Motivation & Your Students

Markers of spring: the trees have flowered and are now sporting baby-green leaves, the daffodils have come and gone, and some of your students may have already started to check out.

Summer is upon us! But not just yet. How do you keep your content delivery interesting and your students motivated during these last few weeks of the semester? From Edudemic, here is a short run-down of four ways to increase engagement in the classroom. With the exception of moving around the classroom, the other three suggestions (high expectations, real-world applications, and technological engagement to build connections) would work equally well in an online course. And, if you interpret “moving around the classroom” as part of a larger strategy of mixing up your presentation and student participation styles, even this piece of advice becomes applicable to the online classroom. For example, if you’ve always had students respond to your discussion prompts, you might ask them to submit discussion questions based on the week’s content.

If you prefer your information in visual form, this is a lovely infographic about reaching distracted students. I especially like that two of their suggestions (cooperative learning and peer instruction) focus on the students as communicators and meaning-makers. After all, at this point in the semester, your students should have a decent understanding of the larger course themes and be able to work together to situate new knowledge in that context. This could be done in pairs, small-groups, online in threaded discussions, or in some other format appropriate for your subject, such as a role-play or case-study.

If nothing you’ve read so far seems like it will work for your group of students, your classroom, or your content, this is a laundry list of 21 simple ways to motivate students. Sometimes, sharing control of and responsibility for the learning experience can go a long way toward keeping students interested. Giving students a choice – of which texts to read, which prompts to answer, how to demonstrate their skills, or with whom to work – may be just the trick. Likewise, a clear (and clearly articulated) learning objective can help students focus on what they need to be doing in order to succeed. Changes like this can be made to one lesson or one activity without needing to re-vamp your entire syllabus at this late date.

Best, if you find that some of these strategies work for you and your students, you can add them to your toolkit and pull them out as needed to keep motivation high throughout the next course you teach.

We’d love to hear from you about what you’ve found works well to keep students going in these final weeks of the semester. Comment away!

Tiny Habits

I recently came across this video interview with the director of Stanford University’s Behavior Design Lab, B.J. Fogg. I think his point about how to form habits is pretty interesting, especially his perspective on motivation and willpower. I also love that he addresses eLearning directly through the lens of goals/outcomes, habits, and behaviors. I think it’s well worth clicking the link and taking nine minutes of your time to watch it.

I’m interested in what others think. What would this look like in practice in your course or course shell? Do you think you’d see changes in student behavior? And how would you grow tiny habits into mastering course objectives?

Motivation & Engagement

Whether your classes have already started or will soon be starting, it’s never too early to be thinking about student motivation and engagement.

First, what worked well in the past? Was it a specific assignment, topic, methodological approach, or grading structure? Past successes are certainly nothing to sneeze at – and a logical place to begin looking if your goal is to increase motivation and engagement.

Motivation is, I think, the trickier piece, in part because it seems to be the one over which the instructor has the least control. Of course, some of this depends on how you think about motivation. Here’s a little excerpt from a recent study concerning motivation and online learning:

Existing research into motivation in online environments has tended to use one of two approaches. The first adopts a trait-like model that views motivation as a relatively stable, personal characteristic of the learner. Research from this perspective has contributed to the notion that online learners are, on the whole, intrinsically motivated. The alternative view concentrates on the design of online learning environments to encourage optimal learner motivation. Neither approach acknowledges a contemporary view of motivation that emphasises the situated, mutually constitutive relationship of the learner and the learning environment . . . . In this study, learners were found to be not primarily intrinsically motivated. Instead, student motivation was found to be complex, multifaceted, and sensitive to situational conditions.

That context matters is hardly news, but it certainly is reassuring. It suggests that there are choices the instructor can make that might increase student motivation – leading to a better class environment and more learning. Yes, please! (And, I’d hazard to say, this is as true for in-person classes as for online classes.)

The authors conclude that instructors should:

. . . be cognisant of the important role they play in influencing learner motivation when designing learning activities. Most importantly, the relevance and value of the task (e.g., online discussions) need to be clearly identified and linked to learning objectives to help learners understand how the activity can aid in the realisation of personal goals, aspirations, and interests, both in the short and longer term. By offering meaningful choices (i.e., not just option choices) to learners that allow them to pursue topics that are of interest to them, the perceived value of the activity is further enhanced. Finally, by establishing frequent, ongoing communication with learners, where they feel able to discuss issues in an open and honest manner, practitioners are in a better position to accurately monitor and respond to situational factors that could potentially undermine learner motivation.

The take-away? Use those learning objectives and keep the lines of communication open.

Getting specific, let’s talk about a common way that instructors make learning relevant: case studies. Here’s a great piece on case studies in the humanities, written by the Office of Instructional Development at the University of North Dakota. Even if your subject area isn’t the humanities, if you’re using case studies in your classes (or perhaps just thinking about it), I really, really recommend giving this piece a read. There’s a very rich discussion of the benefits and pitfalls of using case studies, including perspectives from health sciences, engineering, feminist theory, and philosophy.

On the issue of engagement and specific techniques, there’s also a great discussion on think-pair-share over at the blog run by UC Davis’ Center for Excellence in Teaching. They suggest a repeated framework of a brief lecture followed by students thinking independently, then conversing with a classmate, and finally sharing their opinions with the class. This might become a bit tiresome over and over for the whole class period, but the comments make some great points about active learning. Do you use think-pair-share? How often? And do you have any twists on the approach to keep it exciting?

Last, bringing it back to the students, Faculty Focus had a piece about five strategies for engaging millennial students. As crucial factors, they identify: research-based methods, relevance, rationale, relaxed learning environment, and rapport with the instructor. What do you think? Which, in your experience, seems to be the most important? Alternately, if different factors might be important to different students, how can you reasonably make sure you are reaching all your students?