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April 2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Motivating Students Taking CFM and GER Modules
Assistant Professor Ling Yean Yng
Department of Building

With the move towards broad-based learning, more and more students will need to read Cross Faculty Modules (CFM). In academic year 2001/02, students will also read General Education Modules (GEM) . The objective of this article is to explore ways to motivate students who are reading CFM and GEM modules. Experience has shown that motivating students who read CFM and GEM modules may be different from motivating students who major in the subject matter. In the latter case, students need to know the subject matter because they are specialising in it. In the former case, students continually ask themselves: "Why should I learn this? How can this be of use to me?" Hence, different tools may be needed to motivate them.


To produce the list of motivators, the methodology employed was to ask the students who read EM2201: Introduction to Construction Economics as a CFM what motivated or demotivated them. 21 non-Building students from Arts and Social Sciences, Business Administration, Engineering, Law, Real Estate, and Science registered for this module in Semester 1 of Academic Year 2000/01. An email was sent to all of them, asking them whether they were motivated, and what motivated them in the course of reading the EM2201 module. They were assured that their feedback was to help the lecturer improve, and would not be taken against them, or to help them in the examination.


13 students responded to the email. Students pointed out the things that were provided for in the module, which motivated them. They also suggested some other things that should have been provided to motivate them further. These motivators are now discussed.

  1. Provide glossary list, pictures and models. Since the students are not from the faculty that hosts the module, there might be some difficulty in understanding some of the key concepts. Students should be given a list of technical terms at the first lecture to help them understand the rest of the lectures. The lecturer should also spend some time in the first lecture explaining technical terms that would be commonly used in the lecture.

    Students also suggested that visual aids such as pictures, photographs, models and video recordings might be used to help them understand and visualise what is to be learnt.

  2. Explain relevance of each lecture. In professional courses, the relevance of each lecture delivered in an essential module may be straightforward; students need to know the subject matter in order to become a competent professional. For CFM and GEM modules, in each lecture, the lecturer would have to spend some time explaining how that specific lecture may be of use to CFM students. Once students understand why the knowledge is useful to them (besides meeting graduation requirements), they would be more motivated. One respondent said: "You motivated me to study because you enable me to see the relevance of this course in my life."

  3. Give many examples. Students feel that examples such as stories derived from practical experience make it easier for them to understand the subject matter. Examples and stories are also important because they leave a deeper impression in students. These students can then internalise the issues that they learn. While giving examples may already be the norm when delivering any lecture, CFM students need many more examples to sustain their interest and to enable them to grasp issues that are not within their area of specialisation.

  4. Give the big picture. Students studying a module as a CFM prefer to know the general or macro issues, without going into the nitty-gritty. This is expected as these students are not specialising or majoring in the subject area.

  5. Require students to present tutorial answers formally. When students are required to formally present the answers to tutorial questions in class, they would be motivated to read up about the topic. This gives them a better understanding of the tutorial questions and improves the quality of their presentation as well. They would not want to 'lose face' by presenting an ill-prepared answer to their classmates.

  6. Mount modules with higher Modular Credits (MC). Students, being practical as they are, are motivated to read modules with higher MC, so that they can fulfil graduation requirements with the least number of modules/examinations. If a high subscription rate is the aim, modules which now have only 3 MC should be upgraded.

  7. Give the module an interesting title. Students said that they may not be motivated to sign up for a module which has an uninteresting name, as it gives them the impression that the module will be dry and boring. Therefore, besides concentrating on the substance, the form should not be overlooked. Sometimes, being in the centre of the action, it is not easy for the lecturer himself or herself to know that the module title is boring. An example is "Introduction to Construction Economics", which sounds appropriate to staff in the Department of Building, but may sound very boring to students who major in English Literature. One respondent said: "I thought initially that the course would be dry and boring as the title suggested… ."

Several methods to motivate students who read CFM and GEM modules have been identified above. The three most important things that the lecturer should bear in mind when teaching these students is to take extra time and effort to explain technical terms, tell the students how the knowledge may be of use to them, and give more examples in the lectures to help students to enjoy the module.


The feedback from students who read EM2201 in Semester 1 of Academic Year 2000/01 is acknowledged with thanks. Special thanks to Pui Chin Loon, Eugene Wong, Huiyi, Tan Hwa Ling, Jennifer Tay, Jerry Ting, John Low, Jonathan Tay, Laurinda Wee, Wong Pui Yee, Koh Seah Poh, William Teo, and Lee Yen Li, who took the time and trouble to give written feedback.

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Inside this issue
Motivating Students by Providing Feedback
Motivating Students to Learn: Stories, Questions and Students' Names
Motivating Students Taking CFM and GER Modules