New Insights into Youth Motivation in STEM Learning

Sarita Pillai has extensive expertise in managing national resource centers, providing technical assistance, building and sustaining communities of practice, and developing powerful technology-based resources including SMARTR Virtual Learning Experiences, Girls Communicating Career Connections, and the FunWorks science exploration digital library. Sarita leads the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded STEM Learning and Research Center at EDC and is the co-PI of the Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL). In this post, she shares highlights from a session on a theoretical framework for guiding future research on youth motivation in STEM that she presented at an annual International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference.

The panel session I presented at ISTE was an outgrowth of a convening that I led for the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers Learning Resource Center (ITEST LRC) on the topic of Advancing Research on Youth Motivation in STEM. From 2003 to 2010, the ITEST LRC was EDC's support center for ITEST projects, and it has now been replaced by the STEM Learning and Research Center (STELAR) led by EDC and its partner EdLab Group.The event brought together ITEST youth participants, project PIs and evaluators, leading STEM and motivation researchers, psychologists, and sociologists to develop a theoretical research framework for guiding future research on youth motivation in STEM with particular emphasis on youth from populations most underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Three ITEST PIs presented along with me on the ISTE panel, titled Youth Motivation in STEM: Lessons Learned from the ITEST Program. Of the many interesting insights shared, two stood out in particular.

The first involves thinking about motivation from a social-relational perspective rather than viewing it solely as an individual, intrinsic construct. This perspective conceptualizes other young people as motivational resources and places great importance on the intellectual power, knowledge, and practices of youth from historically marginalized and underrepresented groups. It also supports the impact on youth motivation of a near-peer teaching model that leverages youth culture and the collective participation of many stakeholders. Including young people as stakeholders gives them a powerful, communal responsibility for content creation, knowledge sharing, culture building, political and economic access, and educational transformation.

The second insight from the panel was the question of what motivation “looks” like across timescales—that is, how is motivation manifested in the moment, a day later, a month later, a year later? What are the associated indicators of motivation across these timescales? You can read a report about the convening on the STELAR website