Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Increasing the level of participation in secondary education, prompted by the realisation that a workforce with a significant level of education and training is needed for the demands of a future dependent on technology, provides the context for this research project. The responses of governments in Europe and Australia are explored to explain these expectations and questions are raised about the means for increasing the retention rate of young people in education and training. The issue of disengagement becomes the focus of this discussion and the use of technology as a means to re-engage young people for whom school provides little attraction is introduced, providing the purpose of the remainder of the research project.

Disengagement is examined by looking at both the factors contributing to students failing to complete secondary school and the characteristics by which it can be described. Truancy, suspension rates, discipline incidents and poor achievement levels provide an indication of issues of access, achievement, application and aspiration (Davies et al., 2013) that need to be addressed for the successful motivation of students at school.

The research focuses on three questions, asking how technology can engage and support students to complete learning activities, what affordances are offered by technology to achieve this and what underlying principles and models can be extracted that can be used by teachers in schools to overcome the demotivation of those students at risk of failing to complete secondary school.

From the review of the literature on programs utilising alternative learning models and the incorporation of diverse types of digital technology, a range of possible approaches were identified that provided the basis for an introductory model. This model was tested, evaluated and revised throughout a number of iterations with the design-based research approach used as the framework for the research. While significant research was evident on the effectiveness in schools of technology use for improving learning outcomes, motivation and student attitudes, these had predominantly been drawn from students who were relatively engaged and successfully involved in these schools. Research with disengaged students was recognised as difficult (Tinson, 2009) and a methodology was applied that enabled the researcher to gain the trust and acceptance of participants in order to challenge their learning, evoke legitimate and honest responses from the students and observe the results of using technology in a natural classroom setting.

Three iterations of the model were introduced to students nominated by schools to be at risk of not completing secondary school. A qualitative method of interviews, observations and notes was used to collect data that was evaluated to identify trends arising in consecutive iterations. Initially an authentic learning task based on problem solving and real world significance was used. After implementation and review as part of the design-based research approach a progressive refinement of the model produced a range of activities using features identified in a number of technology approaches such as interactivity, multimodality and digital games. Emerging from the use of these features in the design of learning materials was an interactional style for the teacher based more on facilitation and non-direction intervention. Drawing more from principles within experiential education, non-direct intervention provided the vehicle for the affordances available within the technology, to be made accessible to the students.

The principles identified behind the design of digital learning activities and the use of non-direct intervention by the teacher are the outcome of this research and provide the framework for a model for teachers and schools to utilise as a way to remove the demotivation of students and increase their engagement in learning activities.

FoR codes (2008)

130306 Educational Technology and Computing, 130312 Special Education and Disability



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.