4 questions teachers should ask themselves to improve their students’ motivation

by Barbara Myslik
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

Barbara Myslik

Barbara Myslik

Motivating students to can be one of the most challenging tasks a teacher faces, but it can also be one of the most exciting. There are several factors important to consider when thinking of ways to achieve that goal.

Here are four questions teachers should ask themselves as they consider how to motivate their students.

Question #1: Is the student intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? (Motivation type)

Students who learn for their own satisfaction, and are motivated by internal factors, more then by external rewards, respond well to tasks that are both challenging and give them sense of personal control. For an intrinsically motivated student sense of control over the task is fun and rewarding, so it is important to let them create as much of their learning experience as possible.

Students motivated by external rewards respond well when the subject is made applicable to them. It is important to praise their accomplishments, as positive feedback motivates them to work harder. Also, introducing an element of friendly competition can work really well for an extrinsically motivated student.
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Motivating college students — recognizing learning styles and role of intrinsic & extrinsic motivation

by Jung Won Chun
Ph.D. student, university of Florida


Jung Won Chun

Motivating students is not easy but is one of the most fundamental and important issue in teaching. If students lose their motivation to learn and engage with you as a teacher, they not only aren’t gaining as much as they could from your class but they could become academic discipline problems.

So, the key question is: “How can we motivate students?”

To answer this question, we need to understand different types of motivations. Here are two types of motivation:

Extrinsic motivation

  • Goal-driven: “I need a B to get into law school.”
  • Rewards: “I can earn extra credit if I do well on today’s quiz.”
  • Pressure to perform: “If I flunk this course, I will lose my scholarship.
  • Competition: “I should do a better performance to win the first prize in this project.”
  • Achievement: “I want to earn A for this course.”

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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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QM9p4o050EY&feature=related
  3. The in-depth interviews I have conducted to better understand students’ attitudes towards assignments http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGLYx1gXQGw&feature=plcp
  4. “Structuring Assignments for Success,” Deborah DeZure, Michigan State University http://fod.msu.edu/oir/course-design-assignment-design
  5. “Motivating students” http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/affective/motivation.html
  6. “Motivation in college students” http://lac.smccme.edu/motivation.htm
  7. “Some ideas for motivating students” http://www.virtualsalt.com/motivate.htm

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