How to Reignite Intrinsic Motivation — Sophie Twardus (CTE Co-op Student)

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is something you do because you enjoy it for its own sake. Extrinsic motivation is something you do for outside factors like grades or money. One of the intriguing things about motivation is that if a person is intrinsically motivated to do something, giving them an extrinsic motivation diminishes that original motivation.

This is especially relevant in education considering that humans are naturally interested in learning. You only need to talk to four-year-old children to see how excited they are to go to school, how proud they are that they can count to ten. However, talk to them ten years later and all that enthusiasm will have dissipated. The problem is that in school you don’t learn for the sake of learning – you do it for external reasons like grades and getting accepted into university.

This approach leads to a decline of people’s intrinsic motivation to one solely driven by external rewards. The question is how do we address this problem. I know personally that math is my passion. Despite that there have times where I have been so bogged down by assignments and midterms that I have forgotten that math can be fun.

Last term I had an absolutely brutal week: I had gotten sick twice, I had gotten a midterm back and the results were less than optimal, and I had broken my laptop screen. I was in dire need of a break, I was exhausted, with zero motivation. I walked into the MathSoc office where my friends were playing the card game called SET. The game has a lot of interesting mathematical properties. You can see a sample game here.

While playing the game, I mused out loud how many unique sets exist in the game. “That’s an interesting problem,” exclaimed my friend. Naturally, being mathematicians. we put the game on hold in order to solve it. It took us no time at all to find out that the answer was 1080. We then tried finding out if it’s possible to model the number of sets for the general case of n values and m attributes.

It took me four days to solve this problem. Working on it reminded me why I was studying math. I love the mental challenge of a good problem, the battle of wits as I try to deconstruct the situation. I especially love the flash of insight that comes at the end when the solution is suddenly obvious.

University can be a stressful environment. It is all too easy to get caught up in the frenzy of midterms, assignments, and exams and forget why we originally chose to pursue post-secondary education. If you feel burnt out I recommend taking a break from your responsibilities and do something not because you have to but because you want to. Remind yourself that learning is fun.

As for the solution to the problem, I leave it as an exercise to reader. I would not want to spoil the fun.

Make Tutorials Matter – Mihaela Vlasea, Graduate Instructional Developer

It is often mentioned that with large engineering classes, it is difficult to truly engage students and provide them with the opportunity to get involved in classroom activities. I recently had the opportunity to teach a tutorial review session, for which I prepared extensively. I presented the material in a very organized fashion, while being careful to periodically ask a few questions while I was solving problems on the blackboard. Based on the answers I was receiving, as well as some feedback from the class, I felt that students understood the material very well. However, upon marking a final exam question, one very similar to the one I had solved in class, I was quite surprised to see that the majority were not capable to meet the basic framework of the solution. Upon reflecting on this fact, I realized that there is a major difference between students understanding my approach and them being able to solve questions on their own. This realization was quite important, because it has forced me to somewhat re-think my tutorial teaching strategies in the future.

Gear Wheels - photo by Ian Britton via flickr
Get the Gear Wheels Turning  (Gear Wheels photo by Ian Britton via flickr)

Provide more opportunity for students to think about the problem

Instead of dwelling on copying the problem requirements on the board, I could provide students with a copy of the question (wither on a Power Point slide or a handout) and ask them to take two minutes to read it carefully. Then, I would ask students a few clarifying questions to make sure they have understood the problem requirements.

Provide more opportunities for students to solve the problem

After going through the first step, I would allow students to work in pairs or about 2-3 minutes to discuss a few ideas on how to start solving the question. I feel that it is important, as it would make students feel that their suggestions are valuable to the development of the solution. This would increase their level of “ownership” over what is discussed in the class, rather than having a one-way teaching approach.

Facilitate and moderate discussions on alternate solutions

Often times, students only have the opportunity to be exposed to a single solution to a problem. Offering students the opportunity to think and suggest alternate solutions in a supportive environment would be a great opportunity to expose students to more approaches as well as to encourage creativity in engineering classes. This is a critical point that should be endorsed in tutorials. Students may be encouraged to propose an alternate solution in class or they may be to be allowed to post their own solutions on a forum or wiki page, where their peers can discuss or correct their input (this would be a bit harder to moderate, but it would certainly be interesting).

In general, I think that tutorials in engineering should be more student-focused and should promote discussion, rather than being an extension of lecture time. These are just some of my ideas which stemmed from recent experience in teaching tutorials in large engineering classes.

Two Endings, and Beyond (Worn Down But Happy) – Trevor Holmes

So I’m grading some of my 164 exams, 164 papers, 1600+ discussion board postings from Cultural Studies 101 (KS 101) over at that other place. My eyes are finally glazing over and I wish everyone could write exams on laptops. But it’s lovely — really lovely — to read the exams and final Intellectual Response Papers (IRPs). More students than ever took me up on the challenge to write IRPs on alternate field observations and / or use a different format (photo essay, video, zine, whatever). The portion of their exam that was take-home asks them to reflect (with evidence) on their 10 minijournal entries from the 12-week term. So many “aha” moments arise with that part of the exam. Continue reading Two Endings, and Beyond (Worn Down But Happy) – Trevor Holmes