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Posts Tagged ‘motivation

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.

This article would like you to believe that students in the US are motivated by extrinsic rewards to do well in tests.

According to the article, a team of academics from the US and China conducted research on the math abilities of students from both countries. The students took a “25-minute test of 25 math questions that had previously been used on PISA”.

The treatment groups were given “envelopes filled with 25 one-dollar bills and told that a dollar would be removed for every incorrect or unanswered question”. The incentive was to get as many questions right as possible to receive the highest monetary reward.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

According to the article:

  • The incentives did not significantly impact the students from Shanghai, China.
  • The students from the US were more likely to attempt more questions and get more answers right with incentives.
  • The incentivised US student performance was equivalent to a PISA finish of 19th place instead of the actual 36th place out of 60 countries.

The researchers concluded that poor PISA test results could be due more to apathy than a lack of ability.

Tests like PISA — which have no impact on students’ grades or school accountability measures — aren’t taken as seriously as federally mandated assessments or the SAT.

All that said, the article ignored another important trend in the data: The less academically inclined students — see School 1 Low and School 1 Regular — did not do as well and were not as motivated even with incentives.

While this seems obvious even without the benefit of data, this casts light on the largely non-transparent method of how students are selected for PISA.

In OECD’s 2015 report, China was represented by Macao, Hong Kong, and special combination of Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong (B-S-J-G). China was in the top 10 for math and science test results.

Both the comparative study and the China selection results raise questions about the selection of students for the PISA tests. For example, this Forbes article asked if PISA results could be “rigged” as a result of such selections.

If officials make disproportionate selections from rich cities, then suspicions of bias are valid. Students with higher socio-economic status have more opportunities in schooling and have access to better resources than those propping them up in the lower rungs. Such students are more likely to do better in tests.

There are guidelines for selecting students for PISA testing. However, there is seems to be enough wiggle room for officials to get creative (see Malaysian example in the Forbes article).

Officials wanting to boost rankings can manipulate the selection seemingly within guidelines. For example, imagine a system with 100 schools. All 100 cannot participate for pragmatic reasons, e.g., students are not available or unwilling, resources are poor, scheduling is inconvenient, schools see no benefits, etc. So the officials resort to stratifying the random sampling of students. This means selecting certain schools within each band, i.e., low, regular, high-performing.

Officials might select students the higher performing schools from each band or maximise the sample for the potentially highest performers while minimising the selection from the likely lowest performers. In all cases, the students are still randomly selected from the pool, but there is stratification of the pool by bands and percentages.

This practice is not transparent to the layperson or perhaps even the reporters that write news articles. But the PISA results are lauded whenever they are released and policymakers make decisions based on them. Should we not be watchdogs not just for the validity of PISA tests, but also for how students are selected to take them?

Over the last week or so, I detected pockets of excitement in the edu-Twitterverse about providing badges for teachers after “training” or professional development.

I think badges are a BAD idea and I would like to badger teachers into thinking critically about this practice.

What is wrong with rewarding effort with badges?

First, it is the idea that extrinsic motivation should be necessary to keep learning and trying.

Second, this process is a model and encourages a behaviour among teachers that they continue with students.

It is important to realise that intrinsic motivation is what actually drives learning over the long term. As serendipity would have it, I came across an article by The Atlantic about the perils of sticker charts, i.e., giving children stickers, points, or other extrinsic rewards for work done.

Badges, stickers, and their ilk create a reward economy in which learners trade desired behaviour for rewards. They learn to expect a prize for good behaviour and not to give anything away for free. This can undermine a child’s intrinsic motivation. Rewards can cause a learner to lose focus on the important change in behaviour in pursuit of the prize instead.

The Atlantic article pointed out that this applied to the adult world too:

Duke University professor Dan Ariely has found that… market norms tend to overpower social norms, shifting the focus from relationships to commerce.

Ariely provided an example from his life as a professor:

He once worked at a university that used a point system to ensure that faculty members met their teaching requirements. Once he learned the formula for receiving points, Ariely figured out how to maximize it, effectively doing as little as possible to get the most points. “I managed to get 112 points by teaching just one class a year. I had one class with lots of students and lots of [teaching assistants],” he said. “So I just optimized [the formula].”

It is important to question the assumptions and the foundations of any teaching practice. Earlier I questioned the use of emoticon exit tickets. Today I question badges for professional development.

A reliance on extrinsic rewards by uncritical training programme providers reinforces this practice instead of drawing out critical questions about it. Questions like: 

  • Why are you doing it? For a trinket? For recognition?
  • Does a professional need such extrinsic motivations?
  • Should a teacher perpetuate such practice?

This TED talk goes beyond this juicy question.

The speaker, Carol Dweck, described a school where students were not given a fail grade if they did not not exhibit mastery. Instead, they were graded “not yet”.

This could lead to a deprogramming of wanting results, products, or grades now, and lead to a focus on resilience, effort, and self-motivation.

Dweck recommended a few strategies for promoting “yet” and dissuading “now”:

  • Praise processes, not products or innate traits
  • Reward effort, strategy, and progress
  • Show paths for learner progress
  • Talk to learners about growth mindsets
thirsty horse by luigioss, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  luigioss 

About a week or two ago, I read a digest on school-related news with a equal measure of amusement and dismay.

Unnamed teachers lauded the yet to be named online portal of 2016 that promises to provide customizable content for learners. Even though “portal” is overused or sometimes improperly used, it was not what amused or dismayed me.

What did was the fact that teachers believed that the officially-sanctioned resources would promote self-directed learning (SDL) among learners.

These were press reports, of course, and you cannot expect non-teachers to understand that SDL is a continuum of behavior. Heck, I know that some teachers think that SDL is limited to them directing students to read something outside class on their own time.

I was dismayed that SDL is still misunderstood. I was mildly amused that some teachers think that a portal is a solution.

The expectation around a portal is that it is a place and that “if you build it they will come”. If you make it really good or seem very important, then even more will come.

But this was the promise of schools subscribing to content and learning management systems. Such technological systems have been used in old ways (repositories) or relegated to the periphery (e-learning days). I hope that from the CMS and LMS we have learnt that “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink”.

The horse will only drink if it is thirsty.

SDL is tied to mindsets, motivation, and methods. It could be driven by the individual learner or by heutagogical practices of a teacher. A portal is not necessarily going to incentivise it or guarantee it.

Only thirsty learners are going to find the water and drink it. Responsible educators are going to show them how to find and drink from good sources of water. A portal is not going to create that natural thirst or provide that metacognitive skillset.

I do not recall the second last time someone in my class asked me the question, “What drives you to do what you do?”

The last time was a week ago.

As Head of the Centre for e-Learning, I see my role as raising the right kinds of trouble to create change. Specifically, change in the way people teach so that there is more effective e-learning and blended learning.

Creating change means flying in the face of conventional wisdoms, dominant mindsets, and current policies. Leading change means being unpopular at times. Sustaining change means looking long term instead of only what seems obvious.

Doing this means being a troublemaker and being labelled as one.

Why do this at all? My son. His education.

I am in a position to influence teacher educators who then influence teachers who then influence the learner of today and tomorrow. As a teacher educator, I also influence pre and inservice teachers directly.

The problem is that some teacher educators and teachers are using the strategies of yesterday. That is why my son, the learner of today, says school is boring.

Three years ago, I took this photo of my son in my office. He was standing in front of a spiral of photos I have on one of my office walls.

If I need a boost in energy or a timely reminder on what to focus on, I need only tilt my head to the side, look at the photos, smile, and keep on going.

My son and his education are both the fuel and the destination. They drive me forward when everything else looks like it is going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. They give me clarity amidst the noise.


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