“How to Motivate Your Students to Love Learning”
I have taught as a university professor and teaching assistant since 1985. I learned many useful lessons from my students and tried some novel approaches to teaching. I eventually won the top teaching awards from Georgia Tech and from the University System of Georgia. Many of my successes in motivating students have to do with getting them involved in the Real World. I will share my methods and the good ideas of other progressive teachers and hopefully, make learning more meaningful, fun and effective for all teachers and students.
Many of the problems and difficulties that instructors of all types deal with have their basis in motivation, or a lack of it. I am a neuroscientist with over 30 years of teaching experience. I have always been a rebel, forging my own path through life, often with little regard to what was expected for someone in my role. I tried many things to encourage my students to love learning, and some of them were wildly successful. I think most of them are generally applicable to learners of all ages, and can be put into practice by teachers of all types. There is a growing consensus that the educational system in America (and many other countries) is broken. Quite a few innovative teachers are experimenting with new ideas about how to teach, what to teach, and even why to teach. If you are one of those, or considering becoming one, then you will find this book useful. I will tell my story of how I came to favor real-world projects as the best teaching and learning experience. Students love to come up with projects that they care about, and ones that make a difference. When such projects are included as part of our regular school curriculum, students will dive into learning with great enthusiasm and most importantly, they will be much better prepared to be effective, valuable, and happy citizens in our rapidly changing world.
Change does not have to occur by revolutions. You do not need to throw out everything you know about teaching and start with something completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable. You will see how I continually added to my toolbox of unconventional approaches to teaching, while making small tweaks to standard practices that ended up having a large payback in terms of motivating my students to love learning. I advocate an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, approach to improving teaching methods. It will be clear to those of you who took the standard path to becoming a teacher, i.e., getting an advanced degree and credentials in teaching, that I did not get the proper training. I will at times seem ignorant of certain pedagogical terminology or approaches that you will have learned in college. I hope you will forgive me. I came into teaching “through the back door” kind of like I did with my research: I was a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology for 13 years, yet I studied neither teaching nor engineering for my college degrees. I learned teaching and engineering by doing, while getting degrees in biochemistry (UCSD 1987) and neurobiology (UCI 1993). So in many ways, I am a living example of the success of project-based learning and “poster-child” of unconventional, interdisciplinary learning approaches. I won the top teaching award at Georgia Tech (2011) and then the top teaching award across all research universities in the University System of Georgia (2013). Rather than thinking of a lack of teaching credentials as a limitation, I think of it as liberating. Like Gumby’s train, I laid my tracks as I went along. In this book, I will reveal all my “secrets” that earned me this recognition, hopefully in ways that will allow you to apply them incrementally to your teaching, and in ways that you and your administrators are comfortable with. I will try to mention related advances that I am aware of by others, because there are a lot of new resources out there now for any instructor who wishes to enhance motivation in their students with new approaches.
It is important to realize that my evolutionary process of improving my teaching involved a lot of trial and error. So one of my most important pieces of advice I will keep repeating is to continually solicit feedback about how things are going and continually try new things. It is a way of life for me and if you really take that on board, you too are bound to succeed at motivating your students.