Friday, December 31, 2010

Leveraging Intrinsic Motivation for Learning

When my students ask me, “How would I know that I have chosen the right job after I graduated from the university?” My standard answer is always… “Well, when you are happy doing your work and always look forward to do your work then you know you are doing the right job”. This is basically the essence of the book “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us”. This book is written by Daniel Pink (the author of another bestseller - A Whole New Mind). The main idea presented in the book is what truly motivates us and how to harness that knowledge to find greater satisfaction in our lives and our work. The idea is a significant paradigm shift and a surprising insight in what we normally believe, i.e., the best way to motivate ourselves and others is through external rewards like money-the carrot-and-the-stick approach. Pink termed this carrot and stick approach as “Motivation 2.0”. Tangible incentives (carrots) such as bonuses, stock option, and higher salary work well with routine, mechanical and repetitive work. He asserted that this approach doesn’t always produce the desired outcome – high performance. According to Pink, the key to high performance and satisfaction is intrinsic, internal motivation: the desire to follow your own interests and understand the benefits in them for you –  simple desire to do good work – when work doesn’t feel like work but something that you always enjoy doing it (he used the term “Motivation 3.0” to describe this approach). This entails basically asking yourself: what is my motivation? Why am I doing this stuff? Am I pushing or forcing myself to do this task? Am I prepared to go the extra mile to excel in my work? The answer should be as honest and truthful as possible in order to discover the real motivating factor.

The book title could well be “Beyond Monetary Reward” because that’s basically the take home message after reading the book. Realistically, a limitation of Pink’s idea about intrinsic motivation is that many people may be too busy making ends meet to seek out work or other activities that hold intrinsic interest. It’s hard to imagine that hard work is not given proper incentive and reward – it requires a significant paradigm shift. Having said this, the big idea is indeed an exciting way forward in mobilizing the work force in any type of business organization and to me it’s worth pursuing. Overall, although the tone of the book is mainly directed to business organization, I believe the idea can be adopted and adapted to educational institutions as well (which is my main interest). One passing example cited in the book is that of educational institutions such as Montessori schools that let kids follow their natural curiosity in self-directed activities. This is actually consistent with self-directed learning as one of the practices in learner-centered approach in learning.

Appying the concept to our students to promote and enhance learning is quite a challenge. Barry Corbin, author of Unleashing the Potential of the Teenage Brain (2008), describes motivation as an emotional reaction in which the learner sees a benefit, reward, or the potential for a positive reward in a task. He notes that while the extrinsic and intrinsic factors that affect motivation vary widely; the following factors appear to influence motivation in learning: Relevance, control and choice, challenge, social interaction (the chance to work with others), anticipated chance of success, need, and novelty. The question is, how do we encourage our students to leverage their intrinsic motivation? This article offers some strategies that we can try.

I would like to hear more from scholars and academics who have read the book on how we can leverage Pink’s idea to achieve educational excellence in schools and higher educational institution.

Get the essence of the book by listening to the author’s presentation and interview:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Interact with your audience with online poll

A couple of days ago I gave a presentation to graduate students from the School of Management, Universiti Sains Malaysia. The presentation was scheduled to start at 2.30 pm for 2 hours. Giving a lecture or presentation at this time is always very challenging. When I have to give a presentation in the afternoon session I always challenge myself to keep the audience awake and alert for the whole duration of the presentation. To prepare for this presentation, I spent a great deal of time to prepare my PowerPoint and gather the material from books and, of course, internet. It is my habit that while I'm busy working on my project (in this case my presentation) I would switch to another window reading email or blogs. That was when I came across a posting about "Poll Everywhere". Basically it is an online polling application that tries to simplify the process of holding polls. It allows anyone to participate in the polls by using either a simple text messaging system, email, or twitter - and it is free for up to 30 voting. I thought, wow, this is great! I can use this thingy as an interactive tool to engage the audience and keep them alert.

After signed up for the free account, I did some testing and everything worked very well. For the presentation, I prepared seven multiple choice questions (see below).

The plan was to ask the question at appropriate point during the presentation, ideally to cover for the entire duration. I was excited but anxious. I asked the organizer to make sure the internet connection is available but as a backup plan I borrowed a broadband from my relative. I just wanted to make sure that I can try the online polling for the first time...successfully. Since the free account allows only 30 participants to vote and the number of participants on the day was around 70, I had to divide them into group, each with two or three members. Only one member representing the group will vote (they can take turn to vote).

This is how the question looks like on the screen:

I asked each group to discuss the question in 30 seconds to one minute (depending on the question). The poll was done simply by asking the group to send SMS (the message would be the code for the answer) to the phone number shown on the screen. The outcome? Within less than 1 minute the results appeared in real time on the screen (see below), and new votes are added very quickly! I was very pleased and I think the participants were also equally excited. The "experiment" was a success. (Note: I would like to hear some feedback from those who attended my talk the other day).

What are the advantages of using the online poll? Well, it's a better and faster way to get a feedback. You get a better picture of the audience response towards certain issue that you are discussing. The audience will have the opportunity to interact and discuss among them (in a group). Certainly it is better than asking the audience to raise their hand (hand count). I can't wait to use this online poll in my classroom and in my other presentations. Online poll is certainly one of the best Web 2.0 tools for 2010! Thank you Poll Everywhere!

Learn more about Poll Everywhere at their website or watch this You Tube video.

To get a taste of the online polling, send your answer to the question below. Don't forget to put the plus (+) sign before the phone number. Don't worry, it costs only 20 to 30 cents per vote. It's for educational purposes...Alternatively, tweet the answer or use your web browser to send the answer. Give it a try!

I have a few messages to share in this posting:

  • Upgrade to PowerPoint 2010 - you have access to many useful new features;
  • Read blogs - you can LEARN a lot of new things everyday!
  • Create your own blog and share information and knowledge with others. Sharing is caring!
  • Don't be afraid to try new things to enhance teaching and learning.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A lasting faculty-student relationship

In this video, Dr. Paris Butler talks about how  close relationships with faculty, like his relationship with biology professor Dr. Darwin Jorgensen is very useful in enriching his learning experience and helping him to make the right career choice.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Powerful message, powerful presentation

The above presentation was voted as the winner of the World's Best Presentation Contest 2010 on Slideshare website. Not only the message is loud and clear but the way it is presented is very engaging. With creativity we can do without the bullet points on the slide! Congratulations to the winner! Watch it here...

Present like Steve Jobs

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is well known for his electrifying presentations. His presentations are brilliant demonstrations of visual storytelling that turn customers, employees, and the entire computer industry into evangelists. Communications coach Carmine Gallo discusses the various techniques Jobs uses to captivate and inspire his audience — techniques that can easily be applied to your next presentation. Learn more...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Secret Google Tips for Researchers

My favorite search engine is...Google. In fact I set my homepage to Google in all of my favorite browsers (Firefox, Chrome). Searching for information is a skill that can be developed and honed over time. Google provides several features that allow users to optimize their search, i.e., to search and filter just the right information. Here's a video (in four parts) that explain how to unlock the power of Google in searching for the right information.

Secret Google Tips for Researchers: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

21st Century Perspectives on Teaching, Learning, and Technology

The secret powers of time

Professor Philip Zimbardo conveys how our individual perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being. Time influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world. Apart from the message conveyed in this video, it is interesting to note how the points are translated and summarized in the animation form -- basically another form of mind mapping. I guess visual learners would love this kind of presentation.

Changing education paradigm

This is an animated version of a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Unconventional teacher

Starring Jack Black as Dewey Finn, a hell-raising guitarist with delusions of grandeur. Kicked out of his band and desperate for work, Dewey impersonates a substitute teacher and turns a class of fifth grade high-achievers into high-voltage rock and rollers. The private school's uptight and skeptical head, Principal Mullins, watches on as the 'new sub' preps the kids for Battle of the Bands. The message: teachers can use unconventional approach in the classroom to engage students in the learning process. Watch the trailer...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Achieving deep learning

I believe that learning requires deep understanding that can only come when students understand the concept and principles and actively apply knowledge in creative and meaningful ways. Therefore, the goal of my lectures is generally to acquaint students with the fundamental and applied aspects of physicochemical properties of food systems. My priority is to ensure proper and clear understanding of the concepts, principles and the underlying mechanisms of a process or phenomenon. This is in line with a quote from the great Physicist Albert Einstein: ‘I do not burden my memory with simple facts that can be looked at in text books, but the true purpose of education is to train the mind to think, for that purpose it is priceless’. Thus, I spend more time on explaining these aspects in the classroom. Typically, before delivering a new concept to students, I articulate the background information, and ask them to find out the solution. Then I introduce the theory I wanted to communicate. This approach creates curiosity to learn about the concept. 

The approach in presenting the material in the class is of utmost important to achieve this objective. I try to convey the importance of a thorough understanding of basic concepts and principles, rather than memorizing facts, equations, and numbers. Whenever possible, I try to present the intuitive non-mathematical description that accompanies the mathematical one. The goal is to reinforce this association so that it might be useful when the student re-encounters the problem later in his/her career. It helps the student to achieve deep learning and also stimulate them to look for other approaches for that task.

Learn while having fun!

Learn while having fun - If learning is about problem-solving and skills mastery, what greater way to accomplish this than by using games and simulations to help us teach and learn? By “doing” and by collaborating, it has been repeatedly shown that people learn more and retain that knowledge longer over time. Students are actively involved in the process of working a problem through to solution. I experiment with this idea using my e-learning portal as a delivery medium. I set up different types of interactive games: crossword, quizzes, matching pairs, groupings, and word game.

Through my e-learning portal or my wikis (Physical Properties of Food and Food Ingredients), I add some elements of fun in the form of interactive crossword puzzle, word game (akin to Wheel of Fortune – see picture above – try it out yourself), interactive quizzes, matching correct pairs, grouping items into correct category, etc.. These add another dimension to my teaching while offering the students a multitude of learning approaches. My students really enjoyed the games!!

Here are some feedbacks from the students (verbatim):

“The word game was fun and mind boggling. Very interesting! With the clock ticking, my heart couldn't stop a beat and there was no time to refer to notes in order to answer the questions as fast as possible before time out. I wouldn't consider this game as childish because at times I'm a kid at heart too. Ha ha.. We can't be all that serious at all times, can we?”

“For the word game, I would say it's really an interesting game. Even though I had searched the lecture notes several times, I was still not able to solve the puzzle. It really made me think repeatedly what suitable letter should be put into the box”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Learning beyond a classroom

Learning beyond a textbook and classroom—As a teacher, I teach beyond the textbooks. Since I first started my teaching career, I have put tremendous efforts to continuously improve my teaching method. I have taken great pains to ensure that students understand what is being taught. I always go the extra mile to garner interest from the students on the subject being taught. My approach in teaching has always been “hands-on”. I spend a great deal of time with the students during laboratory classes to explain and demonstrate the right techniques in carrying out experiments. I also believe that students should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development. This would make learning more engaging and relevant and allows them to appreciate the wider perspective as well as nurture their creativity. I have found that taking the students out to the real world immensely enhanced their understanding of the course. I put a lot of effort to arrange for factory visit for the students or conducting a final year research project in the factory to give them useful practical knowledge.

Bring the laboratory & factory to the classroom—Sometimes it is not possible to arrange for a factory visit either because of the big number of students or the restriction by the factory (some factories only allow visitors to visit the laboratory but not the production area). Some of the courses I teach have no laboratory component but sometimes it is necessary to show the students certain techniques to carry out some experiments. To overcome these problems, I set up experiments in the laboratory, take pictures or videos of the experiment and show them in the lecture. I go to the factory to take pictures and videos (with prior permission) – these are edited, added with narration and presented in my lecture.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Teacher Makes a Difference

Being an educator is a big responsibility. I believe that a good and responsible educator can make an impact to one’s life in a positive way. It is important to have empathy and reaching out to our students, try to understand and help them with their problems. I believe that building close rapport with students is important because it allows the students and teacher to relate to each other. Establishing close rapport with students enable me to engage them in reciprocal conversation about their activities and interests.

Talking about making a difference as a teacher, I was touched and inspired when I watched a movie “Making a Difference” on the internet. The movie was created from a fictional story written by Elizabeth Silance Ballard published in 1974 by Home Life Magazine as “Three Letters from Teddy”. Here’s the quote from the last scene in the movie: “You can never tell what type of impact you may have on another’s life by your action’s…or lack of action. Please consider this fact when you venture through life, and just try to make a difference in someone else’s life today”. Watch the movie here.

Here's another video on how teacher can make a difference and a lasting impact on one's life:

Making Learning Fun

Learning is hard and challenging, especially learning a new subject that requires hard thinking. However, as an educator, I believe we can make learning fun, even for a hard subject (for me mathematic and physics). It's easier said than done, but it can be done. The present generation of learners learn differently -- they are digital natives. This becomes a challenge for us to search for ways in which our learners can learn and at the same time enjoy every moment of it, or any approach employed to make that learning process a success. However, to create a classroom environment that is lively and interesting, both teacher and students should demonstrate enthusiasm. I always believe that teaching is an exciting adventure in which both the teacher and the students participate and cooperate to achieve a common goal. It is much like “Explorace”, where the team members have to work hard together to accomplish certain task and finally reach the destination.

Learning activities can help transform a classroom into an exciting, meaningful, and active learning experiences. These learning activities can be used to increase interactivity, engage learners, accomplish learning objectives, and promote active learning. My experiences with “playing to learn” has taught me that the use of games and simulations can help bring to life knowledge and information that might otherwise exist only as bullet points on slides. The use of stories as the basis for case studies, scenarios, role-playing, and problem solving in a game or simulation-based format provides a memorable, vivid, and fun means for students to learn, remember, and retain knowledge effectively over time.

Making learning fun is not an easy task. The following video shows how learning history can be fun for the students. Tim Bailey, 2009 National History Teacher of the Year, teaches at a Salt Lake City, Utah, elementary school serving mostly disadvantaged students. Although most of them come from families that recently immigrated from Latin America, Africa, Asia and other parts of the world, the children respond enthusiastically to Tim's creative approach to teaching American history and citizenship. He remarks, "Real learning doesn't take place without emotional connection".

Friday, December 3, 2010

Unforgettable Learning Experiences

Steve Spangler is a celebrity teacher, science toy designer, speaker, author and an Emmy award-winning television personality. Steve Spangler teaches teachers, and people in general, how to create unforgettable learning experiences with humor and attention-grabbing science demonstrations. Wonder, discovery, and exploration -- these are the elements that all educators should incorporate and integrate in their classroom.  See Steve in action showing teachers how to be amazing with fun science demonstrations.

For science teachers, here's some more cool science experiments by Steve Spangler...

A Passion for Teaching

I simply love teaching! Teaching, above all else, brings me great joy. My first teaching experience was when I was in the secondary school (Form 3) when my friends asked me to help them with the science subject. In Form four and five, I taught my friends Chemistry and in the school I was known as “chemistry wizard”. When I graduated in 1986 during the economic slump, I took up teaching in private school while waiting to get a permanent job. That experience was very exciting and rewarding and led me to choose teaching as a lifetime career. I genuinely enjoy teaching and cannot imagine myself doing anything else. I still teach every class with excitement and enthusiasm as if I am teaching it for the first time.

Passion and patience—I believe these two elements are utmost important in all good educators. Passion and love for the subject is essential and it can do wonders in terms of the tangible benefit for the students! I show my enthusiasm of the subject during teaching from the facial expression and voice intonation. I can imagine having a teacher without these qualities will lead to a boring lecture and there will then be a lack of interest in learning on the students’ part. As for patience, we need a lot of it because students come in different “forms” and attitudes!

Christopher Day in his book A Passion for Teaching writes, "All effective teachers have a passion for their subject, a passion for their pupils and a passionate belief that who they are and how they teach can make a difference in their pupils’ lives, both in the moment of teaching and in the days, weeks, months and even years afterwards. Passion is associated with enthusiasm, caring, commitment, and hope, which are themselves key characteristics of effectiveness in teaching. For teachers who care, the student as a person is as important as the student as a learner. That respect for person-hood is likely to result in greater motivation to learn".