Approaches to learning and teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn are a key aspect of great teaching, and encourage students to lead their own learning.
These approaches may include: fostering student development by stimulating curiosity and independence in learning; contributing to the development of students’ critical thinking skills, analytical skills and scholarly values; encouraging student engagement through the enthusiasm shown for learning and teaching; inspiring and motivating students through high-level communication, presentation and interpersonal skills; effective approaches to guidance during the planning of research projects; establishing structures for ongoing interaction with students.
Strategies for Engagement
Decades of research has shown that ENGAGING STUDENTS is an essential component for their learning. After all, it is difficult to be inspired if you are not engaged. A review of successful engagement strategies led to this Chronicle of Higher Education guide. If you are looking for creative ideas for promoting engagement, consider applying the author's four principles of engagement: EMOTIONS, PERFORMANCE, COMMUNITY, and STORIES.
Students routinely associate positive learning experiences to those that relate to their own lives and interests. In fact, as this piece on the topic argues, making a personal connection to material is essential for engagement: "the search for relevance is a basic feature of human cognition...[our] need to make sense of the world." To tap into this, teachers are encouraged to get a sense of what matters to students, at an individual level as much as feasible.
It is important to consider that engagement has to do with the delivery method and presentation style as much as content. For more on teaching delivery methods and support with technology-based engagement strategies, see the Delivering Teaching section of this site, as well as the University's Learning Environments.
Fostering a Growth Mindset
When it comes to inspiring students, many significant challenges can be attributed to the notion of MINDSET or the view that students have towards themselves and their development. Researchers distinguish between a fixed mindset and a GROWTH MINDSET, the latter of which is characterised by "a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval." For more on this distinction between mindsets and the seminal work of Carol Dweck, check out this post.
Recent interest in mindsets amongst educators stems from the belief that meeting academic goals such as attendance, engagement, achievement, and so forth, depends on students adopting a growth mindset. Because mindsets are evidently instilled in our cognitions from a very young age, it can require significant effort to shift from a fixed to a growth mindset. So how can learning activities be designed to support students in shifting their mindset at the university level?
Research on strategies that tend to work best shows that providing students with opportunities to reflect on their growth is crucial. The crafting of language, including feedback and assessment documentation, becomes an important mechanism for encouraging growth mindsets, as well. In general, it is important to praise the process, including struggle and risk, rather than referring to individuals or intelligence. For more detailed strategies, see the Mindset Kit and this post from Edutopia.
Connecting Students with their Futures
Often an effective way to inspire students is to introduce ways for imagining their future selves as leaders in the field. Some strategies include: inviting guest speakers and tutors to share stories of their experience in the profession; assigning case studies of potential role models in the field; or role playing exercises that allow students to adopt professional identities.
Feedback from students on inspiration moments in their education frequently refers to opportunities when teachers helped them see their potential and establish their personal trajectory from university to a successful role in the profession. Designing such opportunities into learning activities can therefore lead to greater and more meaningful instances of inspiration.
An excellent opportunity for students to start building a professional network and better understanding potential career paths is to participate in the ABP INDUSTRY MENTORING PROGRAM. The Design and Environments Students Society (DESS) also hosts the Design and Environments Industry Night, allowing students to connect with potential employers.
Motivating Students via Effective Communications
Student feedback shows that inspiration comes not only from what teachers communicate but how it gets communicated. EXCELLENT COMMUNICATION SKILLS are consistently acknowledged as a quality of great teachers. This includes being skilled in the use of visual aids, verbal communication, as well as other forms of interpersonal contact. Students particularly praise presentations that are dynamic, clear and entertaining. For research on student preferences for slide presentations and how to improve visual materials, see this post.
Most forms of teaching can be considered a type of performance. In fact, as this article discusses under Principle No. 2, research has shown that subtle aspects of teaching, such as speaking style and non-verbal cues, can substantially impact engagement and learning. For support with improving various aspects of delivering presentations, including using video to evaluate and reflect on your own presentation style, the University's Learning Environments team is a great resource.
Of course, not all communication occurs in face-to-face settings. Tips for communicating effectively through Canvas can be found under the Delivering Teaching section.
Stimulating Critical Thinking and Creativity
Many students find critical and creative learning activities initially daunting due to their uncertain and open-ended nature. Upon reflection, however, they tend to appreciate being given the challenge and freedom to develop as independent thinkers and makers. Indeed, when designed well, these learning opportunities provide valuable depth and significantly enrich the university experience.
Critical and creative approaches are regularly mentioned as learning outcomes and graduate attributes; unfortunately, they can then get interpreted as assumed byproducts of more tangible skills. Are there moments in your curriculum when critical and/or creative opportunities can take centre stage? How can learning activities be designed to encourage self-direction and support the broader aim of lifelong learning?
Students at the University of Melbourne are expected to take responsibility for their own learning, and doing so can supply further motivation. Great teachers contribute to setting the tone by encouraging a culture of self-responsibility. When students recognise their own agency, and are provided with sufficient guidance and support, they become capable of more actively directing their own learning, as well as various aspects of university life.
The STUDENT CHARTER "embodies the key principles underpinning the partnership between students and the University. It sets out what students are responsible for and what they are entitled to expect." This document serves as useful guidance for students and staff alike in terms of how to engender productive and inspiring educational experiences.
"They go above and beyond to ensure our projects are realised to the best they can be. When I am stuck, they seem to know exactly where my project is going even if I don't, and provide so much insight and help during and outside of class times."
"The structure of the lecture, reading materials, tutorial and activities outside the class are all integrated and very stimulating with clear structure from the very beginning. The teaching staff regularly provide and stimulate the students with a lot of interesting questions and cases from the real world. The teaching staff engage with the student very well and stimulate our critical thinking not just by discussion in the class but also by giving time outside the class to discuss (eg reading group discussion). The activities in the tutorial are very fun yet very meaningful academically."
"The assignments are well-designed and practical which can be used in the real world."