It is the responsibility of a teaching academic to impart
to his students more than just knowledge alone. It is an integral
part of the teaching process that academics impart the joy
of learning to their students such that the sheer love of
learning becomes an intrinsic motivator for them to excel
for themselves. This can be rather loosely defined as 'Motivation'.
In examining the reasons why our students attend university
and learn, a consistently cited reason is the economic advantages
acquiring a degree can confer on them. This is what I call
'doing a Jerry Maguire': "Show me the money!" This is still
one of the major extrinsic reasons for studying at university.
However, should it be the sole reason for them doing so? If
our students are never presented with the love of learning,
then they will learn mainly because the outcomes associated
with it are desirable, even if the process is not; and many
will accept the option of merely passing but not excelling.
Nonetheless, how can we motivate students to love learning?
The first thing we, as an academic community, have to do
in motivating students to learn is to offer our students valid
and meaningful reasons and outcomes for attending our lectures,
tutorials, workshops or seminars. If we do not, then why should
they attend? The number of times I, in my undergraduate years,
attended lectures that were so boring that the academic was
a contender for an Olympic gold medal for monotony are simply
too numerous to recount. Merely having a lecturer stand in
front of an audience for two hours and read notes does not
constitute teaching. Teaching is both a skill and an art that
needs to be practised and developed in such a way as to attract
students willingly into our lectures. This means that we need
to utilise our capacity as storytellers to impart not merely
knowledge but understanding into both the minds and the hearts
of our students. Story telling, the oldest of human methods
of communication, is still as valid today as it was in the
pre-historical societies that formed the basis of our literate
I will recount a simple story that carries a very clear message.
In business, the most difficult concept to sell to a client
is a service agreement; something for which they pay money
and yet do not receive anything tangible in return. To get
a client to agree to it is the most difficult part of all.
One salesman used a very simple method to get agreement. He
simply asked the client if they understood what was involved
and, rather than ask them if they would sign, asked a simple
question, "When you sign this agreement, whose pen would you
like to use: yours or mine?" He would then proffer his pen
and the client would either use it or use his own pen; so
the decision was not whether to sign, but whose pen would
he use. Thus, the little decision carried the big one. So,
storytelling allows for large abstract and complex theoretical
issues to be retold in simpler easier terms that then allow
the students to make their own connections.
The purpose of telling any story is not to give them the
answer, but for them to apply the story and discern the answer
for themselves by means of our well-thought-out questions.
Thus, the next step in being an effective storyteller is to
have questions, worked out in advance, that encourage the
audience to answer. In my own teaching, I would try to give
new or uncertain students the opportunity to answer my question
but do so without them suffering the consequences of failure.
I would often ask a question to the whole class. That way,
they all have to think of the possible answer and then, I
would ask a specific individual. If this individual is uncertain,
I will give him a 'yes or no', 'true or false' scenario; if
he does not give me the answer I want, I then invite him to
try again and praise him when he gives the expected answer.
Whether students give me the expected answer at the first
or second try I always praise them for having a go. Why?
It is important to keep your stories simple, but more importantly
they need to be designed and told in such a way that allows
the students to build up their confidence in their ability
to learn. By praising students, even when they do not give
the answer you expect or want, it allows their confidence
to be built up and to grow. This in turn reinforces the joy
of learning, as the desire to learn is fanned by a sense of
achievement by being successful. By being lavish with your
praise, at least in the early days, it allows you to build
another important factor into your teachingyour rapport
with your students.
One way to both quickly and effectively build a lasting rapport
with your students is to know each of them by name. The effectiveness
of this simple practice cannot be over-emphasised. I teach
on a small campus, where I am the only full-time staff member
and so I teach five different units in the course of an academic
year. Hence, I often have the same student in the different
units, even up to four times. So, from semester to semester,
I try to remember each of their names. Recently, one student,
who was new to my classes, remarked to me that she was exceedingly
impressed that I greeted all my old students as friends and
new ones as friends-to-be. She went on to explain that she
was worried at first that by knowing her name, she could not
escape my questioning. However, she found that me knowing
who she was and asking her by name to answer a question gave
her a sense of importance, as she knew that she counted as
an individual. This, she explained, motivated her to learn.
By motivating students to learn using stories and questions,
and knowing students by name, we as teachers can both easily
and effectively motivate our students to pass beyond merely
being rote learners, to become life-long learners who are
motivated and love to learn.