A fascinating debate mentioned by Larry Cuban and first published in edSurge discusses a philosophical schism in implementing educational technology. While this particular debate is rooted in behavior modification of relatively young students using an app called ClassDojo, it poses a powerful question: Does technology make less motivated students? Are technology-rich lesson plans leading our students to be driven by bright lights and flashy buttons and not by the love of learning? As an educational technologist and teacher, I found myself diving into this discussion with relish.
Motives are reasons people hold for initiation and performing voluntary behavior. They indicate the meaning of human behavior, and they may reveal a person’s values. Motives often affect a person’s perception, cognition, emotion, and behavior. (Steven Reiss, Ohio State University)
In the edSurge article, “When Classroom Culture Conflicts With EdTech”, Karen Lirenman explains why she will not try ClassDojo in her first grade class. Her case is followed by Erin Klein’s success story with the app in her second grade class. The debate is well-structured: By presenting Lireman’s concerns first, I found I was trying to punch holes in Klein’s successes to see if they were superficial.
Lirenman’s most compelling point is quoted below. She argues that the performance goals created by ClassDojo could encourage better behavior but for the wrong reasons. Students won’t learn how to control themselves any better. Instead, they’ll manipulate a system to get prizes while gaining no deeper skills. Compliance with the classroom culture isn’t enough. Students need guidance to become independent, curious learners, and luring them with colorful cartoon characters isn’t the answer.
ClassDojo seems to enforce external rewards. And no matter how you jazz it up, external rewards don’t work in the long run. Yes, you may see results in the short term, but what happens when you remove the reward? From what I’ve seen, there is little authenticity and ownership of that said action. Using ClassDojo would make it hard for students to self regulate.(Karen Lirenman, “When Classroom Culture Conflicts with EdTech”)
Intrinsic VS Extrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic motivation means you’re interested in completing a task because the process is rewarding in itself. Extrinsic motivation means you’re interested in completing a task for the reward that someone or something will give you. So when we ask, “Does technology make less motivated students?” what we’re really saying is, “Does technology make less intrinsically motivated students?”
If you haven’t watched the TED Talk about building a “game layer” to the world, I would recommend checking it out below. As you watch, consider how offering incentives to modify behavior might change the purpose and intent of an action. Does offering a “Happy Hour” special at a bar, for example, shift your intrinsic motivation of enjoying a social meeting to getting a discounted libation?
ARCS Motivation Model
The ARCS Motivation Model (Keller, 1984) will let us delve into intrinsic motivation with more specificity and shed some light on the question, “Does technology make less motivated students?” The model parses motivation into four detailed aspects. Just reading over this list, I can see many ways technology can serve as both a supporting and detracting factor.
- Perceptual Arousal: What can I do to capture their interest?
- Inquiry Arousal: How can I stimulate an attitude of inquiry?
- Variability: How can I maintain their attention?
- Goal Orientation: How can I best meet my learner’s needs?
- Motive Matching: How and when can I provide my learners with appropriate choices, responsibilities and influence?
- Familiarity: How can I tie the instruction to the learners’ experiences?
- Learning Requirements: How can I assist in building a positive expectation for success?
- Success Opportunities: How will the learning experience support or enhance the students’ beliefs in their competence?
- Personal Control: How will the learners clearly know their success is based upon their efforts and abilities?
- Natural Consequences: How can I provide meaningful opportunities for learners to use their newly acquired knowledge/skill?
- Positive Consequences: What will provide reinforcement to the learners’ successes?
- Equity: How can I assist the students in anchoring a positive feeling about their accomplishments?
The qualities of intrinsic motivation are not in conflict with the broad concept of Technology. Especially as edtech becomes increasingly common in our daily routines, its presence is insignificant compared to its application. Even with a particular app, one must look at a case-by-case basis to evaluate the components of attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction.
Does Technology Make Less Motivated Students?
If implemented poorly, yes it can. But with attention to the ARCS Model and adherence to some fairly common-sense best practices, educational technology can serve as vital scaffolding as well as a playground to foster intrinsic motivation. Erin Klein said it best in her half of the ClassDojo debate, “I found, it’s not about the tool itself, but how the tool is used.”