Guest Post on Motivation and Technology

It is with great pleasure and excitement that I share the first ever guest post here at eltrantsreviewsreflections. I am honored to share a post from Chris Wilson (aka @MrChrisJWilson). Chris is an English language teacher based in the small city of Badajoz in Spain. He has previously taught in Dnipropetrovsk in Ukraine. He loves gadgets and teaching English and writing usually on his blog, which comes highly recommended. Chris  shares lots of ideas in his insightful and innovative blog. 

It’s the first day teaching a new class and you’re really excited.

You’ve prepared the class and decided to use an activity you heard about at a conference (or online if you prefer). It fits the language point, the lesson is perfectly constructed with ever stage following beautifully on from the last and with flexibility for any eventuality and this activity is really going to insure it is a fun lesson. The perfect match of learning and enjoying.

But it doesn’t go like that.

The students aren’t interested ESPECIALLY in the activity using the computer you heard about.

The activity actually didn’t match the language point you thought it did.

There was confusion over what to do during the activity.

The best part of the lesson was the part you though was least interesting.

And in the end the students were bored and confused over the language.

Okay I’ve gone over the top but i’m sure you can see parts of one of your lessons here, I know I can.

So why does this happen in classes?

Choosing activities for tech

Unfortunately, all these modern technological devices and software aren’t magic. Not everything they do will be brilliant or necessarily motivating and enjoyable. Want proof?

Find a boring book to read. Give a copy to a student in paper form and then give a copy To a student in electronic  format. Both will be bored. (Same goes if they watch the film).

There are features of modern technology that are different from older devices but inherently motivating isn’t one of them.

Yet, despite this many people still  choose activities based around the latest technology (and there are many websites that are based around this same idea.) and some of these sites revolve around trying to squeeze in an activity around the latest device or app yet in reality they are very similar to any activity that could be done with just a pen and paper. Perhaps it is no surprise that in these cases when they activities are brought out…they aren’t actually that motivating.

Motivation is more than just using the latest technology

Motivation is such a complex beast that it is no surprise it is one of the most talked about topics. The range of factors that go into someone being motivated or not range greatly so let’s look at a few.

  1. Weather- Yes a cloudy day may lead to depressed students and a sunny day to students who long to be outside.
  2. Family/friend problems- If there are problems with a students social life, don’t expect a hard working student in class (though sometimes the classroom can be an escape).Okay you get the picture it’s not just in the classroom, let’s look at some that are:Participation– Will the students actually do anything or are they just there to absorb information?

    Learner style–  How do the students best absorb information? Do they have trouble with long texts?

    Challenging/Achievable– Do the tasks push the students but not over stretch them? If it’s too hard or easy then students can switch off.

    Meaningful – Can the students see that there is a point to the activity and they will use it in real life. Of course, there can be exceptions where unrealistic roleplays can be extremely motivating but this is a good rule of thumb.

It should be noted that there are exceptions to every single motivation point above which reinforces the fact that motivation is so complex.

Most of these are so obvious and well know to all of us, and yet, as soon as there is some shiny new bit of technology in front of us we forget these basic principles. In the end, we come up with activities to match our tech and not the tech for the activity.

Feel free to add any factors in motivation in the comments below.

The mistake of choosing the tech for the activity

Instead of thinking “How can we use this or that piece of tech?” we should remember our core principles and use the tech that comes to mind that best fits the activity. In some cases this may be a traditional pen and paper. In others it could be Post-its (I know advanced stuff) and maybe it will be some brand new app or mobile device.

Of course, to naturally think of what tech to use we have to be familiar with different kinds of tech (and from that point of view, perhaps there is a place for websites devoted to edtech) but the fundamentals of a good lesson remain the same with or without the latest technology in the room.

Questions to ask yourself before you choose tech

1. What is the overall lesson aim?
2. Does this activity fit into that aim?
3. Are there anyways to complete the activity not using the “desired language?”
4. Will the students be familiar with this tech?
5. Is there anything unique this tech has to offer?

Are there any criteria missing? Feel free to add them in the comment section below.

A personal case study: Encouraging students to blog

I ran a project last year to encourage my students to take part in blogging (the project was “My next project: Student blogs). Many students initially reacted positively to the idea, signed up to participate…and then didn’t do a lot! I set some tasks that were very similar to tasks they could do without a blog (such as a writing task like describe your dream…. tell us about your school or similar) and there was very little response. I even tried bribing the students with rewards which got a better response but it was still very muted.

There were two things that occurred that changed things though. I started sharing pictures of the whiteboard including grammar clarifications, classwork, and emergent language which lead to more views on the site and questions about what they could see on the board.

A student uploaded pictures and text about his trip to St Petersburg. All of a sudden the students started to ask questions about the places he went to and shared where they had been as well.

These were both activities that couldn’t be done without using the blog (although the second one could have been done if the students brought the photos into class) and had much great motivation than setting another writing task on the blog.

The counter argument

I’ve been very negative about using latest technology for any task that can be done without the latest technology (and the experts who push “edtech” on us) but I’d like to completely counter myself now.

If a student is more use to typing than writing then isn’t it more natural to use the technology their used to (though that probably isn’t the Latest technology)

Setting the same writing task on a blog as on paper actually isn’t the same. There is the option for comments, adding pictures, adding audio or even videos. As such there may be worth in setting these tasks using this technology anyway.

However, in both of my counter arguments it isn’t the latest technology its technology that has actually been around for a while and we have become used to. And that really is my point. Teachers and Students need to become familiar with technology and remove the novelty factor so that we can start thinking about the core elements of motivation again.

How much do you use the latest technology in the classroom? What criteria do you set?



  1. Dan Craig

    Hi, Chris. This is something I try to convey over and over and not just to undergraduate students. I see other people in edtech chasing new tech all the time. Now, there are probably other reasons for this than simply pedagogical concerns. Let’s face it, you don’t get much attention talking about 10 year old tech.

    The old standby when talking about media comparison studies are the Clark vs. Kozma debates. See for a little on that. In essence, Clark’s strongest argument is that new media don’t have any significant different in learning if it is accomplishing something that can also be done using another media (video disc vs. streaming video). However, Kozma modifies the discussion by focusing on attributes of the technology and how they are used together (essentially adding a methods argument). Below are a couple paragraphs taken from an old quals paper that touched on the subject (the formality is kind of laughable in a comment, but here it goes anyway.)
    The very reasons that online collaborative learning should be such a concern for Instructional Technology form the foundation of our knowledge goals: the processes and the resources. Though, to treat these as separate entities is to ignore the effect that each have on one another (Kozma, 1994). How can the process exist separately from the media in which it takes place? Kozma (1994) addressed this in his response to Clark (1983, 1994). While many would accept that media itself does not influence learning (Clark, 1983, 1994), few would reject the assertion that access to media influences instructional design.

    In a recent article, Reeves, et al (2004) sum it up well when they detail gaps in our understanding of, “the most effective alignments of educational objectives, content, subject matter expertise, instructional methods, technological affordances, and assessment strategies for online collaborative learning” (p. 59). These needs deal with issues of context, control, instructional approach, hard technologies, and effective forms of assessment. However, the most important part of this statement could easily be ignored, “the most effective alignments of.” This is an indication of the need for all of these variables to be considered together instead of separately. Changing one would affect the others. While it is important for us to study the effects that each of these variables have on the learning experience, it is just as important not to take them out of context.
    In the end, many of these technologies are just digital ways of doing things we could have done in other ways in the past. They are not better by virtue of being digital or portable or accessible etc., but they may be better in the ways that they are combined to create learning environments and in the ways our methods change through their use.

    One last agreement. We do have to stop treating technology as special and separate from general methods. The ed tech departments should all be rolled up and shoved back into curriculum & instruction (my old classmates would love hearing me say that 🙂

  2. mrchrisjwilson

    Thanks for the very thoughtful response. I think we are preaching from the same pulpit and in all honesty I do use a lot of modern technology in my classrooms and blog quite a bit about modern technology too! I think it’s a great point about imagine someone starting a blog about using these new fangelled VHS videos in class! (though that could be a very good fun parody blog)
    I think it’s an interesting point about the interconnectivity of the process and the resources or perhaps as Seth Godin puts it “The medium is the message.” Which for English language learning is very important. I remember an activity in a course book that involved reading about some peoples “blogs” before writing (on paper) your own. and that was it! In the end I made some paper that had a “comments section” bellow to try and give the same idea as a blog but i’m sure if we’d actually used blogs they would have been even better.

    Great to chat I look forward to more discussions soon!

  3. Pingback: My ten favourite ELT blogs | ELT Squared
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