, like offering options for student learning or allowing students to pursue their own avenues of learning, systematically make learning derived from such tasks more authentic, which necessarily ensures that students will be more actively engaged, and in turn more motivated, to construct their own learning. Technology can provide students with the opportunity to move “toward self-reliance and peer coaching…which supports educational goals for all students”, not just the intentional non-learner. (Means, 1997)3Essentially, well-designed, technology-driven, authentic learning tasks are not only good for the struggling, intentional non-learner, they’re simply good instruction for all learners.
- Corn, Randy. “Reaching the Intentional Non-Learner.” Weblog post. The Learning Perspective. The Learning Perspective, 12 Feb. 2009. Web. 27 Mar. 2011. <http://thelearningperspective.blogspot.com/2009/02/reaching-intentional-non-learner.html>. [↩]
- Means, Barbara. “Using Technology to Enhance Engaged Learning for At-Risk Students.” Web. 08 Apr. 2011. http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/students/atrisk/at400.htm. [↩]
- Means, ibid [↩]
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