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How do we motivate students

Page history last edited by Norman Jackson 9 years, 9 months ago

“How do we motivate students?”

Professor John Cowan, Edinburgh Napier University



Professor John Cowan entered academia after a successful career as a structural engineering designer. His research at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, where he was the first Professor of Engineering Education in the UK, latterly concentrated on student-centred learning and the learning experience. On moving to the Open University in Scotland, he encouraged innovative curriculum development and campaigned nationally for rigorous formative evaluation in higher education. His passion for and professional interest in student-centred learning now spans over 40 years. During that time he has placed an ever increasing emphasis on preparing students to exercise stewardship over their life-wide development while at University, and in lifelong learning thereafter. He continues to share his wisdom with higher education teachers at Napier University.


John’s collegial spirit is well known. In describing himself he says, “it's best just to think of me as a part-time teacher nowadays, with personal history to draw on and a willingness to share with some colleagues, if they want to innovate in areas where I have some experience.” SCEPTrE has benefited hugely from his willingness to share the wisdom he has gained from a lifetime of committed professional practice and personal and his own professional development (most recently in a set of ITunes podcasts). 


John has inspired many higher education teachers. In reviewing this book Becoming and Innovative Teacher’ Professor John Biggs wrote’"...a delightful and unusual reflective journey...the whole book is driven by a cycle of questions, examples, strategies and generalizations from the examples. In all, it is the clearest example of practise-what-you-preach that I have seen."  


This sums John up very well!


In this informative and entertaining series of audio podcasts John draws on his experiences as a higher education teacher to illustrate how he has tried to motivate students. The podcast might take a couple of minutes to download and you will need to download QuickTime to listen to it.


1.     Use examples to explain tasks, and standards

Example: Reflective journals

2.     Teach mathematical subjects backwards

Example:  Skemp

3.     Pander to the competitive spirit, especially with males

Example:  Game with side bets and tutor to adjudicate

4.     Build in worthwhile fun, when task does not appeal

Earn your partner’s mark for answers based on your description.

5.     Make meaningful, welcoming contact earlier than expected

Example:  Taiwan discussion boards.

6.     Make brief contact shortly before submission dates

Example:  Graham Gibbs work at OU;  JC on D300

7.     Enable anonymous declaration of needs

Examples:  Pas the folded paper, and anonymous discussion board postings

8.  Build in formative peer-assessment

Example:  I don’t need to see their advice, I know it already

9.  Enthuse about your subject

Example:  Stuart Monro

10.  Enthuse about their work, when valid

“Is that not how everyone does it?”

11.  Establish a question-asking culture

Example:  after Postman and Weingartner

12. Peer teaching, part-marked by learners’ scores

Example:  Just that













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