motivation

Why Use Turnitin?
My experience in my first-year composition (FYC) classes for ESL students indicates that many, perhaps most, students do not understand what constitutes plagiarism. Even after defining it and doing exercises, how to attribute sources properly remains difficult for my students, in part because of language and in part due to conceptual understanding. I still remember three months into one semester a few years back when, after I commented on an example of plagiarism, one student exclaimed, "That's what you mean by plagiarism?!" So, although I haven't used Turnitin much, what follows are my thoughts on how I plan to use Turnitin.

Before Using Turnitin
The main purpose of Turnitin should be a learning tool. Thus, establish an appropriate learning environment for using Turnitin. Rather than a "got'cha" environment, students should understand that Turnitin is a tool to help them see where they need to make changes in their paper, whether in revising or in citing. Generally speaking, don't penalize rough drafts for matches to other documents.

Teach how to use sources appropriately.

  1. Give examples of appropriate and inappropriate use with explanations of the differences.
  2. Have students practice recognizing whether a source is plagiarizing or not.
  3. Have students practice paraphrasing and quoting select passages.

This sequence of tasks helps to move students from a mental understanding of appropriate attribution to the ability to cite sources correctly. It's only a beginning, however. Students may need the entire semester of working and re-working with their papers to make their understanding and skill automatic in practice.

Using Turnitin
Explain to students why you are using Turnitin and how it works. Basically, learning to cite sources appropriately can take time, and Turnitin can help that process. Be sure to include a statement about its use and purpose in the class syllabus. (For a model of such a statement, see Greg Reihman's example.)

Students, rather than the instructor, should submit their papers to Turnitin and get an originality report. If there are problems, whether true or false positive, they can tackle it alone or you can discuss it together. Being able to see possible cases of plagiarism and to discuss actual examples are important for students to build up a contextualized understanding of what constitutes plagiarism and what does not. In those cases technically constituting plagiarism, students' access to turnitin's originality report function lets them see whether their writing needs work in summarizing, paraphrasing, or citing, and where it needs it. Thus, the originality reports can provide a point of departure for discussing what is plagiarism and what isn't, what is effective paraphrase and what isn't, and what must be cited and what doesn't. It also helps teachers to identify students who are having difficulty in learning these distinctions and to provide the extra help they need.

In addition, students can see how they have revised from one draft to the next. As Tracy Morse wrote,

Since Turnitin.com retains every submitted paper in its database, it is possible to submit different drafts of the same paper and learn from the plagiarism report generated from Turnitin.com how much one draft has changed from the next. The benefit for students is that they can have a quantitative report in the percentage referring to how much of their draft is the same, or "plagiarized" in Turnitin.com terms, to their previous draft submitted to the database.

This ability to see changes is helpful because students often feel that they have revised a paper when all they have done is edited it, making a few grammatical or vocabulary changes. Turnitin also has an anonymous peer review system. I haven't used Turnitin in this way (or for revising), but Dennis Jerz comments,

I also find the peer-review feature very useful. Students can trade anonymous peer reviews within the system. I find I have to ask very specific questions, since the system doesn't permit students to cross out a sentence or draw a wavy line under a confusing passage.. the system doesn't really encourage global revisions, but this limitation does force me to decide, for each peer review, what are the specific things I most want students to be looking for when they review each other's work. And that forces me to focus on whether I'm actually teaching those skills to the students.

Motivation
Much has been claimed about the potential for Turnitin to alienate students. But actually, it has the potential to motivate students. According to self-determination theory, motivation is driven by three needs: autonomy, competence, and social relatedness. Giving autonomy to students is crucial for learning. Ryan and Deci (pdf) write,

teachers who are autonomy supportive (in contrast to controlling) catalyze in their students greater intrinsic motivation, curiosity, and desire for challenge…. Students taught with a more controlling approach not only lose initiative but learn less effectively, especially when learning requires conceptual, creative processing. (p. 71)

Naturally, Turnitin could be used in controlling ways. However, if students (instead of the teacher) are submitting their work to Turnitin and taking responsibility for learning to use sources in an encouraging atmostphere, then their autonomy is being supported. In addition, being able to see these distinctions in originality reports should help them learn to use sources more competently, thus again motivating students as they themselves see their improvement in using sources.

Caveats
(For more detailed caveats, see Nick Carbone's "Strategies for Teaching with Online Tools" and Sharon Gerald's "Confessions of a User".)

  • Turnitin is a tool, not a teacher. It supports instruction; it does not subsitute for it.
  • Turnitin can give false positives in their originality reports.
  • Turnitin can also give false negatives: It does not find every instance of plagiarism.
  • The teacher must interpret the originality reports. The percentage number provided with an originality report does not necessarily correspond to an amount of plagiarism.
  • Students are learning. Unless clearly indicated otherwise, consider most instances of "plagiarism" detected through Turnitin to be non-intentional and an opportunity to help students better understand how to use sources.

Briefly
Turnitin, used properly, can be one tool among others, not simply for catching plagiarism, but more importantly for teaching students how to use sources appropriately.

Related articles:
Turnitin and Rhetoric
Turnitin and Intellectual Property
Turnitin Bibliography

On Monday, three of my colleagues and I presented at the New Jersey Writing Alliance Conference on designing assignments that motivate students to write. We looked at motivating high school students, analyzing bumper stickers, and using youth culture music. We wanted to provide activities that participants could take and use immediately in their classes, but we also wanted to give the theory with which to evaluate their present assignments and, if necessary, tweak them to make them more engaging.

The theory part fell on me, and I used self-determination theory (which I've talked about before here and here). As noted in these posts, motivation depends upon three needs: autonomy, competence, and social relatedness. Giving autonomy to students is crucial for learning. Ryan and Deci (pdf) state,

[T]eachers who are autonomy supportive (in contrast to controlling) catalyze in their students greater intrinsic motivation, curiosity, and desire for challenge…. Students taught with a more controlling approach not only lose initiative but learn less effectively, especially when learning requires conceptual, creative processing. (p. 71)

Controlling includes giving rewards, as well as imposing deadlines and other directives. After students have become accustomed to receiving rewards for doing a particular activity, they lose interest in it if those rewards are removed. Of course, teachers have the responsibility for ensuring that students meet course and institutional expectations. Many of my students have time constraints of work and family to the extent that if there were no imposed deadlines, these other priorities would preclude their doing the necessary study. Still, as much as possible, we need to give students choice and opportunties for directing their learning and determining their own goals if we want them to learn.

Liviu Librescu

To Liviu Librescu, a true human being:

Liviu Librescu, an Israeli engineering and math lecturer, was killed after he was said to have protected his students' lives by blocking the doorway of his classroom from the gunman. (Matt Apuzzo (AP), "Va. Tech gunman writings raised concerns")

Virginia Tech University Prof. Liviu Librescu, described as a family man who once did research for NASA, sacrificed his life to save his students in the shooting rampage yesterday. (Oren Yaniv and Leo Standora, "Courageous final act of professor: Fatally shot as he protects students")

A 76-year-old professor who survived the Holocaust was shot to death while saving his students from the Virginia Tech assailant, students said.

Liviu Librescu, an internationally respected aeronautics engineer who taught at Virginia Tech for 20 years, saved the lives of several students by barricading his classroom door before he was gunned down in the massacre, according to e-mail accounts sent by students to his wife. ... (Holocaust survivor, professor killed helping students escape")

Liviu Librescu a 75-year-old Israeli professor is one of the people who died in Monday's Virginia Tech shooting. The professor saved several students before got shot, witnesses said, quoted by DPA news agency.

Librescu was teaching his class in Norris Hall when the killer entered the building randomly unloading his gun in class rooms. The Mechanics and Aeronautics professor stayed behind to stop the shooter from opening the door. When the attacker finally got into the classroom, threw himself in front of the gunman, a student told Israel's Army Radio.

‘He himself was killed but thanks to him his students stayed alive’, the student who survived the massacre said.

Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, was born in Romania, he has Israeli nationality but had lived in the US with his wife for the past two decades while both his sons live in Israel.

Librescu and his wife moved to Israel from Romania in 1978 and then moved to Virginia in 1986 for his sabbatical but decided to stay, their son told Army Radio. (Cristina Ersen, Liviu Librescu, A Holocaust Survivor Killed At Virginia Tech")

For the convenience of one location, here are my posts on error feedback, along with my sources and links if available.

My posts:

Sources:

Anderson, J. R., Fincham, J. M., & Douglass, S. (1997). The role of examples and rules in the acquisition of a cognitive skill (pdf). Journal of Experimental Psychology, 23, 932-945.

Anderson, J. R., & Schunn, C. D. (2000). Implications of the ACT-R learning theory: No magic bullets (pdf). In R. Glaser (ed.), Advances in instructional psychology: Educational design and cognitive science (pp. 1-33). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum (LE).

Bitchener, J., Young, S., & Cameron, D. (2005). The effect of different types of feedback on student ESL writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 14, 191-205.

Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78, 246-263. (See here, here, and here for synopses of this work and others by Dweck.)

Chandler, J. (2003). The effects of various kinds of error feedback for improvement in the accuracy and fluency of L2 student writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 267-296.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The "what" and "why" of goal pursuits: human needs and the self-determination of behavior (pdf). Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268. (See homepage for more on self-determination theory.)

DeKeyser, R. (2007). Skill acquisition theory. In B. VanPatten & J. Wiliams (eds.), Theories in Second Language Acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: LE.

Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and research motivation. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Ericsson, K.A., & Charness, N. (1994). Expert Performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49, 725-747.

Ferris, D. (2004). The "grammar correction" debate in L2 writing: Where are we, and where do we go from here? (and what do we do in the meantime...?) (pdf). Journal of Second Language Writing, 13, 49-62.

---- (2003). Response to student writing: Implications for second language students. Mahwah, NJ: LE.

---- (2002). Treatment of error in second language student writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

---- (1999). The case for grammar correction in L2 writing classes: A response to Truscott (1996). Journal of Second Language Writing, 8, 1-11.

Ferris, D., & Hedgcock, J. (2005). Teaching ESL composition: Purpose, process, and practice (2nd ed.). Mahway, NJ: LE.

Hinkel, E. (2004). Teaching academic ESL writing: Practical techniques in vocabulary and grammar. Mahwah, NJ: LE.

Hinkel, E., & Fotos, S. (eds.) (2002). New perspectives on grammar teaching in second language classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: LE.

MIles, J. (2002). Second language writing and research: The writing process and error analysis in student texts. TESL-EJ 6.

Ross, P. (2006). The expert mind. Scientific American, 295(2), 64-71.

Truscott, J. (2004). Evidence and conjective on the effects of correction: A response to Chandler (pdf). Journal of Second Language Writing, 13, 337-343.

---- (1999). The case for "The case against grammar correction in L2 writing classes. A response to Ferris (pdf). JJournal of Second Language Writing, 8, 111-122.

---- (1996). The case against error correction in L2 writing courses (pdf). Language Learning 46, 327-369.

Yates, R., & Kenkel, J. (2002). Responding to sentence-level errors in student writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 11, 29-47.

Below are bibliography pages with downloadable articles related to the above sources (and some repetition, of course):

ACT-R Theory
Self-determination theory

From the previous posts on learning theory (here and here), two crucial points were:

  1. Acquiring expertise in any field, including language, requires extensive practice.
  2. Effective time on task is the most important factor in learning.

You have to be motivated to practice extensively. Videogamers are and do. They can spend 50-100 hours on a game. Imagine a student spending 50-100 hours writing an essay! In an article on Wired, James Gee comments:

The secret of a videogame as a teaching machine ... [is] its underlying architecture. Each level dances around the outer limits of the player's abilities, seeking at every point to be hard enough to be just doable. In cognitive science, this is referred to as the regime of competence principle, which results in a feeling of simultaneous pleasure and frustration - a sensation as familiar to gamers as sore thumbs. Cognitive scientist Andy diSessa has argued that the best instruction hovers at the boundary of a student's competence. ... Also, good videogames incorporate the principle of expertise. They tend to encourage players to achieve total mastery of one level, only to challenge and undo that mastery in the next, forcing kids to adapt and evolve.

These principles of expertise and competence are also seen in two theories of motivation: self-determination theory and flow.

In self-determiantion theory, motivation is driven by three needs:

  1. autonomy,
  2. social relatedness, and
  3. competence, including informational (not evaluative) feedback on competence, that is, feedback that supports autonomy in learning as opposed to controlling it.

Flow is a state in which one is fully engaged in the task at hand (see this review of Csikszentmihaly's book Finding Flow). Another post noted that flow occurs under certain conditions, three of which are:

  1. clear goals
  2. immediate feedback
  3. tasks that challenge (without unduly frustrating) one's skills

These needs and conditions are an integral part of video games. But have they been in providing error feedback?

Probably not as directly as in other arenas. Just look at the condition of "immediate feedback." In my own first-year composition classes, error feedback is given mostly on essay drafts, which I receive every 2-3 weeks and return in 2-7 days. Can you imagine a basketball coach giving feedback only every few weeks and then a few days after the practice in question?

Although it's not as easy to incorporate these motivation principles into error feedback, I have a few ideas I'll discuss in the next post.

All Error Feedback Posts in this series:
Error Feedback in L2 Writing
Error Feedback in L2 Writing: Scant Evidence
Error Feedback: Theory
Error Feedback: Skill Acquisition Theory
Error Feedback: Motivation
Error Feedback: Practice
Error Feedback: Bibliography

Po Bronson (NY Magazine) writes a lengthy article titled "How Not to Talk to your Kids:The Inverse Power of Praise", which looks primarily Carol Dweck's research on motivation showing that praising children for their intelligence causes them to underperform. The article begins:

What do we make of a boy like Thomas?

Thomas (his middle name) is a fifth-grader at the highly competitive P.S. 334, the Anderson School on West 84th. Slim as they get, Thomas recently had his long sandy-blond hair cut short to look like the new James Bond (he took a photo of Daniel Craig to the barber). Unlike Bond, he prefers a uniform of cargo pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of one of his heroes: Frank Zappa. Thomas hangs out with five friends from the Anderson School. They are “the smart kids.” Thomas’s one of them, and he likes belonging.

Since Thomas could walk, he has heard constantly that he’s smart. Not just from his parents but from any adult who has come in contact with this precocious child. When he applied to Anderson for kindergarten, his intelligence was statistically confirmed. The school is reserved for the top one percent of all applicants, and an IQ test is required. Thomas didn’t just score in the top one percent. He scored in the top one percent of the top one percent.

But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t.

For instance, in the early grades, Thomas wasn’t very good at spelling, so he simply demurred from spelling out loud. When Thomas took his first look at fractions, he balked. The biggest hurdle came in third grade. He was supposed to learn cursive penmanship, but he wouldn’t even try for weeks. By then, his teacher was demanding homework be completed in cursive. Rather than play catch-up on his penmanship, Thomas refused outright. Thomas’s father tried to reason with him. “Look, just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you don’t have to put out some effort.” (Eventually, he mastered cursive, but not without a lot of cajoling from his father.)

Why does this child, who is measurably at the very top of the charts, lack confidence about his ability to tackle routine school challenges?

Thomas is not alone. For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

In brief, praise that is directed towards one's self-esteem not only doesn't improve students' performance, it can even cause performance to deteriorate by causing students

  1. to avoid risk
  2. to give up on a task instead of exerting more effort and
  3. to believe that they are not autonomous.

For praise to be effective,

  1. It must be specific to the task being performed.
  2. It must be sincere.
  3. It must be intermittent.
  4. It should be given during the process not at the end of a task.

On #3, if praise is given too often, then effort becomes tied to the reward of praise, and when praise is removed, so is one's effort. It needs to be tied to effort. And for the same line of reasoning, on #4, praise needs to focus on the process not the product of "success." So, praise is important, but it must be given timely and wisely.

curiosity

Why do babies and young children seem to lose much of their curiosity in school? One reason, I believe, is that school undermines their autonomy and competence, which, according to self-determination theory, decreases intrinsic motivation and curiosity.

Kashdan and Fincham's book chapter, "Facilitating Curiosity: A Social and Self-Regulatory Perspective for Scientifically Based Interventions" (pdf), states that curiosity accounts for about "10% of the variance in achievement and performance outcomes." That's quite a bit. In their conclusion, they write,

Central to developing successful curiosity interventions is the enhancement of task curiosity, such as positive affect, feelings of self-determination, performance enhancement, and the acquisition of skill and knowledge.

One implication I take away from what the authors are saying is that we need to move away from breadth and more to depth. Constant cramming of meaningless facts doesn't give the time needed to develop competence in an area outside of memorization and grades. And constant cramming is usually a result of teacher-directed instead of student-initiated activity. Not that teachers don't need to direct at times and not that "knowledge" is not necessary. Rather, to nurture curiosity, students need the time to delve into concepts and practices so that their competence can develop, and they need to exercise self-determination by having a voice in course objectives and activity.

Much of what teachers need to do is to create environments that stimulate curiosity, the development of competence, and "authentic" self-determination. Rather than memorize ideas to be regurgitated on exams, students need "idea environments" in which they play with ideas, bounce them back and forth among themselves and others, and actually use them.

Related post: Engagement and Flow

It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to.
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you ever noticed that second thoughts are often better than first ones? In my previous post, my first thoughts were to tie engagment to autonomy and time on task. Two days later, on my desk staring at me was psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience". "Flow" fits the notion of engagement better. From the book, flow is

the state in whch people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

Most of us have had that "involved" moment happen, when we concentrated our attention so intensely on solving a problem, reading a book, climbing a mountain, on some task, that we lost track of time and when we became aware of our surroundings, a few hours or more had passed by as if they were minutes. Such "flow", according to Csikszentmihalyi, is "optimal experience" that leads to happiness and creativity.

Flow occurs when certain conditions are met, four of which are

  1. clear goals
  2. immediate feedback
  3. focused attention
  4. tasks that challenge (without frustrating) one's skills

Csikszentmihalyi's diagram of item #4 (this representation was created by Wesley Fryer) shows why flow should be taken into consideration when designing class tasks.

If a task is not challenging enough, boredom sets in, while too great a challenge results in anxiety, and both cases result in task, and thus learning, avoidance. As one's skills increase, then the challenge must also increase for one to remain in a state of flow. Because flow is an enjoyable experience, one continues to increase the challenge level (as from A1 to A4 and so on), and consequently continues to improve one's skills because doing so is necessary to stay in a flow state. Thus, we see the importance of "engaging" students in school. From the book,

flow activities lead to growth and discovery. One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long. We grow either bored or frustrated; and then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or to discover new opportunities for using them.

Of course, easier said than done, especially when one's students (mine, for example) often hold full-time jobs while being full-time plus students. Too much work and too little time constantly puts my students in states of frustration. Even when not, flow states are not a regular occurrence in life; according to Csikszentmihalyi (quoted by Jamie Chamberlin in the APA Monitor),

'A typical day is full of anxiety and boredom,' says Csikszentmihalyi. 'Flow experiences provide the flashes of intense living against this dull background.'

So, it's unlikely that in formal learning contexts that states of flow will be become the norm every day all day. After all, not all tasks are enjoyable, but they might be necessary, just as grading is a necessary but tedious part of teaching. Still, it seems more and more that students are being turned off by classroom learning. As Csikszentmihalyi asserts,

It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to.

They don't, because they don't see the relevance of school learning. The relevance of math, for example, remains hidden until it is needed in a real world context such as engineering. As Csikszentmihalyi notes, in former times, young children learned in real settings, whether it was hunting, farming, or some trade. They could see first hand the relevance of their activity. Similarly, students playing sports and music see the relevance of any associated instruction. More importantly, goals are clear and feedback is immediate, as in chess when a piece has been taken.

Now, I still agree with Artichoke that student satisfaction/enjoyment is not a reliable measure of learning and that much talk about "engagement" is more jumping on a not-too-well-thought-out, feel-good bandwagon than anything else, but I want to look at this one point:

And engagement, despite Prensky’s slickly marketable “engage me or enrage me” stuff, engagement is not a self report measure of wonderment and awe but rather a reflection of the determined and persistent focus that a learner needs to promote learning.

As Brabazon notes in her provocative book Digital Hemlock “To read remember, understand, synthesise and interpret knowledge is often drudgery. To learn with effectiveness requires repetition, practice and failure.”’ (p9)

Why should repetition, practice and failure be equated with drudgery? James Paul Gee (pdf) notes how in good video games,

mastery is consolidated through repetition (with variation), only to be challenged again.

Yet gamers play hours on end, repeating the same moves over and over. And this is true, too, of playing sports, music, and chess. Yet, one seldom hears of the repetition in these arenas as drudgery, perhaps hard, perhaps demanding, but not drudgery. In fact, flow can be achieved in something as apparently boring as working on an assembly line. In his book, Csikszentmihalyi recounts the example of Rico:

The task he has to perform on each unit that passes in front of his station should take forty-three seconds to perform—the same exact operation almost six hundred times in a working day. Most people would grow tired of such work very soon. But Rico has been at this job for over five years, and he still enjoys it. The reason is that he approaches his task in the same way an Olympic athlete approaches his event: How can I beat my record? Like the runner who trains for years to shave a few seconds off his best performance on the track, Rico has trained himself to better his time on the assembly line. With the painstaking care of a surgeon, he has worked out a private routine for how to use his tools, how to do his moves. After five years, his best average for a day has been twenty-eight seconds per unit. ... when he is working at top performance the experience is so enthralling that it is almost painful for him to slow down. "It's better than anything else," Rico says. "It's a whole lot better than watching TV." Rico know that very soon he will reach the limit beyond which he will no longer be able to improve his performance at his job. So twice a week he takes evening courses in electronics. When he has his diploma he will seek a more complex job, one that presumably he will confront with the same enthusiasm he has shown so far. (pp. 39-40)

Apparently, it is not repetition or practice per se that is drudgery. Perhaps, in school learning, repetition is not accompanied by variation, and so becomes drudgery. Perhaps, school repetition too often lacks the clear goals and immediate feedback of video games, sports, music, and chess, and so becomes drudgery. We need to find ways of integrating repetition and practice into school learning without them becoming drudgerous.

In the comments section, Artichoke stated,

the problem does seem to lie in the many differing meanings we attribute to "engagement".

If we can design learning conditions conducive to flow, perhaps our students will wish to learn.

Definitely. But the everyday meaning of engagement seems congruent with the academic concept of flow. In fact, one of Csikszentmihalyi's books is titled "Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life". Perhaps informing our understanding of engagement with the research on flow can help us move forward in "engaging" our students. Flow, again, requires clear goals, immediate feedback, challenging tasks, and variation in those tasks. If we can design learning conditions conducive to flow, perhaps our students will wish to learn.

Related posts and articles:

"effective time on task" and "self-determination" are important pillars of the learning process.

Engagement is a term heard everywhere in educational circles. But how do we measure it? Is engagement always relevant to learning? Artichoke asks these questions and others:

“Engagement” is an interesting notion, as is “rich and authentic”. When I hear schools advocating the use of student inquiry and authentic contexts over other pedagogical approaches on the grounds that it engages (and thus apparently motivates) students, I always want to ask

  • How do you assess engagement?
  • How different are these measures when students are learning through inquiry activities than when they are learning through other pedagogical approaches? And
  • What difference do you find in student learning outcomes that can be causally attributed to your measures of engagement?

And when I think about “rich and authentic” I want to ask, authentic to whom? I want to know why “rich and authentic” is a more popular descriptor of the quantity and quality of the learning experience than “educationally relevant”

Perhaps the emperor has no clothes. Engagement is a fuzzy and anecdotal term. Still, I suppose when I use that term, I'm really referring to time on task and self-determination. In terms of self-determination theory, acting autonomously promotes intrinisic motivation, which in turn leads to more time on task. And it's clear that the more "effective time on task" there is (see Implications of ACT-R Theory: No Magic Bullets (pdf)), the more learning can take place.

So, yes, we need to be careful in our bandying about the terms "engagement" and "rich and authentic." Having said that, "effective time on task" and "self-determination" are important pillars of the learning process.

Aaron Nelson at Teacher in Development has an interesting post on Teaching and Learning: How to Increase Transfer. Referring to my post on The Transfer of Expertise, he said,

the teacher must first of all DELIVER content in meaningful ways.

To illustrate, he gave an example. One of his students had requested help on how to learn word and preposition combinations. After asking her for a few weeks how he could provide that help, he came up with the creative and engaging notion of combining photos from Flickr with Powerpoint to help students "visualize word/preposition combinations in meaningful ways." What's even more pedagogically interesting to me is that he listened carefully to his student to understand how he could best help her.

At the end of his post, Nelson asked:

How are you being relevant to your students? Would you share how you make meaningful links between your content and your student’s lives?

So, now, I'll share one example of how I listened to a student to make the content more meaningful. A few years ago, one of my students made the claim that Japanese cars were better than American cars. A few days later, I entered the classroom with a PowerPoint presentation to have the students confront contradictions between that claim and the fact that not everyone bought a Japanese car. First, however, I asked the students whether or not they agreed with the other student. They all did. Next, I asked what their criteria were for evaluating Japanese cars as better than American cars. After they had listed quite a few, I then began the following series of PowerPoint slides:

  • Cars, Criteria, and Audience
  • Which car would you prefer to own?
  • Honda Civic (with accompanying picture)
  • American Corvette (with accompanying picture)
  • What car would a Texan prefer to own? (with a picture of John Wayne as a dusty cowboy)
  • Honda Civic (with accompanying picture)
  • Dodge Ram pickup (with accompanying picture)
  • What would Schnarzenegger prefer to own? (with a picture of the Terminator holding a shotgun)
  • Honda Civic (with accompanying picture)
  • Harley Davidson (with accompanying picture)

This presentation, pitting a Japanese car, the Honda civic, against American products, stirred up much discussion on how audiences differed in their values and in their criteria for purchasing cars, thus causing the students to reflect on contradictions between the evaluation criteria they initially formulated and the criteria that different audiences used in purchasing vehicles, and hopefully enabling them to construct a better understanding of audience that they might be able to transfer to other contexts.

Like Nelson, as a result of listening, I had responded with a presentation and tasks that would engage my students. So, I would add that to be able to "deliver content in meaningful ways," a key component is listening carefully to our students to understand their reality.

On a sidenote, although it was likely not intended, the notion of "delivering content" can suggest a transmission model of teaching/learning. With respect to student learning, you do not "connect your content with your students' reality." Connections we make reflect our learning, not the students. Rather, we establish conditions that facilitate their connecting their reality to our "content." This shift of perspective might be perceived as trivial, but for me, it is an important one because the perspectives we give voice to shape our pedagogical practices, whether consciously or not. Learning is not to a passive process of receiving knowledge, but an active process of constructing meaning as when Nelson's students "figure[d] out" prepositions and "create[d] their own sentences."

If transfer is to occur, it will be a result of students doing the connecting. Thus, in addition to listening, another key component of effective pedagogy is a focus on the learning environment, on conditions that can facilitate learning, as in Nelson's innovation of combining Flickr and Powerpoint to create "an interesting and highly visual way to work on prepositions."

A few related posts:
If it'd been a snake, it would've bit me
Is there anything new under the sun?
Chains of experience

Earlier in "Education Leads to Immaturity", I commented briefly on Charlton's hypothesis that people are becoming more immature. I'd have to read the study to see how Charlton came to these conclusions. Still, in some ways, this relationship makes sense. Maturity is closely tied to responsibility. And as long as one is in school, responsibility is at a minimum for several reasons. One is that students are not stakeholders in their education: They have no, or little, voice in how their education should proceed. Another reason is that they have no, or little, direct feedback on how their education will contribute to their future interests, careers, and lives. (For student voice, see Listening to Students and for the value of feedback, see Flow, Games, and Learning. And somewhat related, download Maehr & McInerney's book chapter, Motivation as Personal Investment.)

I imagine one thing that would help would be to have students share responsibility in the governance of classes and schools, and in the direction and nature of their learning, along with graduates (from recent to not-so-recent) serving as ex-officio members to provide feedback as to the consequences (successes and failures) of their education preparing them for their careers.

As I continue to think about this, it doesn't seem so odd that the level of education correlates with immaturity. What does seem odd is that schools do not have curricula that help students become responsible and mature. What seems unlikely is that schools will redesign their curricula accordingly as long as they remain overfocused on testing. Unless, of course, they can test maturity, too. What seems likely is that NCLB's testing mania results from "highly educated" politicians, acting outside of their areas of competence, being "unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.” Interestingly, "highly educated" educators who are supposedly acting within their areas of competence apparently also have unbalanced priorities on testing. Perhaps, we're back to "Emotion Overrules Reason". Or perhaps what Charlton has come across is a variation on "Experts predict no better than non-experts":

The experts’ trouble in Tetlock’s study is exactly the trouble that all human beings have: we fall in love with our hunches, and we really, really hate to be wrong.

And hating to be wrong, many continue to love the road of testing what can easily be counted rather than measuring what counts.

The article on Charlton's hypothesis also stated:

A “child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviors and knowledge” is probably adaptive to the increased instability of the modern world, Charlton believes. Formal education now extends well past physical maturity, leaving students with minds that are, he said, “unfinished.”

Actually, I don't mind being unfinished as long as I have the flexibility to keep learning.

I've partially fixed my webdesign problem with Internet Explorer. The sidebar can be seen. However, on IE 6, a supposedly transparent spacer covers the title, and on IE 5.2, the sidebar has dropped down. I have no more time right now. Maybe in December?

Working on my own design instead of just using the templates provided wasn't easy, especially as my HTML knowledge is limited, while my CSS knowledge is even more limited. So, why did I go through frustration instead of just using the templates? Where'd the motivation come from? Both the notion of flow and self-determination theory can shed some light here.

From the perspective of flow, I had clear goals, immediate feedback, focused attention, a sense of control (at least when I was successful), and a merging of action and awareness (see Flow, Games, and Learning and Flow Theory): As I tinkered with the design, I could quickly see what worked and what didn't. And the time flew by as I focused on the task at hand.

In self-determination theory, three needs for intrinsic motivation are autonomy, competence, and social relatedness. I'm not quite sure how social relatedness applies here, but it's obvious that I had some competence (or I couldn't have finished what I had begun) and that I was fully autonomous in choosing what I wanted to do, how I went about it, and what I accepted as the final (for now) product. Despite the frustration, solving the puzzle of creating my own design was fun and satisfying.

Now I wonder, How often do our students enjoy the puzzle of learning? Looking back at my own undergraduate days, I'm not sure I enjoyed learning as much then as I do now. First off, the amount of cramming required for a high GPA required for going to graduate school simply took the fun out of learning. Note the word "required," a staple of educational institutions, which precludes much of autonomy. Of course, there were other factors, such as lack of time: I had to work my way through school. Lack of time affects the ability to develop competence--as noted above by my problem with Internet Explorer.

So, how do we go about creating environments that promote flow and self-determination in our classes? More on that later.

Dave Munger (in Cognitive Daily, a blog reviewing psychology articles) reports on the findings of Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman. They found that self-discipline was a better indicator of school performance for 8th graders than IQ: Self-discipline had a .67 correlation with GPA while IQ had only a .32 correlation. In addition, there was no correlation between IQ and self-discipline. This makes sense. Anderson and Schunn (2000) assert that there are no magic bullets in learning, but rather the most important factor is effective time on task. Munger wonders,

Perhaps the most important question which remains is how best to teach children self-discipline — or whether it can be taught at all.

I wonder how self-discipline is related to self-determination (i.e., autonomy, competence, and relatedness).

Returning to the theme of education, it's safe to assume that not all character education programs are successful. Lynn Revell (2002), who conductied research at 12 schools (seven elementary and five high schools), reported that high school students tended to be “cynical or sceptical about specific character traits promoted by Character Education,” especially those students in non-magnet schools who were even “hostile” (pp. 427-428), despite the similarity of programs across schools and the enthusiastic support of parents and school staff. Leming (2000) reported that a literature-based character program promoted cognitive skills among elementary students, but had “mixed results” with respect to affect and behavior. As Kohlberg (1999) states, reasoning is necessary for moral judgment, and moral judgment for moral action; however, moral reasoning and judgment are not sufficient for moral behavior. That is, one may be able to judge a situation correctly in terms of moral principles and still not take moral action, most likely because principles are not integrated into one's identity.

Deci and Ryan's Self-Determination Theory would assert that for individuals to pursue ethical values, internalize them as their own values, and integrate them into their self, their behavior must be self-determined and the environment must satisfy psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness, with autonomy referring to the volitional “experience of integration and freedom” and relatedness referring to “the desire to feel connected to others—to love and care, and to be loved and cared for” (Deci & Ryan, 2000, p. 231).

Thus, we return to the concept of love as an essential component of leading students (and ourselves) into developing character.

From the Quality of Life Research Center (via Jeremy Hiebett) is an article published in School Psychology Quarterly co-authored by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist long associated with flow, the experience of optimal engagement. Here's their abstract:

We present a conceptualization of student engagement based on the culmination of concentration, interest, and enjoyment (i.e., flow). Using a longitudinal sample of 526 high school students across the US, we investigated how adolescents spent their time in high school and the conditions under which they reported being engaged. Participants experienced increased engagement when the perceived challenge of the task and their own skills were high and in balance, the instruction was relevant, and the learning environment was under their control. Participants were also more engaged in individual and group work vs. listening to lectures, watching videos, or taking exams. Suggestions to increase engagement, such as providing focused on learning activities that support students’ autonomy and provide an appropriate level of challenge for students’ skills, conclude the paper.

For those interested in the sampling methods used by Csikszentmihalyi, "Happiness in Everyday Life: The Uses of Experience Sampling" will be of help.