Technology Doesn’t Motivate Students. Teachers Do.

Bill Ferriter is a 6th-grade language arts teacher in North Carolina, and in an effort to integrate technology into his curriculum, he set up a blog for his students and invited them to contribute. Two months went by and Ferriter didn’t see a single post, despite passionate encouragement and pleading. His “grand blogging experiment” died before it ever really began.

Ferriter used this anecdote to introduce the question he asked in a post on SmartBlog on Education, “Are kids really motivated by technology?”

“While kids may initially love technology-inspired lessons in schools simply because they are different from the paper-driven work that tends to define traditional classrooms, the novelty of new tools wears off a lot quicker than digital cheerleaders like to admit,” he wrote. But this only happens if a teacher doesn’t investigate a student’s interests first.

Technology alone was never meant to motivate students. Simply offering a student an iPad isn’t going to motivate that student to automatically use it for an educational purpose. In all likelihood, if left on his own, that student will probably install Angry Birds and waste away the afternoon. You can’t simply give a child a new gadget and hope that he will use it to bolster his learning.

Technology is meant to be a tool for a student who is already motivated to work hard and learn new things. Ferriter highlights the motivational value of social opportunities in education, where students have the chance to engage in challenging conversations with their peers, and argues that this kind of learning should take place before technology is ever introduced.

“They are motivated by the important people in their lives, by the opportunity to wrestle with the big ideas rolling around in their minds, and by the often-troubling changes they see happening in the world around them,” he wrote.

Technology is changing education, but it is not becoming education. And nor should it. Teachers must continue to delve into the minds of their students, learn what moves them, and what interests they possess. What challenges them? As Ferriter writes, “Once you have the answers to these questions — only after you have the answers to these questions — are you ready to make choices about the kinds of digital tools that are worth embracing.”

So Ferriter isn’t about to rid his classroom of everything digital. He believes that digital tools are worth embracing, but only after teachers figure out how to reach students on a personal level first. Learn the right way to teach each student first … and then pull out the iPad.