I was intrigued to see the paper series about Student Motivation published by the U.S. Center on Education Policy shared as a resource on GETideas.org. This resource ties right into an important reflection I had planned to share with you this month about the topic of student motivation. I love when fortuitous things like that happen!
As a college instructor, I have never for a moment doubted to critical role that motivation plays in learning. And I, unlike many professors, view motivating my students as one of my responsibilities as a teacher. I know there are thousands of professors out there who already are scowling at me as they read my words. But I think back to my own college learning experiences, and I clearly recall, despite my own diligent work ethic, how difficult and often impossible it was for me to stay motivated in a class for 17-weeks if a professor clearly had no investment in my engagement as a student. And, thinking back now, it’s clear which professors fell into that category and which didn’t.
Motivating my students is not part of what I’m evaluated on; rather, it’s part of what makes me love what I do. And the more time I spend in higher education, the more I begin to understand that there are some professors who are motivated entirely or primarily by extrinsic factors (compensation, contractual obligations, etc.) and others who thrive from intrinsic motivation (student feedback, experimenting with new teaching methods, working with student clubs or community involvement, etc.). I look for creative ways to motivate my students because in an online class, motivation is what keeps you logging in regularly, week after week, in isolation for 17 long weeks. That’s a tough journey! When I can sense that my students are engaged in what we are doing together, then I am a more fulfilled. I, in turn, am a more participatory instructor, and we, together, develop as a more effective community of learners. In a learning community, students are accountable for their learning and over time they begin to exude pride in their work.
There are many strategies I employ throughout the teaching of my online class to motivate my students. Overall, motivation is a major reason why I elect to enhance my online class with Web 2.0 and social media tools. Some of these are tools that my students use and some are tools that I use to create content and embed within the learning environment.
Shifting the Power: Peer-Nominated Blogging Excellence Awards
In college classes, it’s rare for students to be given the power to identify excellent academic achievement in a class. But that’s just what I do — and the results yield much more than academic benefits. Nearly every week in my 17-week online History of Photography class, my students write a 500-word blog post. Writing is an important skill fostered in the class, and I work hard to keep the activities interesting and relevant to my students. I use a variety of creative prompts that pull the students into historical role playing scenarios. For example, while learning about the daguerreotype process that was wildly popular in the 1840s and 50s, students step into the shoes of a 19th-century middle-class parent who has just hired a photographer to create a daguerreotype portrait of their child who has just passed away from a brief and surprising illness. Death photography was a very accepted phenomenon in 19th-century Western culture, yet students today find it morbid. Requiring them to identify with the emotions of a grieving child encourages them to make the important connections between technical photographic processes and the rich, eloquent social fabric that gives these processes and the images they create meaning. Students also engage in visual analysis activities that require them to critically compare and contrast photographs and vintage Kodak advertisements. Another key element of the blogs is the looping back and forth that occurs between the students’ posts — when they visit each others’ blogs and ask questions or cite elements from each others’ posts that challenged their thinking in some way.
In my syllabus, at the start of the semester, I share my course policy about extra credit. There is a maximum amount of extra credit that any student can earn (20 points) through completing activities I have designed for them. However, there is one way students are eligible to earn an extra 10 points (or a max of 30 extra credit points) — and that is by earning a Masterpiece Blog Award.
A Masterpiece Blog Award is earned throughout the semester by a few select students and is intended to be a prestigious symbol of blogging excellence. But it is not I, their professor, who decides who will receive the award(s) — or how many of them will be distributed — it is the students themselves. Students have an opportunity to nominate two of their peers who have demonstrated a consistent effort to post blogs on time, share thought-provoking and relevant content in their posts, and engage their peers in meaningful dialogue. Students know about this special designation from day one of class, and it’s up to them to set the tone and live up to this standard during the class.
Then at about week 15, I announce that it’s time to begin the voting! I set up a simple Google Doc Form and link it into our course management system. The form asks the student to share his/her name and then provides a list of all the names of students in the class, and the student selects two names from the list who s/he’d like to nominate for the award. The student is required to provide his/her own name to ensure nobody votes for themselves (grin).
To receive a Masterpiece Blog Award, a student must receive at least four votes from his/her peers. I’ve been doing this for several years, and each class is different. Sometimes about half of the class votes, and I get only one winner. This year I had just about 100% of my class vote, and I had five winners! I like to get creative in how I announce the winners to the class too. One of my favorite things to do is the create an Animoto video announcing the winners using their avatars and screenshots from their blogs. bove you see a video announcing four winners from spring 2012 (shared with permission).
Here are comments from two of the winners (also shared with permission), reflecting on their award and experience viewing the video. I believe the significance of the awards go above and beyond ten points of extra credit because of the fact they are peer generated.
What an honor! It was totally unexpected for me. Ever since the beginning of the semester when I read in the syllabus about the Masterpiece Blog Award, I was sure that person could never be me. I strove to do my best anyway, without the expectation of being chosen. The video you made was a very fun and enjoyable way to discover the recipients! And I must say, even though I didn’t expect to see my name, the anticipation of watching each one come up was exciting and I couldn’t help but hope. It still took me several seconds to realize that yes, that actually was my name, and yes, that was my photo. Yippee! It was a great feeling to know that my efforts paid off; and I have now gained confidence that I have the ability to achieve things that might at first be intimidating.
I have to say I’m surprised and proud of myself. I thought I sounded very shy in all my post so it was unexpected when I found out I received nominations. This has been my first online class and I feel more confident of taking future online classes.
I find that there are always hidden benefits when professors make efforts to motivate their students. And teaching with social media opens a myriad of new, exciting ways to harness the unique power of crowd sourcing for peer-nominated awards. My experiences have demonstrated that students have no trouble identifying who the great students are — so let’s allow them a chance to have their say (You’ll likely find that you agree, by the way!).