Using EdTech to Increase Student Motivation

By Ian Kelleher

It is so easy to fall for the siren call of a new piece of EdTech. Someone shares a link and you think, “WOW! I’ve got to use that!” While this new program might be a welcome novelty for your students, they won’t necessarily be reaping all the benefits that EdTech has to offer if the technology is not being used strategically.

Instead of trying to work the newest, shiniest EdTech into your lesson plans, effective online teaching calls for a small, well curated list of tools that work for your students, your subject, your community, and your personal voice as a teacher. Remember: you are aiming for a tool belt, not a tool chest or a basement of tools.

When choosing EdTech, the question I have foremost in my mind is, “What are my learning goals, and does this EdTech tool make it easier to reach them?” This is paramount. But I also like to consider how each piece of EdTech I use is bolstering student motivation. To paraphrase Professor Rob Coe, learning happens when we think hard, so how do we get thinking hard at the top of each student’s agenda? Keeping student motivation in mind is especially important during COVID-restricted learning, as many of the motivational drivers inherent to in-person school—friends, classmates, sports, arts—are missing or diminished.

I curate my list of EdTech tools by asking how each addresses one of the three factors of the expectancy-value-cost theory of motivation.1 This theory puts forth that motivation can be fostered by increasing “expectancy” and “value” while decreasing “cost.” Here, expectancy refers to students’ belief that they will be able to do the work, while value refers to their belief that the work is worth doing. Cost refers to learning barriers, which we need to identify and eliminate.

Below I share how each of these factors can be addressed, and which EdTech tools can help. Remember, I am just aiming for a well curated tool belt. For a longer list of EdTech resources, look here.

Expectancy: I believe I can do the work. 

Students’ belief in their own ability to complete schoolwork is especially important in this COVID-disrupted year where many students are feeling more distanced from their teachers and their guidance. To increase the “expectancy” factor, use EdTech that supports:

  • Quality feedback, followed by a structured chance for students to act on it. If possible, students should receive feedback before a summative assessment or submitting work for a grade.
  • Opportunities for students to practice. Ideally teachers should be able to monitor practice, and students should receive targeted feedback.
  • Formative assessment, which helps students know where they are and what they need to practice, and helps you know where you need to tweak your upcoming teaching and assignments.
  • Scaffolding, which allows for individualized support for each student on any learning task they might be struggling with,and that allows these scaffolds to be peeled away as students’ proficiency increases. Rather than pointing us to a specific tool, this is all about how we use the tools we have—scaffolds should make impossible tasks possible, but must be temporary. The goal is to remove scaffolds over time and arc students towards independence.
GoalEdTech Tools
Quality FeedbackGoogle Docs, Floop, LMS tools (simple tools that do not add an additional executive functioning burden)
PracticeGimkit, Quizlet live, Google Docs, interleaved questions and answers posted on LMS, short explainer videos that you can make make using Loom, Screencastify or Quicktime
Formative AssessmentNearpod, Pear Deck, Socrative, PollEverywhere, LMS quizzes, Zoom chat, Padlet

Value: I believe that the work is worth doing.

Right now, students likely need a little more help seeing the value in their schoolwork, with everything else that’s going on in the world! To increase the “value” factor, use EdTech tools that support:

  • Elements of choice in, for example, medium of a project or assessment or topic of study. Always include carefully chosen constraints rather than allowing free choice. Remember that students are novice learners, so guide their choices as necessary. EdTech tools that support implementing elements of choice include using a phone to make a short video, using Quicktime or Audacity to make a podcast, using Venngage to make infographics, using MindMeister to make mind maps, using Powerpoint to design a poster, and using Google Slides for small groups to collaborate on visuals.
  • Incorporating positive emotions, such as novelty, humor, or empathy. Use images and short video or audio clips to help design the emotional climate of your classroom for a particular lesson. Make connections to people in your local community or beyond using the power of Zoom to bring them into your classroom.
  • A sense of purpose or relevance. EdTech can bring the vastness of the world and its people into your classroom. “How can I make this topic their-world relevant?” and “How can I build a sense of purpose in my students?” are good questions to keep in mind when searching for resources.
  • Connecting with peers. Tools and projects that allow students to collaborate can also provide spaces for social interaction, which is a vital motivator that can be difficult to incorporate into remote learning. A Zoom breakout room with a shared Google Doc is an easy starting place. Creating a Google Slides template where each small group is responsible for one slide helps add structure.
  • The power of you. Use EdTech in ways that allow your students to hear your voice and see your face. Use tools and craft projects that allow you to have small group check-ins with your students, particularly those who are not in-person, to see how they are doing. EdTech tools that support projecting “you” include using Loom or Screencastify to make simple 1-4 minute videos, which can be used to introduce topics, explain problems, give examples and non-examples, or even give students feedback on their work. Many LMS’s allow for easy integration of video and audio feedback.

Cost: What barriers to learning exist and how can they be overcome?

Students and teachers alike are facing an unprecedented number of barriers due to distance learning. What EdTech tools can help us overcome barriers that have a negative impact on our students’ learning? This is hugely important and leads to some of the best uses of EdTech—as a tool to get the job done. For example:

BarrierEdTech Tools
It is harder to gain insights into what students can do and what they are struggling with.Use the formative assessment tools listed above.
You cannot wander over to a student’s desk and walk them through a task.Use Loom, Screencastify, Quicktime, or Doceri to make simple 1-4 minute videos to explain tasks.
Listening to their teacher talking online all the time makes it hard for students to stay engaged.Include interactive elements in class, like Nearpod, Pear Deck, PollEverywhere, and Padlet, so students can implement new information, practice skills, or make predictions.


Ending with “Cost” is a good reminder that EdTech should not be the focus of the class, just a tool to make learning more efficient or to make the impossible possible. Using EdTech tools strategically allows us to stay focused on our learning goals and prevents both ourselves and our students from becoming overwhelmed with figuring out new programs. What’s more, using the right EdTech tools to address “expectancy,” “value,” and “cost” can help us boost our students’ motivation—which is more important than ever in the age of COVID and distance learning!

1Barron, K. E., & Hulleman, C. S. (2015). Expectancy-value-cost model of motivation. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (pp. 503–509). Elsevier.

Dr. Ian Kelleher is a science teacher at St. Andrew’s and The Dreyfuss Chair of Research for the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning. He is the co-author of Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education. His latest project is Neuroteach Global – online professional development about using the science of learning in the classroom. Twitter: @ijkelleher.

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