Each time I have introduced an assignment to a group of students, there’s always a little question as to which of them will complete it, which will disregard it, and which will do just enough that I won’t make a big deal about it. Of course, I love it when my students successfully complete everything with no questions and to my exacting specifications. Not only does it make my job easier, but it shows what a good teacher I am. Right? In fact, this is far beyond the truth. I absolutely try to give my students the skills and knowledge to complete assignments, but under no circumstances do I assume that, despite trying to create a well-designed lesson and assignment, there will be no questions or that I have accounted for every possible wonder, choice or interpretation along the way.
In his article, “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Evaluating Benefits and Drawbacks from College Instructors’ Perspectives”, Simon Lei explores the internal and external motivating factors that drive college students in their studies. Upon interviewing a number of college instructors, Lei attempts to outline both the benefits and downfalls of each type of motivation. While the laundry list of reasons for and against these motivations aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, it was interesting to read about most specifically about the drawbacks of intrinsic motivation.
To illustrate one of the benefits of intrinsic motivation, Lei brings forth the idea of “flow” as a state where students have reached optimal motivation, “when the level of skill or knowledge is matched to the challenge or difficulty of the academic task.” (2010) By reaching this optimal motivational level, students are finding academic success over time. However, the “flow” that students reach can also be detrimental to their work. Such intense intrinsic motivation can also result in students getting lost in a project, assignment or other task to the point where they ignore all other demands on their time.
Accordingly, Lei also discusses external motivation as a factor in the work of college students, specifically citing learning for recognition and competition as main advantages and disadvantages for the learners. Because of this, an instructors awareness of role-set theory can bring about important understandings of what does or does not motivate a given student in a given class with a given context.
As an English teacher, I have often talked and wondered about the benefit of student reading incentive programs. As a student, I remember participating in a program that was designed to get me to read. If I read so many books, I would earn a pizza. So I read my books, ate my pizza and went on with life. Did it motivate me? Of course. I liked pizza. Did it create in me a love for reading and learning. Nope. Luckily, my 5th grade teacher did. Not because she bribed me with pizza or some other extrinsic motivator that would only get me as far as the end of the program. Rather, she took the time to get to know me and my interests. She gave me books that would appeal to my inner sense of story and purpose. I got more pizzas, but the pizzas weren’t my motivating factor anymore. I longed for the stories. She helped me find that intrinsic motivation that the programs could not help me locate.
Lei ends his article with a realization that intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are not mutually exclusive. To a certain extent, these two types of motivators live in harmony with each other depending on the context and the task. It’s the instructors job to harness those and create an environment of understanding where students can achieve because of both internal and external motivating factors. To a certain extent, part of me did read for pizza. It just so happens that I kept reading because of my teacher.
Lei, S. A.. (2010). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: evaluating benefits and drawbacks from college instructors’ perspectives. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 37(2), 153-160.