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Inspiring Students

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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It must be recognized that 'inspiring students' is not a one-way process. The educator who can inspire students to learn will always gain personal and professional inspiration from observing students' positive engagement with the subject materials. Students can inspire their teacher - but only if the teacher initiates the process by inspiring them to learn.


The posting below looks at a number of approaches to to inspiring and motivating students. It is taken from the, Staff and Educational Development Series, INSPIRING STUDENTS: CASE STUDIES IN MOTIVATING THE LEARNER, pp. 1-5, by Stephen Fallows and Kemal Ahmet. Published by Kogan Page Limited, 120 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JN, and, Stylus Publishing, LLC, 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166-2012. ? Stephen Fallows and Kemal Aahmet 1999. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Faculty Careers

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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Stephen Fallows and Kemal Ahmet


Inspiring students is primarily a matter of motivation. When inspired, the students are motivated to engage with the subject and to learn.

An individual's motivation to learn is determined by a range of factors; the following list provides some examples and is by no means complete, and it is not presented in a manner intended to indicate a hierarchy of importance:

* The learner's desire to please the teacher

* Perceived need for the material presented

* The personal philosophical values and beliefs of the learner

* The learner's attitudes towards the materials being delivered

* The academic and career aspirations of the learner

* Incentives and rewards which are expected to accrue from the learning

The relative importance of the different factors suggested in the list will vary over time and with circumstance. For instance, the desire to please the teacher is generally strong in young children but can be non-existent in adult learners. By contrast, adult learners are much more likely to question the need for the material being delivered and will often be strongly influenced by personal beliefs and aspirations.

In order to maximize learning, it is the educator's task to maximize the positive attributes of each of the factors mentioned.

DESIRE TO PLEASE: the key action for the educator is the use of positive and encouraging feedback. The nature of this feedback will vary with circumstance and will range from non-verbal communication (such as smiles and nods of the head) through oral praise (using encouraging words such as 'good' or 'excellent' as appropriate) to formal written comments on written work. Praise, as a tool to inspire students, is particularly effective if directly linked to the student's achievement of a specified learning outcome. For the less motivated, there is also benefit in focusing praise on the effort put in since this will reinforce the link between the work undertaken and the achievement of the desired outcome. The key requirement is to build the understanding that achievement is not merely a matter of luck or a preordained inevitability.

PERCEIVED NEED: it is always more pleasant to study topics which are seen to be relevant. In many cases, students can be inspired to learn merely by use of a very clear briefing session which places the topic into the context of the wider program of work - this gives the students a reason to be motivated. However, indicating the relevance of the topic is just the first step; it is also desirable that the material be delivered within a framework that utilizes examples appropriate to the students' needs. It ought to be obvious that statistics classes which cite examples from the biological sciences are inappropriate for economics students while financial examples are not well received by those with interests in the biological sciences. If the statistics class has to be delivered to a mixed group, then examples taken from everyday life have a common currency for all. Perceived need can also be considered from the perspective of that which is required of the student. Clearly defined course objectives and clearly specified assessed work assist the students to recognize what is required from them and this in turn provides the focus needed for achievement.

DEGREE OF INTEREST: this follows on from the preceding point. If it is recognized that the level of student interest is likely to be low, then the educator will benefit from an exploration of teaching methodologies that seek to involve the student in active learning. Lectures have their place in the portfolio of teaching methodologies but are least effective where the level of subject interest is low; physical attendance rates may be poor and intellectual attentiveness may be limited. A number of the case studies presented later in this book provide examples of how active learning sessions, which demand involvement, can lead to a raising of the degree of interest.

VALUES AND BELIEFS: recognition of the diverse nature of the student body can help to ensure that students are inspired to learn. Diversity of values and beliefs can include reference to ethnicity/race, religious beliefs, gender considerations and ethical matters. Group-based learning activities provide affiliations between students in which there is a need to collaborate for the common good regardless of personal values and beliefs. Indeed, debates within the groups that draw upon these values and beliefs can be channeled to make a significant contribution to the learning process.

ATTITUDES: these build on the previous point but will include the social dimensions that arise from the individual's experience of society. In this context there is a need also to appreciate the differences in attitudes, which arise through academic study; there can be quite noticeable differences in attitudes between those students whose primary focus is within the fundamental sciences and those whose academic home is within the humanities. These attitudes tend to have significant influence on the approach to study and should be taken fully into account.

ASPIRATIONS: what is the student seeking from the course? Is the student questing after knowledge or merely seeking a qualification? In too many cases, we have to recognize that students are merely seeking academic credit for progression or graduation. For such students, the desire for learning is minimal and confined to that which will be formally assessed. Once such a situation is recognized, it is common practice to address the matter through the course to the delivery of a final grade on completion.

INCENTIVES AND REWARDS: for academic study the traditional primary reward is the award of the degree (or other qualification as appropriate). The certificated qualification has been seen by many students as the easy passport to well-paid employment but increasingly it is recognized that the mere acquisition of a degree is not enough. The period of academic life is nowadays considered by many to be an opportunity to develop (through study of a chosen discipline) a range of skills for life such as communications, problem solving, use of information technology and the social skills of group working. Encouraging students towards mastery of these skills can often result in them being inspired to raise the level of general academic performance.


The case studies in this book are all examples of inspiration in practice. The principles discussed above are applied in a range of disciplines. The case studies illustrate the benefits of:

* Clear communication of learning objectives and desired outcomes

* Active learning tasks

* Use of positive feedback

* Targeted assessment procedures

Each case study is drawn from the personal experience of teachers within higher education and is presented in a manner from which it is hoped that readers will be able to draw inspiration regardless of their discipline.


It must be recognized that 'inspiring students' is not a one-way process. The educator who can inspire students to learn will always gain personal and professional inspiration from observing students' positive engagement with the subject materials. Students can inspire their teacher - but only if the teacher initiates the process by inspiring them to learn.