Tuesday, November 22, 2016

“How Learning Works”: Unpacking Motivation in the Learning Proces

Written by: Dr. Diane Salmon and Anthony Boen

Principle: Students’ goals generate, direct, and sustain what they do to learn.

How do students develop their goals in the context of learning? How can you help students adopt positive learning goals?

Research on how students learn indicates that learners’ values, expectancies, and perceptions of support in the learning environment interact to impact the goals they set and hence, their motivation in a particular learning context. Motivation lies not in the learner, but in the dynamic interplay between what learners value, their sense of efficacy, and the support they feel as they engage in particular learning activities. Motivation is highly contextual and can be shaped by instructors.

One powerful pedagogical tool that instructors can use to influence learner goals and hence, their motivation, is formative assessment. The formative assessment system within a course can be intentionally designed to help learners develop positive expectancies for success, adopt learning goals, improve their self-regulated learning, and internalize value for course content. The following are important design characteristics in an effective formative assessment system within a course

1.       Well-defined expectations for assessed performances
2.       A clear rationale for assessments that clarifies the real world value of required learning
3.       Authentic assessment activities that embody a rationale for the learning goals
4.       Rubrics and exemplars that unpack complex performances for novices
5.       Alignment of multiple sequential formative assessments that shape learner performances for success in the summative assessment
6.       Feedback that shapes how students interpret their performances to focus on growth, effort, elaborative explanations, and self-regulation
7.       Formative assessment activities that direct students to think about the effectiveness of their own learning strategies (metacognition) and include self-assessment

Take a moment now to think about how you can you use technology to achieve some of these design characteristics the formative assessment system within your course.

It’s no secret that modern instructors have a wealth of formative assessment tools available to them. Hundreds of assessment platforms available on the market today allow instructors to craft formative assessments specifically molded to unique learners, experiences, and requirements. But nothing is without its price. With incredible flexibility comes incredible complication as users struggle to learn a seemingly never ending list of new and evolving technologies. Now more than ever it is important that instructors work together to implement formative assessment using standardized yet flexible tools.

One of the most obvious assessment tools available in D2L is the Quiz tool. When most students and instructors think of the “Quiz” tool they immediately think of summative assessment. However experienced instructional designers will know that the tool can be molded to fit many different needs. It’s all about how the assessment is set up and framed within the context of the entire class. Rather than calling the assessment a “Module 2 Quiz,” (which often carries a summative assessment connotation), the instructor may call the assessment something like “Module 2 Key Points.” The instructor can also set the assessment up to automatically release feedback based on student responses, and allow multiple submissions to encourage improvement and further learning. Some instructors of blended courses here at NLU use the Quiz tool to create short, low-stakes formative assessments students take before coming to class. The instructor can then review the quiz statistics stored in D2L as an opening activity in the f2f class session.

Incorporating these suggestions in the use of the D2L quiz tool would achieve which of the design characteristics of formative assessment discussed above? How have you used the quiz tool to shape student goals and enhance their engagement in the learning process?

Not all feedback needs to come from the instructor. One often overlooked formative assessment tool available in D2L is the discussion board. Many instructors often do not take advantage of the collaboration made possible by the discussion board.  Many discussion assignments seem to only require students to restate something they learned from some reading or a prior activity. Student interaction rarely adds value to these assignments. Often the thread authors do not even bother checking on responses they have received because the content is in the past and they have already earned full points for the activity. On the other hand some instructors have been able to leverage the tool effectively as a formative assessment tool. One instructional strategy might be to require students to make posts in the same topic over multiple weeks. For example, have students post multiple revisions of an assignment to one topic. Between submissions peers can critique the revisions and make suggestions for improvement. Posting in the same topic each week not only encourages students to return to their topics (and review feedback from others), but when finished the author can look in one place to see how the document evolved over time with the feedback from peers.

What motivational design characteristics of formative assessment can the instructor achieve by requiring students to post to the same topic over multiple weeks? How might this practice shape students values, expectancies and perceptions of the support in the learning environment? Can you describe your own experiences with discussion as a formative assessment practice that enhances motivation in the learning environment?

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