Science & Technology

Bored in Leacock 132? Prof explores student motivation at McGill

Navigating the dynamics and behaviours of a 200-person lecture hall presents an inherent challenge: How can profs effectively promote student motivation and academic success? As we approach the end of the semester, it is important to explore strategies that can increase student motivation and performance in higher education. 

Jessica Flake, assistant professor in McGill’s Department of Psychology, explored student success and motivation in university settings. In her recent paper, “Using Motivation Assessment as a Teaching Tool for Large Undergraduate Courses: Reflections From the Teaching Team,” Flake looked at the challenges of teaching large-format introductory psychological statistics courses, using motivational assessments as a teaching tool, and finding different ways to implement motivational assessments. 

“It’s a very non-traditional kind of paper to write as a research professor because it’s more about teaching and what we’ve learned about it,” Flake said in an interview with The Tribune. “It’s not a very formal kind of scientific study. It’s about our experience and sharing what works or doesn’t work for teaching.”

Teaching PSYC 204: Introduction to Psychological Statistics for her first time at McGill, Flake quickly learned about the course’s reputation. As a mandatory class for students majoring in psychology, this course is often at the bottom of the department’s popularity list. With the course’s dense and challenging content, students frequently find it dry and uninspiring, resulting in low motivation levels across the board.

Flake examined the various factors shaping achievement motivation to gain deeper insights into the students’ motivation within the Expectancy-Value-Cost (EVC) model—a psychological framework designed to model motivational factors. 

Rooted in individuals’ subjective evaluations, the EVC framework treats motivation as a function of expectations for success, subjective task value, and perceived costs associated with engagement. 

Prior research has consistently linked expectancy for success and value with academic achievement, highlighting its critical role in promoting performance and engagement. By using the EVC scale, Flake assessed the students’ expectancy for the course, their perceived value of the content, and the perceived costs associated with participation.

To learn more about student motivation levels, Flake created a questionnaire to track students’ behaviour throughout the semester. 

She administered the questionnaire at several points during the semester, which included questions such as: Did students expect to succeed in the course? Did they think that the material was interesting and valuable? Did they have psychological costs, burdens, or barriers they were worried about? 

Using this data, Flake reflected on teaching and evaluation methods used in class settings. She also reflected on the specific techniques that can boost students’ motivation and reduce their anxiety, such as using a means of evaluation that allows students to accumulate grades over the course of the term rather than having their grades determined by only midterm and final exams. This could be achieved by having students complete small weekly assignments, adding to their participation grade, or taking part in group projects.

Flake emphasized the importance of reassuring students and creating a positive environment during stressful times in the semester, such as during the exam season. She also recommended other professors to check in with students, ask them if coursework is too overwhelming, and consider granting extensions or pushing back due dates to aid those in need. 

“I think there’s this aspect of just being a person and seeing students where they are at. I don’t do the whole motivational survey anymore. But I do say, how are you feeling at this point in this semester? And just showing that you’re a person and understand that it’s stressful to be a student,” Flake explained. “I think those little things help, even if they’re just classroom announcements. They help students feel recognized.”

In navigating the challenges of promoting student motivation and academic success, Flake’s research offers valuable insights and practical strategies for educators teaching in high-volume classes. Her emphasis on providing empathy and support to students illustrates the potential for simple gestures to enhance student well-being and positive academic outcomes.

Share this:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Read the latest issue

Read the latest issue