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Posts Tagged ‘intrinsic

I will chalk today’s reflection to something that must have been at the back of my mind right before I went to sleep. I think I read a tweet about recipients of a presidential award over the past week.

Then I remembered how I declined the opportunity to receive one such award for service about ten years ago.

I had gone on a service mission to Paro, Bhutan to conduct a week-long series of workshops for teacher educators. I documented this much of this on the now defunct platform Posterous. Thankfully I had the presence of mind to take some photos and to reflect on the experience.

One reason I rejected the opportunity to shake the then president’s hand was how exhausted I was from work as a professor and head of department.

Another was the fact that I did not think I deserved the award. It was a small sacrifice to make and a foundation paid for travel and accommodation. I also got so much from the experience that I was a better person from it.

Some experiences can be rewards in themselves. I do not need external validation or judgement about worth. For example, I do not need to be told by a poll or an uninformed observer that a course I design and facilitate seems impressive. I need to be paid for my work, but I need not be thanked or given an award for it. I reflect critically and frequently on what I do and make constant adjustments.

I am not saying we should not acknowledge the efforts and sacrifices people make. I understand the need to be thankful and know when to say thank you. But I also know how to fuel intrinsic motivation.

The latest Build for Tomorrow podcast episode focused on the problem of participation trophies. These are the prizes that kids in the USA get even if they do not win in sports or games.

Podcast host, Jason Feifer, got to the issue quickly. One problem was not that they were given. It was the perception that such trophies are a recent phenomenon and something that contributed to the detriment of character.

By now, any regular listener of the podcast would know where the rest of the episode was heading. Participation trophies are not unique to the present and they do not lead to spineless or weak-willed adults.

Of particular interest to educators might be two interpretations from research about the impact of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Starting around the 32min 30sec mark, researcher Dan Gould summarised how such extrinsic motivations depress intrinsic ones.

However, there was also other research that revealed that kids were less motivated by external rewards (particularly if they were not meaningful) from age 13 onwards. So these incentives might be good for conditioning behaviours of younger children, but they are futile thereafter.

Both strengthen my long-held stance on badges, particularly for adult learners. In an attempt to “gamify” learner, some instructional designers and teachers might design challenge-based tasks and assessments. But if these are primarily extrinsic and not meaningful to the learner, they are setting both themselves and their students up for failure.

Last month I discovered that I had been playing a mobile game, Clash of Clans (CoC), for ten years. I realised this only when a game update flashed this in its opening sequence.

Clash of Clans is 10-years-old!

While I played the game as designed initially (raiding and pillaging other clans), I have spent more time farming (tending to my resource generators and making repairs after being raided).

This led to my reflection on game-based learning (GBL). Teachers who try to leverage on educational or off-the-shelf games often take advantage only of gamification — the points, achievement levels, journey progress, etc. — because they align to circular and assessment standards.

GBL is more than that. It is also about creating a love for playing games and tapping on intrinsic motivations. The design of a game is critical. If CoC was designed only for raiding, I would not be able to farm. But I have been able to do this because it is a large part of the game (if no one farms, there is nothing to raid). I find farming to be soothing and I play the game to relax, not to get a hit of dopamine. That is my motivation and it comes from within.

But persisting with any game (even when the rewards are not obvious) should be important an outcome of game play and of GBL. This is a routinely ignored aspect of GBL design that puts learners off. They “play” not to play, explore, or satisfy curiosity, they do so because points are at stake. Such an extrinsic focus (get the marks!) is detrimental on the long run. It takes the fun out of play. It removes the intrinsic motivation.

I used to be able to run a few game-based learning workshops every year. Now I do about one a year as part of a course I designed. Sadly, changes to the structure of the programme that the course is part of might mean I might facilitate GBL just once every two years. Despite that change, I continue to play video games and use GBL principles in other courses. Why? I am intrinsically motivated to do so.

I baulk at headlines like “Using games to get kids hooked on reading”.

If something like X already has intrinsic value, can you not focus on just using X?

My argument against using X to get at Y? Chocolate-covered broccoli. Think about it.

Yesterday I hit Level 40 in Pokémon Go (Pogo). This is a significant milestone because there are only 40 levels in this game.

My Level 40 profile as viewed in a raid gym.

To reach this level, I had to accrue 20 million experience points (XP) by grabbing them wherever and whenever I could in the game.

Even though this is a difficult task, others have reached this level before me. Some use bots to harvest or unsanctioned tools to spoof their location. These “players” are so common that I can often be at a remote gym and be the only person in sight.

Thankfully there are people who play the game legitimately. I have met local “uncles” and “aunties” who met this milestone long before me. (Who am I kidding? I am an uncle myself!)

Younger folks might argue that the older folk have more spare time on their hands. And that they do. I played strategically in terms of time and how to maximise XP gains, but it still took me 20 months to reach Level 40.

For some, this milestone is the finish line — game over. However, it is not the end of the game for me. I am relying on a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic factors to keep playing the game.

Niantic, the parent company of Pogo, releases legendary Pokémon in raid battles roughly once a month. There are also monthly Community Days that promise the chance of catching shiny variants of Pokémon. The company also has a few more generations of Pokémon to release in the game.

I no longer need to grind for XP in the game. However, I will continue to look for the best of every type of Pokémon in terms of their IVs. I will also keep levelling up the Pokémon that have relevance in the meta game [examples] because they help in gym battles.

I also do not have some of the regional Pokémon. This is one more incentive to travel.

My game play reflects my learning philosophy. There are goals that someone else might define for me, and if I share these goals, I pursue them. But I do not stop there because that is a short-term learning strategy. I take ownership of the what, how, and why I learn.

Niantic owns Pokémon Go, but I own the way I play the game. Likewise, someone other entity might own the rights to a learning resource, but I own the learning process.

Teachers, and teacher educators in particular, should never take for granted the long-term impact of what they say and model when they teach.

Every semester I provide feedback on the lesson plans of future faculty. I also evaluate their ability to facilitate a short lesson using learner centric strategies.

Every semester a few cases will require me to correct a well-intentioned but ultimately harmful practice — the use of extrinsic rewards like chocolate or other candy. I provide this feedback to adults who might have experienced such extrinsic rewards in their primary or elementary schooling 15 to 20 years ago.

This teach-as-they-were-taught mindset is frighteningly common. I observed this when I was a full-time teacher educator over 10 years. I fought to break this mindset then and I still fight it today. I do this by citing critical research and reflective teaching practice.

One rationale for avoiding extrinsic rewards is the matter of pragmatism. It is costly to keep doing this, it establishes the wrong set of expectations, it taps the wrong source of motivation, and it distracts from learning outcomes.

One argument that my learners might state is that students need to develop an internal drive. They claim that their candy rewards are an attempt to move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation.

I gently but firmly tell them this is bullshit. A reliance on extrinsic rewards is a learnt behaviour, not an inherent trait. Kids learn by watching some other child get rewards or by experiencing it first hand.

I do not mean that extrinsic rewards do not work. They can, for a short-term behaviour modification. However, they also set up an insidious longer term expectation and establish this as acceptable practice.

Being well-intentioned is not enough. Teaching practice needs to be informed by critical research and reflective practice. Both focus on the long game that is not fuelled by mere candy.


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