Archive for August, 2009

Thinking about learning and rewards

While reading Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (2004), I came across an interesting observation regarding motivation to learn. Bain discussed a series of experiments where a person with an interest in either learning or doing something was provided a reward (referred to as an “extrinsic motivator”), which would later be taken.(32) The studies questioned whether an individuals desire to learn increased, decreased, or stayed the same once the motivator was removed. He then used the example of students interested in the causes of wars and how the rewards of grades and eventual graduation changed their interest in the subject.

The results showed that intrinsic curiosity decreased when the motivator was removed.(32) This leads me to question the whole rationale behind our current education system (no, this will not become a discussion about No Child Left Behind). I found myself asking, “Why do people go to college, or graduate school?”, and, “What, if any purpose do we as people, and especially children, see in compulsory education?” It would seem that taking the example in Bain to its extreme conclusion, but possibly logical one, that, except for the very young in preschool and early elementary grades, the only reason for them to go to school is not to become learned individuals, but to simply earn the extrinsic rewards of good grades, and a diploma, or degree, which will hopefully land them an even greater extrinsic reward of a lucrative job.

The question is, why send our children to school, or college? Of course, the biggest reason is to provide them the necessary skills to succeed in adult life. However, are there other ways that would prepare them as well for that life as compulsory education? Believe me, I am not saying we need to completely do away with schooling, as it does serve a vital function for an industrialized society, or really any society. What I am saying, though, is that we need to reconsider why we attend school. For youngsters, the answer is usually “because Mom and Dad say I have to go”, or because we as a society have agreed that it should be required. What about young adults in college, or graduate school?

Years ago, it seems as though college was about fielding your champions. Only the best and brightest, or those from well-connected, wealthy families, attended college. Now, even though studies show that only 25% hold a Bachelor’s degree (which is about 75,000,000 Americans) in the United States today, it sometimes appears that everyone has or needs to earn a degree. Consider that in 1940, roughly five percent of Americans held a college degree. Has earning a college degree become nothing more than a mere reward, a path to a job, rather than an expression of a desire to be learned? I sometimes think yes.

How can this change? Bain noted that the best teachers allowed students to have a great deal of choice in their education. Often, these instructors gave students many opportunities to improve their work and themselves as learners. Now, such freedom would be difficult to give children, but perhaps if young students are made to feel that learning is fun and not a laborious act, maybe lifelong learning can be fostered.

For higher education, a couple things should change to alter the motivating reasons for attending. First, a re-examination of educational requirements for various jobs must take place. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of jobs that should not require a Bachelor’s degree to do them. Second, greater emphasis on trade schools and technical colleges, so that those who do not have a desire to be learned and well-rounded have options. Finally, not everyone has the ability to have a formal education. While they should have the opportunity to try, standards at traditional four-year colleges and universities should be strengthened to weed out those who, despite assistance, lack the ability.

Learning should not be about earning grades and degrees. It should be about expanding one’s knowledge and bettering one’s self inside. While it would take a long time, we should all work to make education and learning less about rewards and more about the fun of challenging ourselves to do better. This is why I am pursuing a Ph.D., so what is your motivation?

Categories: Teaching Tags: , ,

Learning about Native North Dakota

August 31, 2009 2 comments

History 220 (History of North Dakota) was interesting today, as not only did the students and I get to learn about a different time in the history of this state, but we learned about the wonderful ability for technology to fail us. Dr. Porter enjoys using Power Point to provide bullet points to her lectures as well as some pretty cool pictures, and today was no different, or so we thought. The first attempt to load the slide show failed, as the computer decided to be uncooperative and not come out of sleep mode. Dr. Porter called the fine folks at CILT (Center for Instructional and Learning Technologies, I think) via the direct line phone on the podium. One of their staff came over and got the computer working, but then when a second attempt to load the show commenced, the computer decided to freeze up.

Despite this, Dr. Porter delivered her lecture and rebooted the machine three more times before we finally were able to run the show. Once the slides appeared, class went on as normal. The students learned about the early Native American groups in ND, particularly the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikira (Ree). Within these three groups, subjects of agriculturally based societies with permanent villages were brought up. It seemed that most students were interested in the topic. The development of agricultural based groups in North Dakota represents an early example of Rural History on the Northern Plains. The next class will be the second part of Native North Dakota. I will now get back to using my office hours for productive work by reading Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do.

Cross-posted to Prairie Dirt.

Making the most use of your office hours

As I sit here in my office with about 17 minutes left before History of North Dakota begins, I thought I would quickly talk about using office hours wisely as a student. Having served as a Teaching Assistant while working on my MA, I was used to no one coming in during my office hours, except around exam time and finals. This is still the case now, as no one has come in during my 10 AM office hour. This does provide me with some needed time to send emails regarding other classes and work, as well as sit and read for other classes. What I would say is to use your office hours to get as much of your daily work for classes and other business done, so that you have more of the evening to either study ahead, or use for personal means. While the rigors of graduate school prevent one from getting all work done during the few hours you are in your office each day, they do go a long way towards letting you complete many tasks. Use your office hours wisely, as they are your time as well.

Categories: Teaching Assistant Tags:

Fun in HIST 220-Prehistoric North Dakota

Today was the second meeting of HIST 220, North Dakota History, or as we refer to it as, Nodak. This is the class that I am a Teaching Assistant in, working under Dr. Porter. The topic was prehistoric North Dakota. It was quite interesting for me, as I am from Illinois and am unfamiliar with much of North Dakota history. Her energy during th lecture was quite refreshing, especially as I was a bit tired. We even made the class chuckle when she realized that her and I were somewhat dressed alike (we both wore light green Hawiian-themed bowling shirts, with her wearing khaki pants and I khaki shorts). The room was a bit more bearable today than Wednesday, which was very hot. Our class is quite large, with 150 students, making the room quite crowded. The students are a good bunch and just need to be guided in deeper thinking. While I may not get to know all their names, as I am bad with names, I do hope to get to know many of them. It will be interesting to see how the class progresses in the coming weeks.

On a lighter note, we had our departmental meet and greet, which gave us old hats a chance to just chat with the faculty and to get to know the new graduate students. It is enjoyable to hang out with the faculty and I hope that we do this more, as I would like to see us become even more connected with each other as colleagues. So, until next time, keep studying, but remember to take a break and have a little fun.


Welcome to Doctoral Bliss. This blog will chronicle my journey through my Ph.D. program at the University of North Dakota, where I study History. I hope to possibly make this a group blog with other doctoral students in History to talk about our experiences and fun in becoming historians.

Categories: Uncategorized