How to motivate students to complete out-of-class assignments

by Amal Bakry
Ph.D. Student, University of Florida

This is a summary of our discussion from my teaching presentation on how to motivate students to complete out-of-classroom assignments.

Research indicates that very few college students get to reach their full potential by graduation. The major difference between students who reach their full potential and those who don’t is motivation. Some students are intrinsically motivated and care mainly about learning for its own sake.  Other students are extrinsically motivated and are interested in grades and recognition. It is important to foster both types of motivation in order to encourage students to do their out of classroom assignments.

The findings of an MIT study on rewarding performance of college students indicate that the higher the reward the lower the performance. A reward is considered to be an “extrinsic motivator.” While education researchers initially believed that teachers should foster only intrinsic motivation, they have come to believe that extrinsic motivation is of equal importance and that it needs to be fostered as well.

Highly successful assignments have the following characteristics:

  • Clarity of goals
  • Clarity of directions for students to know what is expected of them
  • Clarity of evaluation criteria
  • Clarity of skills that students need to have in order to complete assignment
  • Clarity of timing needed for students in order to complete assignment
  • Teachers need to provide regular feedback
  • Teachers need to provide guidance to students
  • Assignment needs to be introduced through an assignment packet
  • Teachers need to indicate the available resources needed in order to complete assignment

To structure highly effective assignments, teachers need to avoid the following:

  • Expecting an ideal response from all students
  • Providing confusing commands
  • Providing insufficient resources
  • Giving too many questions to be answered in any one assignment
  • Setting an impossible time restraint

Here are some resources that I have found to be particularly helpful on this topic:

  1. Svinicki, M. and McKeachie, W. J. (2011). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
  2. MIT study “the effect of rewards on college students’ motivation” video
  3. The in-depth interviews I have conducted to better understand students’ attitudes towards assignments
  4. “Structuring Assignments for Success,” Deborah DeZure, Michigan State University
  5. “Motivating students”
  6. “Motivation in college students”
  7. “Some ideas for motivating students”

Amal Bakry is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).


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