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* Today’s post comes from the 2018-19 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium, a collaboration of over 40 institutions of higher-education. Author information is included below *

A common complaint of faculty is that their students are unmotivated to learn. It does seem at times that our most brilliant lecture or most well-designed homework assignment just elicits blank stares and yawns. We know from the significant body of research on motivation (see Ambrose et al. 2010) for a succinct summary of the research) that one of the major factors affecting motivation is that the student values the task at hand. Students in upper-level courses in the major, for instance, often are interested in what they are studying and can see that the work they are doing will lead directly to goals after college, so they have a mixture of intrinsic and instrumental values at play that lead to high motivation and good outcomes. On the other hand, we may have more trouble getting students motivated in a general education or foundational class required for the major or for graduation.

In a class that looks to students as just a hurdle to be jumped over on the way to the good stuff, we need to think more deeply about what we do to communicate value. I once asked a pre-calculus teacher why students should take her course; her response was “it’s a pre-requisite for calculus.” When pressed to articulate the value of learning pre-calculus, she couldn’t do it. If we can’t articulate the value of what we teach, how will students appreciate the value?

Here’s a little exercise to stretch your ability to communicate value. Imagine a student can choose between your course and another course to fulfill a requirement. Using only a discussion about the value of the course, convince this student to take your class. Try writing down your argument. Think about how course content connects to student interests, the skills students will learn, the habits of mind they will develop. Here’s a guide to help you with this thinking exercise.

Then start communicating that value starting from day one on your syllabus and throughout the semester. You may see your students’ motivation rise before your eyes.

Submitted by:
Stephanie Laggini Fiore, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice Provost
Center for the Advancement of Teaching
Temple University

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