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Motivation Matters``My motivation is your motivation: The value of reciprocity in the student-teacher relationship``

Raniere Dener Cardoso Melo
Taylor Hodges
Aleksandra (Ola) Kustra
Barbara Bziuk


In our project, “Motivation Matters”, we try to tackle the issue of motivation in educational settings. We note that very often, students and educators lack intrinsic motivation for studying and teaching, respectively. This highly affects their performance and academic experience. According to our research, one of the decisive factors for motivation is the student-teacher dynamic, which, in turn, influences the classroom’s structure and overall engagement. Current interventions usually address only one of the sides, either the teachers’ or the students’. The process, however, is reciprocal. Both actors influence each other and, in order to achieve a sustainable change, both students and teachers should be considered at the same time. That is why, to address this problem, we propose a redesign in the form of a student-guided workshop for teachers. The format and the content of the redesign was created on the basis of scientific research and interviews with students and educators from the University of Groningen. The goal of the workshop is to develop tools that fit the individual needs of the participants. Students and teachers will be able to collaborate to improve their communication and restructure the classroom environment in such a way that improves mutual engagement, ultimately leading to an increase in intrinsic motivation in both students and teachers.

Analysis of the Lack of Intrinsic Motivation in Education

Although perspectives on education have changed over the last decades, our educational system still uses techniques that contribute little to critical thinking and the construction of new knowledge. Instead, educating is reduced to an act of depositing information in spectators that will receive it without questioning. According to Paulo Freire (2006), this “banking education” leaves no room for transformation and aims only at adjusting individuals into standards that are considered adequate. As a result, this somewhat mechanical process affects both teachers’ and students’ motivation. Students become unmotivated given their passive role in the classroom, while teachers are affected by their students’ motivation and external pressures to fulfill all teaching and research requirements.

Opposed to this banking education perspective, a more horizontal and dialectic education has been proposed, in which the teacher guides students in discussions and activities that will lead to new knowledge. This is in place of just giving information that needs to be memorized (Freire, 2006). This problem-posing education, as proposed by Paulo Freire (2006), can lead not only to the development of critical thinking, but can also improve both teachers’ and students’ motivation. For instance, some students from the University of Groningen reported that interactions during the class and teacher’s motivation were crucial to their own motivation. On the other hand, some teachers have reported being negatively affected by demotivated students. This feedback loop has also been reported in the literature (Kiziltepe, 2006, 2008; Pickering & Roberts, 2018). Additionally, most of the students and teachers interviewed agreed that a more horizontal and dialect education can result in increased motivation and better performance outcomes. Interestingly, when asked about the student’s and the teacher’s role in the classroom, the banking education perspective was strongly perceived. Teachers are still expected to hold the knowledge and transfer them to students that are there to merely receive the knowledge. Therefore, it becomes clear that although students and teachers feel more motivated in more interactive, active learning, some core perspectives on education and roles are still quite old-fashioned.

In conclusion, motivational issues are common when you are included in a mechanical, vertical education and although people believe in a more horizontal education, they are still attached to an old-fashioned educational model. Therefore, both students and teachers should come together to discuss ways to improve this motivational issue, thus improving the educational experience for all the parties included.

Redesign to Tackle the Lack of Intrinsic Motivation in Education

To address this motivational issue, we propose a one-day, student-guided workshop for teachers. This workshop will be aimed at both university students and teachers to provide tools and techniques needed to fit each of the participants’ needs. More specifically, this workshop will be adaptive to participants’ needs, meaning there is no set solution to be provided from the workshop. Rather, participants will be given an environment that fosters and encourages collaboration and critical thinking. From this, they will be able to address and generate ideas to better resolve current issues faced by both teachers and students. Through this, they will work to enhance their communication and restructure the classroom environment in such a way that it improves mutual engagement and overall satisfaction.

Moreover, the workshop has a very interactive element, participants are expected and encouraged to actively participate and engage with the topics and fellow group members. To help facilitate this, additional exercises and activities will be placed throughout the day to keep energy levels up, increase participant bonding, and maintain an enjoyable atmosphere.

Most importantly, the workshop itself serves as an exemplar of a collaborative, enjoyable, adaptive, and communicative educational environment. In providing this, it is hoped that participants further glean insight into how a well-functioning and well-fitted environment feels. And, by finding and experiencing these collaborative solutions and environments, we hope to generate more enjoyment of the educational process. In the same vein, intrinsic motivation for the educational process should then increase as participants work to reshape education.

Thus, this motivational program will allow for both parties to not only express and discuss their own thoughts on the educational system but also work to reshape it. By designing solutions to the educational problems they face, participants will be able to take education back into their own hands, teaching and learning in the way they want to, simply because they enjoy doing so.

Lastely, a report of the conclusions and ‘tools’ devised in each workshop will be published on the official webpage after each workshop. This is to keep record of the solutions drawn in the workshop as well as allowing for other students and teachers to also read up on the results (click here for an example workshop agenda).

Target Group

Our target group consists of a mixed group of teachers and students. More specifically, participants can be from any discipline and can be a part of either small classes (i.e., up to 25 students) or large classes (i.e., ≤ 25 students). These teachers and students will be recruited from the University of Groningen.

Group Sizes & Participant Recruitment

Groups for the workshop will consist of a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 20 teachers. Additionally, two to three students will be recruited from the university of Groningen to serve as guides for the workshop and provide the ‘student perspective’ to topics brought up during the workshop. Regarding educator recruitment, our workshop could be paired with organizations, such as the Educational Support and Innovation (ESI) group, that all incoming teachers must participate as part of their official training. Thus, through this organization, the workshop can better reach the target group and fill the participant slots.

The Role of the Teacher and the Student

Participating students will help guide the course of the workshop. However, it is very important that the students will be seen solely as guides and not directors trying to tell teachers what they are doing wrong or could be doing better nor offering any sort of set solution. Rather, their role is to convey and facilitate open communication and perspective sharing between the two parties on behalf of students. Moreover, students will help keep the flow and environment of the workshop as open and smooth as possible. The teachers are then to take on the role of active listeners and engaged conversationalists, providing their own thoughts, insights, and suggestions to the various topics. Together, with the student guides, teachers will design tools and gain insight into ways to help improve issues normally found in classes.

What is a ‘Tool’?

A tool will be any sort of idea, adjustment, method and/or technique that may be used to help resolve issues found in the classroom. Thus, tools can take on many forms and serve various functions. The core component is that they work to try and help better an issue identified by participants to be problematic. For example, tools can take the form of new technologies to help facilitate clearer, faster, or more active communication and/or participation. In another example, tools can be certain assignments and/or projects designed to facilitate knowledge acquisition and comprehension. Thus, tools will incorporate both student and teacher views on issues in academia and, more specifically, the classroom environment. And, more importantly, they will emphasize the role both students and teachers play in shaping and changing these environments to better fit their needs.

Topics to be Discussed During the Workshop

Various topics can be discussed during the workshop, depending on what participants find most important to address. Thus, the topics that will be discussed and further examined are versatile and adaptable to the current group’s needs and interests. However, as a base, each workshop will incorporate coverage on one to two typical themes and issues found to be problematic in the classroom. For example, topics could include: lack of student participation, lack of teacher interest in teaching, grading of assignments and exams, ways to handle large group sizes, how to restructure a classroom environment, and ways to enhance communication and feedback (click here for an example activity).

Scientific Justification of Our Redesign

Self-Determination Theory

The main purpose of the redesign is to include both teachers and students in the process of improving communication and restructuring classroom environments to enhance mutual engagement. This, in turn, would increase intrinsic motivation levels in both students and teachers. This interactive redesign allows students and educators to learn from each other and communicate about their needs and purposes. According to the self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 2012), intrinsic motivation can be facilitated through fulfilling three psychological needs, namely autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The workshop can approach these basic needs on both ends of educators and students through the current redesign. By having an interactive environment that allows for thought expression from both ends, collaborative problem-solving settings, and open discussions, we tackle these three main needs. More specifically, these three needs are approached with methods that should lead to the increase of intrinsic motivation for learning and teaching. Namely, thought expression and role-playing can fulfill the need for relatedness through learning about other individuals’ thoughts and opinions and getting to know the likely similarities between the two groups. The sense of autonomy can be enhanced through the discussions and the tailored solutions. Lastly, individuals’ sense of competence can be enhanced through reaching solutions to presented problems and tasks.

Knowledge as Experience

Interaction, role-playing exercises and active exchange of thoughts and experiences between the participants are crucial elements of our redesign. These are structured in such a way that they guide participants in developing their own learning and teaching tools, instead of providing them with ready-made solutions. Thereby, it is also a good example of what we think is the ideal educational environment in terms of engagement and motivation. By advocating for this type of learning, we draw upon Dewey’s theory of knowledge and philosophy of education (Dewey, 1906, 1990 [1915]; Hilderbrand, 2018).  According to him, a key to obtaining knowledge is direct experience. Perceiving humans as naturally problem-solving beings, he believed that the learning process and the development of intelligence is possible only when learners are faced with a true dilemma. After having focused their attention and energy on a problem, they need to reflect on their experience to complete the learning process. Our redesign follows the same pattern by first confronting the participants with different scenarios (either through role-playing or group activities) and then asking them to openly reflect and discuss their experience.

New Psychology of Leadership

The underlying idea of our redesign, as well as of the general model of educational environment supported by us, can be traced back to the so-called “New Psychology of Leadership’’ (Reicher et al. 2007, Haslam et al. 2011). According to this leadership model, the traditional hierarchical structure between a leader and a follower should be replaced with a system where both leader and follower share their identity, preferences and goals. Such a system is based on respect for follower’s opinions, interests and values and on a dialogue between two actors, rather than on a leader’s authority. Therefore, this increases the effectiveness of their projects, but also motivation and engagement (Haslam et al. 2011).

Such a model could also replace a hierarchical structure in the learning process. Teachers that engage with opinions and values of their students, thereby enhancing a sense of community (“we”) among them, could potentially increase students’ motivation. Through our redesign, by providing a space for students and educators to openly communicate about their educational experience and ideas (as well as to collaborate on solving problematic cases), we intend to inspire them to embrace such a model of interaction.


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