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The importance of motivation

Bert Bates
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Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8883
    
    5
As a bit of background, Kathy and I are always doing metacognitive reasearch. In other words we're always learning about learning. Our overarching goal is to create better learning experiences, so for example our Head First books are an example of experiments we're doing to try to create better learning books.

We're reading a book called "Punished by Rewards", by Alfie Kohn. In it, he cites a recent study in which student's memories of passages of text were measured.

Two factors were compared:

- How intersted the students were in a topic
- How readable the passage was

The results of the study were that the student's interest or motivation was 30 TIMES more important than the clarity of the writing in overall retention.

Wow! Seems like we could all afford to focus a bit more on motivation!


Spot false dilemmas now, ask me how!
(If you're not on the edge, you're taking up too much room.)
Carol Murphy
village idiot
Bartender

Joined: Mar 15, 2001
Posts: 1197
This does not surprise me. As a student and a teacher, I think desire to learn is the most important factor. I've had very gifted students fall behind very un-gifted but driven students when I was teaching ballet. It never ceased to amaze me when I saw a student transform herself by a supreme act of will, and piss me off when a promising student turned out to be a flake.
Now the question looms; how does one motivate the un-motivated? Should one bother to try?
Bert Bates
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Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8883
    
    5
There are probably lots of ways to work on getting learners motivated. We do something we call "why? who cares? so what?" it's a little dialog we use when we're trying to get to the heart of why the learner should care about a topic. If the skeptic keeps asking "why?" about a valid topic then eventually you'll be reduced to saying "because if you don't do X you'll have less sex". At that point we think we've gone one or two steps too far, and we use an earlier "why" answer as motivation.

We've also always used stories in some form, and that's an area where we're doing a lot more research. We think stories are extremely brain friendly and motivating, and we're trying to refine how we create them and use them.
Ilja Preuss
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Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Originally posted by Carol Murphy:

Now the question looms; how does one motivate the un-motivated? Should one bother to try?


If I remember the book correctly, it's basic premise is that any extrinsic motivation is likely to do more harm than good.


The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny - it is the light that guides your way. - Heraclitus
Bert Bates
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Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8883
    
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Right - his contention is that things like gold stars and ataboys set up bad situations.

But people do have self motivation for some things - they like to have fun, they like to be in 'flow' state, they like to play...

It's amazing that so much education is so dead and lifeless, even if it's clearly written or presented, it'll be a huge uphill battle if there's no motivation.

Then there's the distinction between when the mind is motivated and when the brain is motivated. The mind might be motivated to learn Java, the brain probably won't be. After a while, after the brain experiences positive chemical reactions associated with doing Java, it will come to believe that Java is a good thing, but initially the brain will resist learning Java (or anything else dry and technical).

We've got a bunch of things we do to get motivation going, but i'm interested in hearing what you guys do.
Carol Murphy
village idiot
Bartender

Joined: Mar 15, 2001
Posts: 1197
I think tapping into basic instinct is key. In the grand scheme of things, it really hasn't been that long since human beings as a species were living in a very primal way. I don't think our brains have evolved as quickly as our life-style.
But then, I never had a great deal of success motivating students who just didn't seem to care much. Those who did care but didn't think they could do it were easy. Get them past worrying about looking foolish, and getting them to take chances was just a matter of figuring out how to get under their skin. I think true lack of motivation is beyond redemption.
Stefan Wagner
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 02, 2003
Posts: 1923

When I worked as teacher, I tried to reach an atmosphere, where any question was allowed, because I recognized pupils often carry too much fear to show weakness, which stops them asking questions. That is sometimes hard to reach.

I like to let them do much work on themself, because I believe small successes are a very good motivation.

After a few days I handed out a working-sheet with one question: "What has been the reason for you to start programming?" One minute to answer.
It lead to an interesting discussion and was a nice contrast to the technical stuff we told about the rest of time, because heart and feelings where involved.


http://home.arcor.de/hirnstrom/bewerbung
Edwin Keeton
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 10, 2002
Posts: 214

Carol, how did you "get under the skin" of those who were afraid of looking foolish? You make it sound so easy.


SCJP, SCWCD
raghu kolipakula
Greenhorn

Joined: Apr 11, 2006
Posts: 7
Motivation factor an example

1.Why should I learn EJB?
2.Why should I be an expert?
3.If expert then what?
4.Benefits of being expert!!!

So guy may want to be expert.How he can be expert?
He starts listening rather in thankful way!!

It was my notion and implemented on my students.100% result.They become sceintsts now!!.Magic!!!

Am I correct?
Javier Diaz
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 17, 2003
Posts: 16
This is a bit curious ...

My motivation came from:

* Being kicked from my job ...
* Having a deadline

The job: Solaris/Java instructor (3 months ... Incredibly dire working conditions ...)
The thing to be motivated to: Pass SCWCD and SCEA in a week

I had too ... But it is also my way of telling my ex-employers ... Bye, I do not need you any more than you need me!

Cheers

PS: So, for some of us, and in some circumstances, there is nothing more motivating than ... REVENGE (either literal or sublimated, as was my case). The Count of Montecristo rulez !
I think it was in The Society of Mind where Minsky talked about a fictional professor (really?) that was trying to rip him off, so he motivated himself that way ...


[ April 21, 2006: Message edited by: Javier Diaz ]

[ April 21, 2006: Message edited by: Javier Diaz ]
[ April 21, 2006: Message edited by: Javier Diaz ]
Daniel Lucas
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 24, 2006
Posts: 48
I think any motivator is a good one. Motivators that have worked for me (I'm a senior in high school) include:

1. Competition- I need someone at my level who I can push against to become better and better.
2. Pride- what will all your friends think of you if you do not do something? If you do?
3. Ethics- are you going to do your best or slack off?
4. Consequences- ever wonder why students outside of the U.S. far outperform students in the U.S.? One reason is because their parents are about to beat them if they do not do their best. Now I'm not promoting this because I think it can be wrongly done, but it does work...
5. Self embetterment- If I do this then I can get this.
Ilja Preuss
author
Sheriff

Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Originally posted by Daniel Lucas:
I think any motivator is a good one.


I can't let that stand as is.

There is some evidence that there are important differences between intrinsic motivation (people being motivated because they like something, because they think it's the right thing to do etc.) and extrinsic motivation (people being motivated by being rewarded or punished).

Extrinsic motivation works short term. To sustain it, it needs ongoing, often even increasing effort - not seldom to the point that it becomes impossible to sustain it any longer. And once the motivating effort isn't any longer present, people will typically totally stop doing what you tried to motivate them to do, often even doing the exact opposite.

Second, extrinsic motivation has to be bound to some metric - "if you do that, you will get this". The "that" needs to be measurable, and often the things we actually want people to do aren't the things we can measure, so we fall back to some surrogate. But by doing that, we often enough teach them that the true goal isn't actually important, that the surrogate metric is what they should care more about. For example, by rewarding/punishing students for grades, we teach them that getting good grades is more important than being curious, interested or creative.

In fact that is one of the ways extrinsic motivation actively destroys intrinsic motivation.
Bert Bates
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Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8883
    
    5
cool - intrinsic vs. extrinsic - there's a hotbed of a topic!
Daniel Lucas
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 24, 2006
Posts: 48
I strongly agree with you Ilja. People want free will to pursue things on their own. I for one greatly detest my parent's pushing me (I'm graduating high school, about to head off to UMBC majoring in CE and minoring in CS) toward different activities that I've made clear I do not wish to pursue, or to push me to make a good living (at least as good as my older siblings, of whom are an Air Force Captain, a lawyer, and a nurse), and I do backlash against them by not doing my best. Why? Well, it's complicated to say the least. I guess the best answer is lack of intrinsic motivation. It also has to do with what I see as important in my life. Material wealth is not high on my list, I could care less whether I end up bathing in a bathtub or a jacuzzi, living in a 3000 square foot house in a typical suburb or a 6000 square foot house in a wealthy neighborhood.

Intrinsic motivation is a tough concept. I can only speak on personal experience. I'm intrinsically motivated to learn Java (by the way, I love your book Head First Java, Bert Bates/Kathy!). I'm studying on my own at home in my free time because I genuinely find it interesting to program. I mean, it's really fun to learn new, cool stuff to make you a powerful programmer, isn't it?

I'm extrinsically motivated to do well in piano, for instance. My parents and sister push it, but I'm just not interested. I'd rather spend my time learning Java than practicing Bach Preludes and Fugues.

Motivation, unfortunately, only takes you so far. In fact, it might not take you very far at all. Although one might be motivated to do something, he may choose other things instead. I know I do. I really want to get all A's in school and get 4's and 5's on all my AP exams, but I end up putting probably 1/4th the effort into actually accomplishing that goal than I'd like. A more important factor to learning in my opinion is diligence. The whole time reading and writing my post I've been thinking of Thomas Edison's famous quote, "genius is 99 percent perspiration, 1 percent inspiration".

So is motivation important? Yes, I believe so. But once you're motivated to do something, you need the diligence to do it.
[ May 17, 2006: Message edited by: Daniel Lucas ]
Ilja Preuss
author
Sheriff

Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Originally posted by Daniel Lucas:
So is motivation important? Yes, I believe so. But once you're motivated to do something, you need the diligence to do it.


True. And there are ways, I think, to foster someone else's motivation to invest effort into living up to it. Pushing, punishing and rewarding probably isn't such a way, as I guess you'd agree...
Dale Craig
Greenhorn

Joined: Jun 07, 2003
Posts: 1
Student motivation is an interesting topic. I have been teaching programming at the Community College level for almost 30 years, starting with FORTRAN 3 and RPG. I have taught just about everything including Assembler, ADA, COBOL, Pascal, Java, Ruby, LISP, you name it.

Since students at the Community College level don�t pay very much to take classes, getting your money�s worth is not one of the motivations. In the last 25 years I have seen three waves of students, each with different motivations. In the early days, students were learning programming out of curiosity because they wanted to make computers do something. Most of these students already had jobs and were personally interested in the topic and were highly motivated. I could rely on these students to do their assignments and they pushed me to give them additional topics.

The second wave started in the late Eighties and early Nineties. These folks were being �downsized� and understood that computers and programming were ways to get good jobs. Most of these people had families and were facing drastic life-changing circumstances. You would think their motivation to learn would be high, but most did not want to get any background information and only wanted to learn enough to �pass the exams� or �get the job�. The stress of their outside life often made them inconsistent students.

The third wave are the students of today. These are either kids that don�t know what they want to do or older adults that have not yet got the word that programming is being �outsourced�. They mostly have very poor study and work skills and almost no motivation. I typically start with a class of 30 and end up with a class of 10. They don�t want to do any work, learn anything that is hard, and show no interest in learning new technology. They don�t even have the motivation of learning something that will enable them to get a job.

In classes we rely on external and internal motivations. External are bad grades and public disapproval. Internal motivations are either interest in the topic or a desire to use the knowledge gained in the class to further their career. Third-wave students seem to have neither of these motivations.

The only thing I have found that even remotely registers with these third-wave students is appealing to their almost constant connection to the �media world� of music and games. If you can make them understand that they can (perhaps) create their own computer games they show a small spark of interest. I can only guess that this motivation is so they can look �cool� to their peers.

Oh well�
Robbi Palacios
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 25, 2006
Posts: 96
There is a good author called Gordon Green that I read back in
college. The book was called Getting Straight A's. After finishing
the book I got so highly motivated and confident that I started
receiving B+'s an A's on my subjects.

His book was very encouraging. It makes the average person feel
he can accomplish anything if he sets his mind in focus and believes
in himself. Actually, this stuff is really basic but he knows how
to motivate his readers.

There's also this math teacher who had the dumbest students in the
planet who managed to change them. I think the movie was called "Stand
and Deliver". This also motivated me since I felt before that I was
dumb. After seeing how average persons made a difference this really motivated me.

That's why I'm taking SCJP 1.5. I believe even if I am average I can
make it because I have Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates' Book. It's not a
gun but a Howitzer!


Sun Certified Java Programmer 5.0
 
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