What Motivates You?
Strategies for Sustaining Motivation
Photo by Bradley Allweil on Unsplash
Sustaining motivation is a challenge in any semester, but for many in our community it feels even more difficult this year. Many students and faculty report heightened levels of uncertainty and anxiety, perhaps even more so than last fall during the height of the pandemic quarantine. All this leads to difficulties staying focused and motivated as we move through the mid semester lull. It may be tempting to fall back on extrinsic motivators like the promise of a good grade or the threat of a bad one. But real learning is always intrinsically motivated. So what are ways to tap into this?

Consider what SoTL superstar and friend of ETSU Ken Bain sees as the germinal element of motivation: Curiosity. "Humans are born with insatiable curiosities," Bain writes in Super Courses. Once we are truly intrigued about something almost nothing can stop us from wanting to find out more. One of Bain's techniques for sparking curiosity is working with students to uncover some of the deep and beautiful questions that drive our own interests as teachers and researchers as relates to the class.
Motivation mind map
Some of the best supported theories on motivation focus on three main factors: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Awakening curiosity through questioning comes into focus when we sense it is within our abilities to learn and master (competence). And on the one hand, we like to share and explore our curiosities with others (relatedness), but on the other hand, we mostly do not like others telling us exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it (autonomy). So what are ways to integrate these motivational elements into your teaching? We invite you to begin by reflecting on questions such as these below:

  • Awaken the sense of competence in students by pitching activities and assessments within the range of their abilities. Return to the core learning outcomes and beautiful questions of the class or unit. Consider what you know students are capable of from your experience with them so far this semester. What do they struggle with most? What kinds of feedback are you most often giving? How can you maintain high expectations while ensuring students are getting the feedback and scaffolding they need to reach the learning goals? Continue expressing that you know they are capable of reaching these goals by cultivating a positive and safe class community where everyone feels they belong and their contributions are valued.
  • A positive class environment where all students feel they belong -- a best practice in general -- is also crucial to motivation. It has been a hard few years for everybody. Just acknowledging that and modelling the compassion that goes along with it can help keep students on track. Also consider the ways students interact with each other and you both in and out of the class. Do students have a chance to talk to each other, work together, review each others' work in meaningful, well structured ways? Can you encourage, or even require, office hours (or as we like to call them "student hours")?
  • There is more than one way to reach most learning goals. Whenever possible, give students choices and space to find their own way through the content. Through open conversation, polling, or surveys find out what most interests students and let them choose research and project topics. If possible, let them drop low test scores or set due dates that better fit everyone's schedules.

Also, it is important to recognize how motivation drops when mental health suffers. Learn how to recognize students in distress and where to refer them.
Join Us for a Fall Workshop
As instructors we want to ensure that our students leave our classes having learned something. However, how well do we measure what was actually learned? 

Friday Oct. 1, 1:00-2:30PM
Friday Oct. 29, 1:15-2:45PM
Are you tired of trying to decide if a student's work should get an 90% or 94%? In this workshop, we'll explore how to implement a new kind of grading system, Specifications Grading, that keeps failure from being fatal and puts students more into the driver's seat...and with the added benefit that your grading decisions *might* become easier! 

Please note, most workshops are now offered online via Zoom. Check the registration page for modality and location details.
May Your Teaching Be Most Excellent