What are Motivation and Factors Influence IT?

Student motivation in the college classroom involves three interactive components (adapted from Pint rich, 1994). The first component is the personal and sociocultural factors that include individual characteristics, such as the attitudes and values students bring to college based on prior personal, family, and cultural experiences. The second component is the classroom environment factors that pertain to instructional experiences in different courses. The third component is internal factors or students’ beliefs and perceptions. Internal factors are influenced by both personal and sociocultural factors and classroom environmental experiences. Current research on motivation indicates that internal factors (i.e., students’ beliefs and perceptions) are key factors in understanding behavior. Most of the attention is given to the internal factors of motivation. I begin this section with a discussion of what behaviors determine students’ motivation and then discuss how personal and sociocultural, classroom environmental, and internal factors influence motivated behavior.

Motivated Behavior

If you want to understand your own motivation, you might begin by evaluating your behavior in the following three areas:

Choice of behavior.

Level of activity and involvement, and

Persistence and management of effort.

Students make choices everyday about activities and tasks in which to engage. Many students choose to learn more about a subject or topic outside of class, whereas others limit their involvement to class assignments. As an undergraduate, I had a roommate who slept until noon each day. This behavior would not have been problematic if his classes were in the afternoon. Unfortunately, all his classes were in the morning. Another student I knew could not say no when someone asked if she wanted to go to a movie or have pizza, even though she had to study for an exam or write a paper. Students do not have to be productive every moment. Having fun or wasting time is a part of life. However, the choices they make play important roles in determining the number of personal goals they will attain throughout life. A second aspect of motivated behavior is level of activity, or involvement in a task. Some students are very involved in their courses. They spend considerable effort after class refining notes, outlining readings, and, in general, using different learning strategies to make sense of what they are learning. Other students are less engaged in their courses and do the minimal amount required to get by. The third aspect of motivated behavior is persistence. The willingness of students to persist when tasks are difficult, boring, or unchallenging is an important factor in motivation and academic success. In many cases, students have to learn how to control their efforts and persistence in the variety of academic tasks they experience. Let’s now examine the factors that influence motivated behavior.

Personal and Sociocultural Factors

The attitudes, beliefs, and experiences students bring to college based on their personal and sociocultural experiences influence their motivation and behavior, and even their persistence or departure from college. When you walk into your first college class, you bring all your precollege experiences with you, such as your study and learning strategies, attitudes and beliefs about your ability to succeed in college, your coping strategies, and the level of commitment to meet personal goals. All of these attributes will influence the way you interact with the college environment. If you receive a low grade on a paper or exam, will you remind yourself of your ability to succeed, or will you say something like: “Here we go, just like high school. I don’t know if I can do well in this course?” All your past experiences with stressful situations and the way you handled them will influence your ability to deal with new stressful situations in your college environment. You are going to learn new copying strategies in this course that should result in a reduction of stress and increase confidence in your ability to succeed in college. You also are influenced by your family and cultural experiences. Family characteristics such as socioeconomic levels, parental educational levels, and parental expectations can influence motivation and behavior. For example, first-generation and ethnic minority students have a more difficult time adjusting to college than do second- or third-generation college students (Ratcliff, 1995). Transition to college can be difficult for any student, but when an individual has family members who have experienced this transition, he or she is less likely to feel lost in a new or unfamiliar environment or unsure about what questions to ask. Also, Reglin and Adams (1990) reported that Asian American students are more influenced by their parents’ desire for success than are their non–Asian American peers. They pointed out that the desire by Asian American students to meet their parents’ academic expectations creates the need to spend more time on academic tasks and less time on nonacademic activities. In what ways has your family influenced your goals, motivation, and behavior? Here is a list of some other student characteristics that can influence adjustment and involvement in college (adapted from Jalomo, 1995):

  • Married students with family obligations Single parents.
  • Students who never liked high school or who were rebellious in high school.
  • Students who were not involved in academic activities or student groups during high school.
  • Students who are afraid or feel out of place in the mainstream college culture.
  • Students who have a hard time adjusting to the fast pace of college.
  • Students who lack the financial resources to take additional courses or participate in campus-based academic and social activities in college.

Stereotype Threat

A distressing research finding is that African American and Latino students from elementary school through college tend to have lower test scores and grades, and tend to drop out of school more often than White students (National Center for Education Statistics, 1998). In addition, regardless of income level, they score lower than White and Asian students on the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT). For years, educators have been concerned with these statistics, especially when capable minority students fail to perform as well as their White counterparts. Professor Claude Steele (1999) and his colleague (Aronson, 2002) believe they have identified a possible explanation for this dilemma. They think the difference in academic performance has less to do with preparation or ability and more to do with the threat of stereotypes about the students’ ability to succeed. They coined the term stereotype threat to mean the fear of doing something that would inadvertently confirm a stereotype. The following is an explanation of this phenomenon. Stereotypes can influence an individual’s motivation and achievement by suggesting to the target of the stereotype that a negative label could apply to one’s self or group.

For example, the commonly held stereotype that women are less capable in mathematics than men have been shown to affect the performance of women on standardized math tests. When female’s students were told beforehand of this negative stereotype, scores were significantly lower compared to a group of women who were led to believe the tests did not reflect these stereotypes (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999). In another investigation (Levy, 1996), half of a group of older adults were reminded of the stereotype regarding old age and memory loss while the other half were reminded of the more positive stereotype that old people are wise. The older adults performed worse on a test of short-term memory when they were presented with the negative stereotype than when they were reminded of the more positive stereotype. Why do you think the women and older adults scored lower under the stereotype threat condition? Now let’s review the research as to how stereotype threat may help to explain the low achievement of certain minority group members.

There exists a stereotype that many African American and Latino students may not have the academic ability to succeed in college. As a result, many minority students may feel at risk of confirming this stereotype and wonder if they can compete successfully at the college level. Thus, just the awareness of the stereotype can affect a student’s motivation and behavior. Steele and Aronson (1995) asked African American and White college students to take a difficult standardized test (verbal portion of the Graduate Record Examination). In one condition, the experimenters presented the test as a measure of intellectual ability and preparation. In the second condition, the experimenters reduced the stereotype threat by telling the students that they were not interested in measuring their ability with the test, but were interested in the students’ verbal problem solving. The only difference between the two conditions of the experiment was what the researchers told the students: the test was the same; the students were equally talented and were given the same amount of time to complete the exam.

The results of the experiment indicated a major difference for the African American students. When the test was presented in the no evaluative way, they solved about twice as many problems on the test as when it was presented in the standard way. Moreover, there was no difference between the performance of African American and White test takers under the no-stereotype threat condition. For the White students, the way the test was presented had no effect on their performance. The researchers believed that by reducing the evaluative condition, they were able to reduce the African American students’ anxiety, and, as a result, they performed better on the exam. Aronson (2002) pointed out that in numerous investigations, researchers have found that the stereotype threat condition doesn’t reduce effort, but makes individuals try harder on tests because they want to invalidate the stereotype. Not all individuals are equally vulnerable to stereotype threat. Individuals who are more vulnerable include those who care most about doing well, people who feel a deep sense of attachment to their ethnic or gender group, and individuals who have higher expectations for discrimination in their environment. Students under the stereotype threat condition appear more anxious while taking a test. In addition, they also reread questions and recheck their answers more often than when they are not under stereotype threat.

As a result, students placed in a stereotype threat condition become poor test takers! Are you vulnerable to stereotype threat as a member of a minority group, a woman, an older student who has come back to college a number of years after graduating from high school? Can student-athletes experience stereotype threat? Could the stereotype threat “absentminded professor” influence your instructor’s behavior? Has stereotype threat influenced your motivation or behavior in any way? Are you aware of such influence? What can educators do about reducing the influence of stereotype threat? Aronson (2002) pointed out that stereotype threat appears to be especially disruptive to individuals who believe that intelligence is fixed rather than changeable. In this course, you are learning that academic performance can be improved through the use of different learning and motivational strategies. Do you believe that you can become a more successful student and compete with other students at your college or university? There also is some evidence that stereotype threat may be reduced through cooperative learning and other forms of direct contact with other students.

In a successful program that improved the academic achievement of a group of African American freshman at the University of Michigan (Steele et al., 1997), students lived in a racially integrated “living and learning” community in a part of a large dormitory. The students were recognized for their accomplishment of gaining admission to the university and participated in weekly rap groups to discuss common problems they all faced. In addition, they participated in advanced workshops in one of their courses that went beyond the material in the course. All of these activities were useful; however, the weekly rap sessions appeared to be the most critical part of program. The researchers believed that when students of different racial groups hear the same concerns expressed, the concerns appear to be less racial. The students also may learn that racial and gender stereotypes play a smaller role in academic success than they may have originally expected. It is important to realize that the researchers exploring the impact of stereotype threat are not saying that this phenomenon is the sole reason for underachievement by certain minority students. We have already discussed a number of other important academic and motivational factors that can make a difference between a successful and unsuccessful college experience. Nevertheless, stereotype threat must be considered an important factor in understanding underachievement of certain minority students.

Classroom Environmental Factors

Many classroom environmental factors influence student motivation. These include types of assignments given, instructor behavior, and instructional methods. Ratcliff (1995) reported that a successful transition to college is related to the quality of classroom life. In particular, student motivation and achievement is greater when instructors communicate high expectations for success, allow students to take greater responsibility for their learning, and encourage various forms of collaborative learning (i.e., peer learning or group learning). In an interesting book, Making the Most of College, Light (2001) interviewed hundreds of college seniors to identify factors that made college an outstanding experience. Here are some findings about college instruction that appeared to motivate students: First, the students reported that they learned significantly more when instructors structured their courses with many quizzes and short assignments. They liked immediate feedback and the opportunity to revise and make changes in their work. They did not like courses when the only feedback came late or at the end of the semester. Second, the students reported that they liked classes where the instructors encouraged students to work together on homework assignments. They mentioned that some of their instructors created small study groups in their courses to encourage students to work together outside of class. This activity helped students become more engaged in their courses. Third, many students found that small-group tutorials, small seminars, and one-to-one supervision were the highlights of their college careers. They highly recommended that undergraduate students find internships and other experiences where they can be mentored by faculty members. Fourth, students reported the beneficial impact of racial and ethnic diversity on their college experiences. They reported how much they learned from other students who came from different backgrounds— ethnic, political, religious, or economic. Fifth, students who get the most out of college and who are happiest organize their time to include activities with faculty members or with other students. Most students need recommendations from faculty members for graduate study or jobs. Yet, they often fail to meet with their instructors to get a letter of recommendation. Light (2001) pointed out the advice he gives all his advisees: “Your job is to get to know one faculty member reasonably well this semester. And also to have that faculty member get to know you reasonably well.” He reported that as his first-year advisees approach graduation, they tell him that this advice was the most helpful suggestion they received during their freshman year.

Professors differ as much as any other group of individuals; some are easy to approach, whereas others make it appear that they are trying to avoid students. In fact, in many large universities, a student has to work hard to make contact with some professors. Nevertheless, think about the challenge of getting to know at least one instructor or professor well each semester. Not only will you find that the experience will motivate you to achieve in his or her class, but when the time comes for letters of recommendation, you will have a list of professors to ask. So, try not to be intimidated by your instructors: go to office hours, sign up for study sessions, and get a few students together and invite the instructor to lunch if you don’t want to do it by yourself.

Although it is important for students to understand that the classroom environment can influence their motivation, they need to take responsibility for their own behavior. My daughter came home one day during her freshman year and told me that she received a low C on a midterm exam. In the same breath, she reported that she did not like the instructor, implying a relationship between the low grade and her dislike of the instructor. I responded that my expectations for her academic performance were not based on her like or dislike of courses or professors, and told her she had to learn to do well in all types of situations. You learned that self-directed students learn how to overcome obstacles to increase the probability of their academic success. Think about some of the actions you can take to improve your academic learning when you don’t like your instructor, find the course boring, or when the instructor spends all his or her time lecturing and doesn’t encourage student interaction or small-group work.

Internal Factors Students’ goals, beliefs, feelings, and perceptions determine their motivated behavior and, in turn, academic performance. For example, if students value a task and believe they can master it, they are more likely to use different learning strategies, try hard, and persist until completion of the task. If students believe that intelligence changes over time, they are more likely to exhibit effort in difficult courses than students who believe intelligence is fixed. I’m going to explain why the answers to the following questions can provide insight into your own motivation:

How do I value different academic courses and tasks?

What Are My goals?

What is My goal orientation?

Do I believe I can do well on different academic tasks?

What are the causes of my successes and failures?

How do I feel about my academic challenges?

Notice that all of the questions deal with beliefs and perceptions. Students can learn a great deal about their motivation by examining how their beliefs and perceptions influence them.


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