Effects Of Technology On Motivation

Effects of Technology on Motivation


Educators have always worked hard to keep their students motivated. Over the last ten years, I have seen a significant decrease in the motivation of my students, as well as in their abilities to pay attention, stay on task and complete assignments. Some educators assume that the digital revolution is to blame. They feel that fast paced video games have replaced reading at home and therefore cause students to have less restraint and less motivation to gain knowledge. I, however, believe it is the lack of technology in the classroom that is to blame. Yes, students are playing fast-paced video games at home, but they are also surfing the web to gain information and staying socially connected through digital technology. These pastimes involve reading. As adults, we too live in this digital, technologically advanced world when we are not at work as educators. With the explosion of technology over the past ten years, it is imperative for policy makers, researchers and educators interested in bridging the digital divide in education to step up and keep up with our changing world. As technology advances and we as adults become more and more reliant on it in our daily lives, the question is raised, “Are we serving our students with relevant and real life skills?” Recent legislative mandates, such as the No Child Left Behind act, have increased the demands on schools to provide every child access to a high quality education in hopes of closing the achievement gap (Mouza, 2008). However, the funding to adequately do so has not been provided.


I work in the largest district in the state of Arizona. Therefore, the assumption most individuals have is that the largest district has the most money so they will have the most advanced tools to implement instruction. Unfortunately, this is not true. Although the largest total funds, the money is still proportionate to the number of students. The elementary school I am at defines its technology as two computers in each classroom and each of those is 5-7 years old. There is a television with a VCR and a boom box. The school does have a computer lab that houses 30 computers. Classes have access to the lab for 40-50 minutes a week. Until this past year, this was the extent of the technology in the classroom. The teachers begged the PTO for a mobile smart board we could share. They were gracious enough to outfit us with two. Unfortunately, this is insufficient for a school with 35 classrooms. Due to the community culture where most students have access to multiple technologies at home, students are coming to us with less motivation to learn due to their cultural frame (Posner, 2004). They live in a world of technology. They come to us technology savvy (Harvey –Woodall, 2009). They have cell phones, iPods and most of them have computers and access to the internet at home. They access information and are socially connected through technology. Even though our government and businesses are trying to get technology into the classrooms as fast as they can, technology in the average classroom is lacking (Mouza, 2008). Due to the lack of technology, many teachers are forced to access knowledge through textbooks.

Declining Achievement

Linda Darling Hammond’s video on Global Competiveness (2010) stated that the United States’ scores on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are continuing to decline. The U.S. rank 35th out of 40 in math, 29th out of 40 in science and although higher in reading, continues to drop. Assumptions about learning and teaching in the majority of the United States is opposite of the assumptions in high achieving countries. In the U.S., we tend to trivialize the curriculum through defensive simplificatation. We have a ritual of seeming to deal with topics without actually teaching them. Our students learn the rules and memorize facts but don’t get around to learning how to apply this knowledge in a real world context. By mandating curriculum and state testing, we have begun teaching to the test, not teaching to learn (Bloom, 2007).

In higher achieving countries, the assumption is that learning and understanding are reached through authentic curriculum. Teachers have time to prepare higher order, critical thinking lessons through project-based learning. The curriculum is not “teacher proofed”, but instead the teachers are given ample time to learn, plan and develop lessons and projects that require students to learn the information, but also to use it to complete projects and then analyze the effectiveness and success of the projects through written expression. In the U.S., the assumption is that teachers are not professionals and have no expertise. Teaching and curriculum are context dependent. Teaching and learning are standardized and linear so teachers are provided minimal prep time and the system is bureaucratic rather than professional (Hammond, 2010).

Teachers’ rights to make instructional and curricular decisions have been replaced by mandated programs instituted to cover the huge number of standards at each grade level. The U.S. is teaching how to perform on state tests instead of teaching to produce contributing members of society. Higher achieving countries have a narrower set of standards that are very clear, but not overly prescriptive. The students have time to learn a concept well and develop a solid understanding of how to use that concept. The concept rarely has to be revisited during another school year. In the U.S., students are taught concepts superficially. Teachers spend just enough time on them so that students will be able to master the minimal amount expected for the testing. Then the teacher must move on even if the students are interested in exploring the concept more. The U.S. teacher has many more topics to cover before the testing (Hammond, 2010).

The lack of technology plays a major role in the declining academic achievement I am seeing. One of the key factors contributing to students’ declining achievement is the lack of motivation students have to acquire and use new knowledge in the classroom. As Posner (2004) analyzed curriculum, he explored frame factors that can be used to explain limitations or constraints on teaching, therefore affecting curriculum implementation. The motivating effect of technology in the classroom can be studied through two of Posner’s frames. The economic and cultural frames can be used to look at classroom technology. The economic frame explores the dollars and cents aspect of why technology is not more prevalent in the classroom, but for my purpose, the frame examines the cost and benefits of staff and student morale and student learning. The cultural frame examines not only the culture of the school, but also the culture of the community in which the school exists (Posner, 2004). In order to improve academic achievement and again compete with the rest of the world, we must argue for the importance of funding more technology such as computers, internet, and smart boards in our classrooms.

With declining academic achievement has come the push for educators to improve scores on yearly standardized tests. Educators are finding themselves in a double bind (Bateson, 2005). They need to teach what is going to be tested; however, they must also teach the students to become learners. With the extensive list of standards to be taught at each grade level and only ¾ of the school year to teach them before the test in given, teachers are confusing the curriculum for the learning. What they are teaching doesn’t necessarily address meaning and relevance (Bloom, n.d.). The information is taught in fragmented bits and pieces. For learning to occur, everything must be interconnected (Bloom, n.d.). Students are being taught pieces of the puzzle and are expected to figure out how to fit it together by themselves. In the world’s higher achieving countries such as Finland, Singapore, and China, emphasis is not put on the standards, but the teaching and learning system. Students are taught to be learners through higher order thinking skills and problem solving. School based assignments and students natural inquisitiveness are brought together by research, inquiry and science investigations. Extensive writing is used to analyze instead of multiple choice. Students are able to explain views and analyze data (Hammond, 2010).

With our Reductionist outlook on curriculum delivery in the United States, we have a tendency to teach parts or specific processes (Bloom, n.d.) using traditional textbook and lecture format. We are still teaching our students skills that they will rarely use outside our classrooms. This lack of technology to provide authentic and stimulating curriculum delivery is affecting the morale of students. The use of technology in the classroom impacts student achievement by making learning more interesting and meaningful, therefore, motivating students and connecting them with the rest of the world (Harvey-Woodall, 2009). The learning is authentic and has real world application. Educators are able to take a Holism approach which offers explanations through interaction and how objectives taught intertwine or fit together like the pieces of a puzzle (Bloom, n.d.). The society we live in has changed quickly and now has an increasing dominance of technology. Schools must prepare students for the high-tech society they live in (Monke, 2009). The use of technology in the classroom motivates more of our young learners to seek out and use the academic knowledge we are requiring of them. Using the internet, PDAs, laptops, and smart boards (just to name a few) will push students to want to seek out knowledge and grow as learners.

Many schools, such as the one I teach in, are still teaching children that the “best” place to go find information on a giraffe is the encyclopedia. The children know that this is not true. They know that if they want to know about a giraffe they should search it on the internet. When we tell them to pick up the encyclopedia and read the page about a giraffe instead of reading several of the colorful and exciting sites on giraffes on the internet, they become disengaged and decide quickly that what we have to teach them is useless. No wonder they tune us out.

We need to develop engaged learners. Students need to learn to be responsible for their own learning. Learning becomes more relevant when students’ search for knowledge and understanding are drawn from their own curiosity. Their projects are pertinent and the answers to their questions become essential. Students become energized by learning. They are driven to solve the puzzles and reach new insights (McKenzie, 1998).

We can do this through a technology enhanced learning environment. Connecting students to the world with current and interesting information allows children to make meaning and develop insight through careful guidance by the teacher. Student interests and questions become the focus of classroom activity. Educators teach students effective searching, gathering, interpreting and communicating skills. Questioning and information literacy become fundamental parts of the curriculum (McKenzie, 1998).


Children perceive computers to be important tools, because they serve as an informational resource, are useful for future employment, and they assist in the learning process. To achieve in today’s world, students must be given 21st century tools that simulate authentic work environments (Mouza, 2008). Constant access to computers has been shown to help students acquire an increased comfort level with a wide range of software applications and the ability to apply technology to access, manipulate and organize information (Lowther, Morrison, & Ross, 2003). Technological opportunities are particularly useful in developing higher-order skills of critical-thinking, analysis, and inquiry that are necessary for students in the 21st century. Technologic tools help teachers to create authentic learning environments, which are meaningful to students. Project-based learning activities engage students in complex tasks rather than recitation or drill (Mouza, 2008).

Mouza (2008) found students using laptops acquired a sense of pride and empowerment. They displayed increased intrinsic motivation and persistence in completing schoolwork and often went beyond the requirements of assignments, therefore improving the quality of the finished product they turned in. They directed their own learning and engaged in higher level activities. They created interactive timelines, and electronic storybooks, used spreadsheets to gather and analyze data, looked up information and published reports. Many took laptops home to refine and improve on projects they had time to work on in class, and even took the initiative to come up with their own projects to work on collaboratively in the classroom.

Daniels (2004) studied the motivational effects of computer technology on writing instruction and performance of 5th grade students through practical action research at the individual teacher level. Participants of this study were students and instructors who were engaged in standardized testing preparation sessions before the 2000 Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test. After a couple of days following traditional paper and pencil writing program, Daniels observed students spending a considerable amount of time on the prewriting process, but not producing much of anything on their papers. The majority of the students were struggling to produce a page and the two more advanced students in the group were able to produce one to two pages a piece. Daniels decided to “reward” the students for their hard work and allow them to use the computers to write their rough drafts. The students still followed the writing process. The only divergence was the use of computers. He observed all of the students were writing about 50% longer pieces. Daniels originally attributed the fact that the students were writing more to their increased competency with the “Power Writing” program. He went back to an all paper and pencil method and the student’s writing dropped in length 50%, or close to what it was before the computers. By the end of the study, Daniels was certain that the computer provided a great deal of motivation for the students in his group. The bulk of his proof is based on teacher observations and MAEP data. Cognitive research emphasizes the importance of student intrinsic motivation in the learning process. When students are intrinsically motivated, they are moved to do something through the “natural human propensity to learn and assimilate” (Deci & Ryan, 2000). In contrast, a controlling, extrinsically motivating, environment can stall student motivation and desire to learn (Mouza, 2008). Students often perform extrinsically motivated actions with disinterest, resentment, and resistance (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

A common assumption many educators make is that students who do not participate in discussions are unmotivated to participate or simply do not understand the material and are unmotivated to ask questions for clarification. Bourbonniere and Redekopp, senior high school teachers in Winnipeg, Manitoba, had made several observations about the different levels of participation and quality of verbal answers some students made when called upon in class. They decided to try out a hunch. Knowing that students network through Face Book and other social networking sites on-line, they conducted a study in which they set up a blog that students used to complete assignments and regular class discussions. Students were categorized in levels of in-class participation; Level 1 being the students who always contributed to discussions and Level 4 being students who never contributed. Students were assigned random numbers to respond by. Each student was responsible for choosing to respond to a third of the twelve questions posted (Redkopp and Bourbonniere, 2009). Redkopp and Bourbonniere (2009) found that many Level 3 and Level 4 students made interesting and interactive contributions contrary to their contributions in class. They did not see an increase in regular classroom participation. Putting the class criteria into the digital age that students were accustomed to in their personal lives made a large impact on productivity.

Qualitative data indicates that laptop integration and the use of the internet create enhanced intrinsic motivation and engagement with school work. Students reported significantly higher positive attitudes toward school than comparison students in traditional learning environments (Mouza, 2008). Computers are powerful tools. Access to these technologies can change the teaching and learning dynamics in the classroom to more inquiry-based methods, instead of memorization and drill. The use of technology is a more interdisciplinary approach that can act as a catalyst to move towards teachers acting primarily as coaches while our students motivate themselves to grow as learners (Fairman, 2004; Mouza, 2008). Well prepared teachers, trained in technology use in the classroom, enable all students to engage in powerful learning experiences (Mouza, 2008).

Disconnect in Reading Instruction

Informational text is the most widely read genre in our society today. However, classroom reading programs place most focus on fiction. (Harvey, 1998). The majority of primary reading curriculums center on teaching the narrative elements of fictional texts. In our increasingly digital society, 96% of text found on the Web is informational text (Duke & Benner-Armistead, 2003). While we as adults do read fiction for enjoyment, more and more of our recreational reading is coming from informational text. We surf the Web, read menus, directions, newspaper articles, blogs, magazines, restaurant and movie reviews, instruction manuals, and reports written by our colleagues to name just a few. If this is the way we interact with and come to understand the world around us as adults, why should it be so different for young children? Students’ discontent may result from teachers offering of the same curriculum of standard instructional practices year after year (Edwards, Spencer and Spencer, 1991) or the assumptions that learning is standardized and linear. Fragmenting the curriculum by teaching bits and pieces of information without connecting it doesn’t address meaning or relevance (Bloom, n.d.). Convincing primary teachers to increase students’ exposure to informational text in the primary grades will considerably improve their students’ use of authentic literacy skills. This is the age when kids are the most inquisitive. Why is a spider’s web sticky? How do they make new paper out of old paper? Reading informational books is one of the best ways for kids to find the answers to these questions, and a great motivator to get them to read. Even without the technology in the classroom, teachers can begin to teach the informational text skills students will need through the use of informational text vocabulary and text structure lessons. With the majority of our experiences in “the real world” being with informational text, it would seem that learning basic reading skills should be through informational text rather than fictional text. We are surrounded by text that’s primary purpose is to communicate information about the natural or social world. Success in school, our job, and society depends on our ability to understand and gain meaning from this type of text. However, many students as well as adults struggle with comprehending informational text (Duke, 2004). By improving primary student’s comprehension of informational text, teachers will: provide keys to success as students advance through the grades, prepare students for real-life reading, appeal to readers’ preferences, address students’ questions and interests, build knowledge of the natural and social world, and boost vocabulary and other kinds of literacy knowledge (Duke, 2003). By utilizing authentic text, teachers will build literacy skills and knowledge that their students will use the majority of the time they are reading and writing, and in many cases increase motivation for reading.

Reasons for Change

Children see their parents and community members using technology to access and share information through the internet and smart technologies. Most of them are even using the internet at home. Then, they come to school and are expected to travel back in time and learn to access knowledge the way adults did when we were children. They must stop what they are doing, check to see if the Media Center is open, and walk across campus to check out a book on Egypt to read about the pyramids. Adults and children at home just search it on the internet and receive millions of hits. They cannot be expected to look up spellings in the dictionary, when the real world jobs use word processing and spell checkers the majority of the time. Information and data is now shared through technological advances. Reports are sent over the internet in Power Point form, and conferences are even Skyped. Student motivation has always been a factor in pushing our students to become more successful. Educating our students through the use of real world technology motivates them to become self-directed learners. All classrooms should be technology rich so students can be effectively taught through the use of, but not limited to, teacher lecture, trial and error, books, magazines, guest speakers, internet access, blogs, smart boards, document cameras, digital cameras, PDAs, and laptops with wireless internet access. Educational leaders must be convinced that a television and two computers do not provide the technology required not to leave a child behind. We are leaving many children behind with our lack of instructional technology. They are learning to succeed in the past and not in the technologically advanced world they will be living in. The application of teaching through the use of technology will generalize to our students’ real lives, and therefore will be much more beneficial to our ultimate outcome of producing competent adults that will contribute to a positive and productive community.


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