You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2009.

As part of Otago Polytechnic’s recent staff development mini-conference, Tim Brazier presented as the keynote speaker to the selfcare panel. His presentation was based on a model which he uses to motivate his clients (top-level triathletes) towards the achievement of their training goals. While there was nothing particularly innovative about the model, I found it interesting to think about using this or a similar model to support and reinforce the motivation of our students.

There are parallels between tertiary students and athletes. Study at a tertiary level can be fairly demanding, and if a student wishes to achieve at a high level they need to have the ability to perform consistently at a high level. Motivation is a key factor in performance in any field, so identification of strategies that might help our students to be motivated towards their study goals could potentially aid achievement. While facilitating the use of intrinsic sources of motivations is probably preferable in most cases, the use of extrinsic motivations also probably have their place.

The model which Tim presented includes six stages

1. Inspired

2. Inspire

3. Plan

4. Commit

5. Monitor

6. Recover


In order to enrol in a course of study, a student must be inspired by something. What do our students aspire to? Why do they want to be a massage therapist?

Any student is likely to have in their mind a picture of what working as a massage therapist entails which will be based partially on what that term means to the influential people in their life (their family and friends), and based partially on their own experiences. Their expectations will probably include the type of work that a massage therapist does, the scope of effectiveness of a massage therapist, and the potential pay-rate of a massage therapist.

Students coming into a course of study typically have fairly unrealistic or incomplete expectations of study and the realities of the profession they intend to enter. Ongoing discussion of these realities with the students should help to mold these expectations towards a set which are more reflective of the actual reality (James, Baldwin, McInnis, 1999). While this process of shaping expectations may not help to motivate students, it should help to prevent the dissatisfaction and therefore de-motivation that occurs when expectations are not met.


How can we as staff inspire our students towards the achievement of this aspiration? Helping our students to clarify their reasons for study, and more specifically their learning goals is a good first step, but currently this is where we stop.

The question that we now need to answer is once we have identified the desire that is motivating our students to study, how can we as staff motivate our students towards the achievement of their goal(s)?

Some ideas

Regular review & possible revision of goals (the source of inspiration).

Identification of barriers & strategies to overcome these goals.

These overall goals are likely to change through over the course of study. This needs to be kept in mind.

Can we as staff model what the students are aiming for? This is probably partially provided by staff sharing stories of work-based experiences.

How can we make use of the second year students to inspire first year students? More interaction between first and second year students should help first year students to see where they are going.

  • Second year students providing massages to first year students in the massage clinic.
  • Peer tutoring.
  • Massage swaps in the classroom.


Once the goals have been set, a plan needs to be made which describes how these goals are to be achieved. This plan should include both long-term and short-term priorities as well as the time which should be committed to each element of study.

It is generally expected that students will be able to manage the planning and time management requirements of tertiary study. The experience of the author is that this is often not a realistic expectation. It is therefore advisable to embed tuition in planning and time management within the course of study.

Currently we teach time management as a element of our study skills programme, which is simpler from a teaching point of view, but not ideal from a learning point of view (Wingate, 2006). Next year we plan to embed this within the programme by regularly putting aside time where the students are guided to plan their study. This direction should be fairly direct in the early stages of the course, and should taper off as the students progress to enable the students to internalise the skills of planning and time management.


Once the plan has been made, the student needs to commit to it. This commitment is largely in the hands of the student, however all of the interventions discussed so far will contribute to building the motivation which underpins consistent commitment.

We could support this commitment further by reminding students to review the previous period to see if they have met the goals which they set.


Once a programme is in motion, the performance of the student needs to be monitored.

In education we typically monitor performance through assessments. While this is fairly effective in providing motivation through compulsion, it does not tend to provide very useful feedback on the intrinsic motivation of students. In fact, compelling learning in this way seems to gradually drain the interest in learning about the subject material which students often begin with, the natural result being a reduction in intrinsic motivation.

It could be argued that if we are really interested in the achievement of our students then monitoring motivation is of similar importance to monitoring achievement. How could this be done?

One of my colleagues has a regular practice of a one-to-one meeting with each of her students several times each year. She describes this as an invaluable way of building relationship with each of her students. She gains an in-depth understanding of the challenges that each of them faces, and is able to act as a learning mentor as a result. While this is undoubtedly a fairly expensive exercise in terms of time, she believes that the time is well spent in terms of pastoral care and student retention.

I’m interested in any other ideas that any readers of this blog may have.


After any period of exertion, the athlete (student) needs to recover. I believe that the standard term & semester breaks fulfil this role adequately. There is often a tendency amongst academic staff to see the term breaks as a chance for students to complete assessments and study, however it is my belief that the aim of the programme coordinator should be to allow the students a period of time to recover from the demands of study so that they can more effectively apply themselves in the next period of study.


James, R., Baldwin, G., McInnis, C. (1999) Which university – the factors influencing the choices of prospective undergraduates?. Melbourne: Centre for the study of higher education.

Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with ‘study skills’. Teaching in Higher Education, 11, 457-469.


After my first trial of using the blogging rubric, I’ve decided that the rubric and the process both need tweaking.

In a post I made last December, I talked about our process of assessing blogging.  I decided that we would have two submission dates.  On the first submission date, the students would submit a draft, and I would give them feedback on if they had met competetncy (based on their demonstrated knowledge of the subject area).  They would then have a chance to polish their post & I would regrade it at the second submission date.  Sounds complicated?  Well surprisingly enough it is.  It seemed like a good idea to me at the time, but after running through it once I’m going to revert to our standard approach which is allow them to submit an assessment, mark it completely, then if anyone is marked as not competent they are allowed one resubmission.  Simpler for the students.  Easier for me.  (I don’t know what I was thinking).

The other thing that needs tweaking is the actual rubric.

After using it once I’ve decided that grading of community involvement is over-weighted.  In fact, requiring this has just made a natural process into an unnatural process.  It hasn’t seemed to increase authentic community involvement at all, but rather has led to a few students incorporating references into their blogs, and making comments on others blogs which are fairly pointless apart from the gaining of marks (I know Leigh, I know).

Another problem is that the use of reflection isn’t particularly relevant to this assessment, so I’ve modified the rubric to create

Oh well, one step at a time.  We’ll get there in the end.  😉

I’ve just completed the first stage of my research project, looking at student satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the online aspects of their experience as  students within our programme.  A summary of these results follows.  Please note that I haven’t spent much time in preparing it for reading.  It’s really just a summary of the data with a few reflections thrown in.


The first years are much more satisfied with the course than the second years.

  • First year:  100% very satisfied/ satisfied

  • Second year:  80% satisfied / 20% dissatisfied

  • Possible reasons

    • Second-time delivery is always considerably smoother than first-time delivery.  Second year material is often being developed just-in-time which can lead to a lack of clarity at times.

    • With the implementation of the OP IT Induction process this year, and with more integrated support from the learning centre, the first year students have experienced an increased level of support for IT skill development & academic skill development.

    • The first year of online delivery was not smooth sailing.  We had a huge learning curve, which combined with a lower level of funding that was anticipated, resulted in a lot of change, which the students found frustrating.  In 2009, this group seems particularly resistant to changes, and are fairly unforgiving of any perceived lacks in their course of study.

Level & quality of interaction with staff

First year – Mostly satisfied (6.3% dissatisfied)

Second year – 60% satisfied / 40% dissatisfied

The concerns in this area are largely based around delayed scheduling for the clinic and Bioscience classes which has impacted on some students who are working part-time. As a staff group, we’ve decided to finalise all scheduling before we finish up at the end of the year to minimise this type of effect.

Some of the other concerns raised are duplicated in the section on clarity of direction, and are discussed here.

Level and quality of interaction with other students

Generally the students seem happy with this.

Quality and frequency of feedback on your progress

Generally the students are fairly happy with this.

How often do you feel clear on what you need to do to progress in your course work?

First year & second year: 50% always/usually, 50% sometimes/not often

Even though I’ve worked to improve clarity of information structures and processes (being aware that this was a problem with last year’s cohort), clarity remains the area of most concern for both first and second year students.  Clearly clarity of direction is key in being an effective student.

Common themes are

  • Difficulty with assessments – locating the assessments, knowing assessment due dates, not receiving assessments soon enough

  • Some of the first year students would like more explaining of where everything is and how to get at it (information structures, and processes). A screen movie would be the best way to efficiently provide for this need.  We can then cover this material at the start of the course, and students who are struggling to understand can view the movie repeatedly if need be.

  • Elluminate class times have been scheduled generally (e.g. this time is set aside for elluminate sessions). It would be useful for part-time students to have specific classes scheduled on the timetable.

  • Some complaints of delayed communication from lecturers. It’s somewhat difficult for lecturers to be highly responsive when they work for Polytechnic part-time. I do what I can to improve responsiveness when it seems important, but there is probably not much more we can do about this complaint at present.

  • Some students have expressed a preference for a simpler structure (i.e. Blackboard), but for reasons previously discussed, this is not an option that we are entertaining at present.

  • No reports of problems with clarity of instructions from lecturers.

It seems that the structure which is in place is workable with a few improvements. Making better use of the course calender by embedding assessment dates and scheduling specific elluminate classes should be very helpful. Also providing first year students with a little more opportunity to become familiar with the structure of the learning environment in the early stages should pay dividends.

Support for computer use

Students were fairly happy with computer support in the following areas – use of a computer, email, elluminate, using Microsoft products, Internet searching & Other computer use.

Two areas where there were a considerable number of dissatisfied students were in support of Blackboard & use of Google docs.

Blackboard use
Year 1: 31.3% dissatisfied/very dissatisfied
Year 2:   No dissatisfaction

Use of google docs
Year 1:  31.3% dissatisfied/very dissatisfied
Year 2: 2 0% dissatisfied/very dissatisfied

Students seem to perceive that there is a lot of support available, but it’s better in some areas than others. Blackboard & Google docs could be supported better.  We planned to run a session on Google docs in our first practical block, but I decided not to because I believed that the students were getting overloaded.

The community learning centre environment may not be ideal for high need students who are suffering from the convergence of the need to improve their computer literacy & the demands of their study (“Staff in the clcs will help but not that willingly,only one thing at a time and you 3 have to wait 10mins for them to come over to you”).

Suggestions range from suggestions for more IT tutorials to a comment that “the polytechnic has excellent resources to ensure anyone can understand computer use- people just need to use them!”

We plan to initiate a peer tutoring programme next year using some of the second year students.  This  should help.

Confidence with computer use

First year: 20 % sometimes confident/not confident
Second year: 20% sometimes confident

In the first year group, it appears from the feedback of most of the class that the technical difficulty of the computer work is not too high. It seems to be well within the capabilities of most of the class.

The second years have a high level of confidence with the use of any computer applications used previously, but are lacking in confidence with blogging. In particular issues around privacy & sharing thoughts/work openly have been discussed. Some students believe that the poorer students will coast through on the work of the better students.

Computer self-efficacy has been shown to improve with exposure to computer use, and this finding does seem to be reflected in my data so far.   I plan to adopt a wait and see approach – I expect that these figures will change by the next survey date.

Ability to avoid distractions and concentrate on studies

First years: 64.3% always/usually | 35.7% sometimes/not often
Second years: 50% always/usually | 50% sometimes/not often

These percentages are fairly high, and they may be considered a problem, but it would be interesting to compare these results to similar results from other tertiary environments where students have a reasonable amount of flexibility (e.g university style lectures).

There were fairly consistent messages from both groups about the reasons for distractions – good weather, socialising, family commitments, noises in the environment, tv, conflict in the student group, a lack of interest in the subject. some people alluded to juggling study with other commitments (training/work/hobbies),

One student stated that it was distracting when people were talking/typing in elluminate when the teacher is talking. This is distracting, and does take some time to get used to, but there are benefits to having those two communication channels going.

Summary of the summary

It seems that the area that most needs development work is in clarity of student direction.  To achieve this I plan to

  • Embed assessment dates within the course calender
  • Schedule specific elluminate classes within the calender
  • Work on minimising delays in student-staff communication
  • Create a blog page which contains links to the main course areas for the second year students (i.e. something which they can access through Google reader which provides links to everything they need).  This has been requested specifically by the class reps.

Now it’s just a matter of finding some time to do this in the mayhem of my life!!