Monday, June 7, 2010

What Motivates Us (and our students)

I was quite delighted to come across "The surprising truth about what motivates us" video produced by the RSA. It's a wonderful animation of a compelling ten minute talk by Dan Pink. It contends that clear evidence shows that bonus money is not an effective motivator for complex cognitive tasks. Instead, autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the keys to better performance and personal satisfaction.

Though this video is aimed at a business audience, the implications for education are enormous.

Students: Let's apply the lessons of "What Motivates Us" to our students by substituting grades for bonus money. Most of the students I teach are motivated to get good grades, but the system too often does not motivate these same students to learn. They memorize information or ask the teacher, "What do you want". They think nothing of copying each other's homework or notes. They read Sparks Notes to pass their literature assignments. It's a game.

The themes of the video dovetail perfectly with my Challenge Based Learning experiences. I saw students genuinely excited about the quests they were shaping. In several cases they went far beyond my expectations. And by giving them control they took their topics in different and far more imaginative directions than I might have assigned. (The stopped asking me what I wanted when it was clear I wouldn't play the game). Knowing that they were creating for the benefit of others and knowing that they would report their ideas to their classmates, made a huge impact on their motivation.

I think the video explains in part why teachers are so resistant to change: 1) They enjoy their autonomy in the classroom and their sense of mastery over the material. Pink's work also has important implications for staff development: change will only be achieved through motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It can't be imposed top-down or through a regimented design.

M-Hub This project has come together so quickly because it taps into these motivators, particularly the sense of purpose. When we go live, M-Hub will benefit the entire school community. Already, students and staff have devoted many hours to the project. Will it help their "grades" or effect their pay? Of course not. Speaking for myself, I've been far more engaged in it than some of the things I get paid to do.

I would love to hear your reactions to the video.


Ann Lusch said...

I've seen this and another (less entertaining) video by Dan Pink. I agree that the principles can be applied to education!

But in our current system, the grade is always the bottom line. I tried to do a project that was open-ended and allowed for creativity, but then felt compelled to prepare a rubric so they would know ahead of time the basis of grading, even though it seemed counter-intuitive in terms of what I was trying to accomplish.

So: research for me this summer about CBL, but in the meantime, maybe you can tell me more about how you grade your projects.

Detroit Sports Dork said...

Thanks, Ann.

Grades have been very much on my mind these days, so your remarks are timely.

Grading has gone more and more smoothly with each challenge project iteration because I put a very high premium on the groups setting their own goals at the beginning of the project. These have to be measurable ("everyone will speak for five minutes without notes during the presentation" versus "everyone will contribute"). I probably give more feedback on goal setting than any other stage. When the groups own their own goals, they evaluate with greater integrity, especially since I assure them that in retrospect they may have been too ambitious. They also realize that goal setting and evaluating are part of the grade! Anyway, I did not have a single issue this semester, and a range of grades were issued.

I will be re-visiting this subject soon. I am going to be meeting with another teacher this week who is going to join me in teaching the bookless American Gov course. I am going to propose that we collaborate on a major election project next fall, and I have notions about the students predetermining how they will show mastery of key concepts.

It's strange, my adventures in educational technology have gotten me thinking more seriously about philosophy and assessment than at any previous time in my career.

Unknown said...

I was cruising your blog for an article I can annotate with Diigo for my Rich Media Presentation class and send to the rest of the group for an assignment.

First, I love this video. Seems timely in terms of how our pay structure is being redesigned to Pay For Performance and making the grade on the state standardized test (that students have absolutely no stake in -- but that's another issue for another day).
In terms of students and learning, I would say that some of the problem is the way that we have trained students to be students. Doing well in school is as much as skill as knowing how to shoot a basket and the best students have figured out the implicit rules of the game. That's why you find that the top students are so grade motivated. I would say that I would have fallen into this category in high school. However, I have found that my best THINKERS are the ones who are not necessarily motivated by the grade carrot. These are stereotypically the slacker boys who are smart enough to do the work that's required, but don't feel like school is worthy of jumping through the hoops for. However, they will happily spend a Saturday creating movies with their friends on their computer for fun.
What if we took away the grade carrot? What if we opened up the parameters a little bit?
All of this would require some good faith from the folks that decided that grades are so important in the first place...and the students (and more importantly their parents!) who have been achieving within the established paradigm, have figured out the rules, and would be resistant to a mid game change in refs.
That being said, I don't anticipate that grades are going anywhere for the time being. I would also love to see how your grading parameters are set up for your projects.

Thanks for the enjoyable sidetrack from my online class homework!

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