Audio Interview – What Motivates Learners?

The purpose of this activity is to think deeply about (a) what motivates learners and (b) how  technology may be used to create ‘powerful’ learning experiences that affect students cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. Rather than simply “exciting” students, the goal is to think deeply about what types of learning experiences inspire people to learn.

One way – indeed, an obvious way – to understand what motivates people to learn is to ask them. Such interviews provide a ‘window into the mind’ by allowing people to express their understanding of what drives them. At the same time, of course, an important question for researchers is whether such self-reports are accurate. Put simply, do we ever truly know why we do what we do?

Your Assignment

Using the audio technology of your choice, your assignment is to interview 1-2 participants, document what motivates them to learn, and present your findings. There are 5 parts to this project, with specific timing and deadlines (days of the week refer to the week in which the first part is assigned):

  • By Wednesday night of Week 3: Choose your technologies. As a starting place, we have included some information about microphones and Audacity – a free audio recording program – here.
  • By Saturday night of Week 3: choose your topic and develop interview questions and a protocol. Be forewarned, this step is not as easy as it sounds!
  • By Wednesday night of Week 4: Find 1 – 2 participants and conduct your interview(s).
  • By Saturday night of Week 4: Edit your interview, pulling out what you consider to be major themes about what motivates your interviewee(s) to learn. Your final 3-5 minute audio presentation should report these themes and highlight corresponding evidence from your interview(s). Said differently: your final audio should do more than simply re-play your interview. Your final audio should report ‘your understanding of your interviewees’ understanding’ about what motivates them to learn.
  • Also by Saturday night of Week 4: Post the final, “produced” audio project to your website, including a brief (125 – 250 word) summary describing your experience, what you learned, etc. When you describe this experience, be sure consider the role of technology. What was technology good for? How did it influence your experience? How might your experience have been different if, say, you completed a written report of your interview instead?

Turning in your Work

You can turn in your work here.


The rubric for this assignment is available here.

Powerful Audio Experiences

To understand the power of well-produced audio, a person needs only to review the program list for National Public Radio (NPR). Programs such as This I Believe, Story Corps, and This American Life all feature people talking about important experiences and/or beliefs that have had an impact on their lives. These are powerful programs, but not solely because of content. There is an art to telling a good story and producing media that makes people smile, laugh, and even cry. There is something about the use of music, pauses, and tone of voice that creates a feeling for an audio story. Taken together these elements create a powerful experience.

For those interested, below is a tutorial on how to use one audio-editing software from beginning to end to create your interview:

Audio Technology

Basic Equipment:

  • Microphone
  • Computer with sound recording software such as Audacity
  • NOTE: You are free to use whatever software and hardware you want to do this assignment. For example, iMovie will also record and edit audio (but only with a video track, so it can be annoying to work with)

Optional equipment:

  • Headphones

Before Your Interview

Get permission from your participants to use their responses for your coursework. In the parlance of academia, this means “informed consent.” In terms of “informing”, you tell them everything you intend to do with the data you will collect. In this case, that responses are being recorded, that you will edit responses into a concise format, and share the result on the web for others to learn from. You may decide to use their identity, or keep their identity anonymous (your choice), but share that decision with your participants in advance. In terms of “consent,” do not record participants, or use their responses without their consent.

Conducting Your Interview(s)

When conducting your interview(s), consider the following:

  • Give participants an appropriate amount of time to formulate their answers. Avoid “jumping in” if someone needs some time to think before responding. Ten to twenty seconds is not unreasonable, though it may feel like a LONG, awkward silence. Be patient and, perhaps, remind the participant that there is no right or wrong response.
  • Avoid giving answers. As teachers, we are used to paraphrasing answers a bit more correctly – e.g., “So what you mean is…” But remember, our goal here is understanding someone else’s understanding about what motivates them.
  • Plan what type of questions you will ask and the resources you might need.
    For example, you might start the interview with an open ended request such as “Please explain how…” and follow up with “Can you tell me more about that?” or “Can you show me what you mean?” or “Please give me an example.”
  • Find a quiet place to conduct the interview and make sure you have recording equipment.
  • Test your recording equipment before beginning the interview.