Motivating students in the one-shot (peer-reviewed Monday)

ResearchBlogging.org

Okay, not really.  And OMG Peer-Reviewed Monday is back!  But there are connections to the one-shot here, really.

One thing that came out, over and over, in the research that Kate and I just presented at WILU was the idea that student in information literacy classes aren’t motivated to do the work, and that the instructors in those classes have to work super hard and super constantly on engagement.

So this special issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching caught my eye because of its focus on motivation.  And this article in particular further caught my eye because of its focus on situational interest.

Palmer, D. (2009). Student interest generated during an inquiry skills lesson Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46 (2), 147-165 DOI: 10.1002/tea.20263

(I couldn’t find an online copy, even though this is a Romeo green publication)

Palmer defines “situational interest” in contrast to “personal interest” where the latter is a deep, lasting, engaged interest in a topic or domain.  The former, in contrast, is “short-term interest that is generated by aspects of a specific situation.”

The relevance to information literacy instruction is obvious when Palmer’s example of the kind of “situation” that can spark “interest” is a particularly engaging or awesome demonstration.  Like I said, one idea that came through in many, many stories we gathered was the idea that if we as librarian instructors can be engaging, exciting, fun and compelling enough, our students will be motivated to learn.

Palmer synthesizes several factors that lead to situational interest from the literature:  novelty, surprise, autonomy, suspense, social involvement, ease of comprehension and background knowledge.  So one could expect that there are things that could be in an IL session that are not spectacular demonstrations that could still tap into this idea of situational motivation – content they’re not expecting (novelty and surprise), giving them real, authentic choices (autonomy) and group activities (social involvement).

So on to the study itself – Palmer’s purpose was to evaluate different parts of a science lesson to determine how much situational interest was generated, and to identify the sources of that interest.  Students participated in a 40 minute lesson (the topics of the lesson varied, though the basic structure did not, to protect against the possibility that some topics are just more motivating than others).  The data gathered was qualitative, gathered via group interviews at the end of the lesson.

His population was younger than you’d find in my academic environment – 14-15 years old.  And, of course, they were studying science, not library research.  On the other hand, he chose a hands-on lesson, delivered in one shot, which does have relevance for my sessions.

The results are interesting in part because of how similar they are, in some specific ways, to the ways librarians and faculty describe student library research skills.  For example, the researchers examined how students engaged in inquiry skills (problem-setting, observation, reporting, analyzing, etc.) during the lesson.  While they had many chances to use these skills, most of the time they “were not of a high standard.”  Students were more likely to describe their method than articulate meaningful questions, and more likely to describe their experiment than analyze their results.

When it comes to motivation, students demonstrated a significant preference for certain parts of the lesson.  The experiment was broken into the following pieces for analysis:

  • Copying Notes
  • Demonstration
  • Proposal
  • Experiment
  • Report
  • Copying Notes 2

Of these, students showed the lowest amount of interest during the Copying Notes phases, by a lot.  Anyone surprised?

Of the others, they showed the most interest during the Experiment phase, with Demonstration next.  Both of these were noticeably higher than Proposal and Report.   The two pieces with the highest level of interest total, also had high levels of interest in terms of how many students showed that interest.  95% showed interest during the Experiment phase, and 90% during the Demonstration.

In the interviews, students said copying notes wasn’t interesting because it was what they were used to doing in science class.  That’s kind of sad.  This piece was to get at the domain knowledge piece needed for motivation, but there must be a better way to do that.  I copy notes on my own motivation regularly, but it sounds nightmarish as an in-class activity.

Learning came up over and over as a source of interest, which explains the popularity of both the Demonstration and the Experiment phases.  Students in 68% of the groups said that having a choice about what to do was a source of interest, even though it only really came up in the Proposal phase.  Physical activity was also a source of interest, and this one connects most strongly to the Experiment phase.  Novelty and surprise came in a little lower.  These codes actually came up most often in the Demonstration phase.  Palmer points out, however, that the learning they said they liked could in fact be a form of responding to novelty – enjoying the learning because it was something new.

Palmer, in fact, seems to credit most of the “learning” responses to the idea of novelty — he concludes that 3 factors are most responsible for student motivation:

In summary, it has been argued above that the situational interest experienced by students in this study was basically derived from three separate sources — novelty, autonomy (choice) and social involvement.

The decision to dismiss learning as a factor here seems a bit abrupt.  I would have liked to see it unpacked a little more – as it is, I don’t see the evidence Palmer saw.  This connects to the biggest gap in the paper, from my perspective – the fact that there’s no reporting of any assessment of the learning that did happen in the lesson  in this paper, with the exception of the evaluation of their inquiry skills (which is presented separately from any content or domain knowledge learning).

It seems a little incomplete to talk about motivation to learn without talking about learning.  As Palmer says himself:

a student might be very highly motivated to learn in a lesson, but if the teacher does not use appropriate teaching techniques by guiding and scaffolding the direction of learning, then very little science will be learnt. For optimal learning to occur, motivational strategies need to be used in tandem with instructional strategies which focus on the development of scientific understandings.

One of the inherently interesting things about this paper for instruction librarians is its focus on immediate classroom practice.  There is nothing in this research method or in the analysis of the results that wouldn’t totally apply to the one-shot, which is pretty rare in the education literature.  Of course, the author counts this as a limitation in the study, because real inquiry “is usually developed over a longer time frame than the 40-minute procedure used in this study.”  But still, his limitation is our relevance.

Connected to this is his finding that there is a lot of variability in situational interest throughout this lesson.  The different pieces were only a few minutes long, so that suggests that students’ interest and motivation can change very quickly.  On the one hand, this suggests that we could lose them quickly.  On the other hand, it also suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t worry so much about those normal ebbs and flows.  If one piece isn’t hugely motivating to them, the next one could be.

Other implications for instruction librarians are found in the lit review, Palmer uses research that suggests “multiple experiences of situational interest” can develop into long-term interest.  At best, this suggests that students would need repeated exposure to awesome information literacy teachers to develop a long-term interest in research or inquiry just from IL classes alone.   In fact, Palmer suggests that one reason for the mediocrity he observed in inquiry skills was the fact that students didn’t really have the experience with independent inquiry to know how to talk about what they were doing.

Situation motivation seems like a fruitful line of further inquiry for instruction librarians, though even this easy intro to the subject suggests that it’s not a panacea for what ails the one-shot, or for what ails the librarians who teach too many of them.


3 thoughts on “Motivating students in the one-shot (peer-reviewed Monday)

  1. Pingback: Finding contexts » Instruction librarian as performance artist

  2. So, how can we apply this to our class visits? For a very few students there is real interest in their topic – football helmets or health food. For most, the situational interest might be getting a good grade (somewhat motivating, to be sure). While it’s true that each librarian has a personal style (performance) and I guess that they are all allowed freedom to conduct the class as they wish (yes?) though within certain parameters, how can we work together to motivate students better? Because really, though I hope they will get enough to do well on a paper, in fact I’m more interested in their getting excited about research.

  3. Pingback: LibraryRemix » Blog Archive » Finding vs. Inquiring

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