I am working on a PhD in Instructional Psychology and Technology. Technology and Psychology don’t always seem to have a lot to do with one another, but sometimes the connection between the two seems a little more clear. I had an experience this week that made me consider the role of technology in motivation.
This past week I witnessed the most appalling display of grade-grubbing that I have every seen. Three students came to my department’s graduate student lab to confront their teacher about an assignment for which they had received 75% of the points available. Their instructor had offered them the opportunity to revise the assignment, but instead, the three students took time to plan their argument for full credit on the assignment. Their tone of voice toward their instructor was disrespectful. Our department’s grad lab serves as a common office for all graduate student instructors in the department so I was there for the entire, ugly incident.
The instructor was obviously taken aback by the students’ reactions, but she responded calmly and respectfully to their arguments. Eventually, she asked the students, “Do you honestly feel you deserve full credit for this assignment?” The most vocal student hesitated for a split second , ” . . . Well, in any other class . . . “, before remembering her argument, which included three parts, none of which I found to be compelling reasons to give them full credit.
1. They had met minimum project requirements
2. They had decided to put less effort into the assignment because they were busy with other classes
3. The content of the class (Educational Technology) wasn’t important to know
Frankly, I wanted to tell them how obnoxious their behavior was and ask for their names so that I could make sure they never teach my children. Someday, during a parent conference perhaps, karma will repay them for the disrespect they showed their instructor, but I worry about the attitude toward learning that they will teach their students.
One of the two courses that I teach for the department is Educational Psychology and this week’s topic just happens to be motivation. I doubt the students in question would be able to recognize the irony of displaying such an obvious performance goal orientation in a “mastery” course. Additionally, I fear that extrinsic motivation is widespread among teacher candidates and I worry that extrinsically motivated teachers will result in even more extrinsically motivated students.
I’m frustrated that the grade-grubbers felt that educational technology wasn’t important to know because I believe that technology can play an important role in motivating students to learn. Usually when people talk about technology and motivation, they are referring to a novelty effect, that students become more interested in learning tasks because the technology being used is an exciting change from the normal routine. This isn’t the type of motivation that I mean.
The real benefit of educational technology lies in its ability to change the process of learning. By teaching students to use technology to answer their own questions, we can encourage a deep rather than a surface-level approach to learning. Many advocates of educational technology play the role of apologists and perpetuate the idea that technology is “just a tool” to be employed to learn valuable content. True, technology is a tool, but so is English, so is calculus. Some tools have more value than others; Roman numerals have proved less valuable than Arabic numerals. However, the networking technologies available over the Internet are among the more valuable tools available to us. The individual applications (Diigo vs. Del.ico.us, for example) are constantly changing, but I think we should acknowledge that the principles behind these applications are as worthy of instruction as the principles of grammar.
Content can be valuable, but the focus of education shouldn’t be so much about learning content, it should be about learning processes and tools that allow individuals to find, evaluate, use and create content. Maybe then we’d have fewer grade-grubbing students and more lifelong learners.