Tag Archives: Higher

Is the Carrot and Stick Method Useful in Higher Education?

Consider how the process of learning begins for students. As a general perceptual rule, when students begin their degree programs they hope to obtain good grades, useful skills, and relevant knowledge. The tuition paid assures placement in a class and there are implied results that students expect as a product of their involvement in that class. In contrast, instructors expect that students will obey the academic rules, perform to the best of their abilities, and comply with specific class requirements that include deadlines for completion of learning activities.

For students, grades serve as an indicator of their progress in class, a symbol of their accomplishments and failures, and a record of their standing in a degree program. I have heard many students state that their primary goal for the class was to earn what they refer to as “good grades” – even though they may not be fully aware of what constitutes a good grade for them. When students aren’t achieving good grades, or the minimum expected by instructors and/or the school, instructors may try to nudge them on – either through positive motivational methods such as coaching and mentoring, or negative motivational methods that include threats and a demeaning disposition.

I found that many educators dangle a carrot in front of their students through indirect methods, such as the potential to earn a better grade, as an “A” in an indicator of the ultimate achievement in school. There may be incentives given to prompt better performance, including additional time or a resubmission allowance for a written assignment, as a means of encouraging students to perform better.

My question is whether the focus of teaching in higher education should be on the carrot we dangle in front of students to perform better or should there be more of a focus on what motivates each individual student to perform to the best of their abilities? In other words, do we need to be dangling something in front of students to serve as a source of motivation?

What is the Carrot and Stick Method?

I believe that most people understand the meaning of dangling a carrot in front of students to motivate them. The phrase is actually based upon a tale about a method of motivating a donkey and while the carrot is dangling in front of it, the stick is used to prod the animal along. The carrot serves as a reward and the stick is used as a form of reinforcement and punishment for non-compliance.

This approach is still used in the workplace, even subconsciously by managers, as a method of motivating employees. The carrot or incentives may include a promotion, pay increase, different assignments, and the list continues. The stick that is used, or the punishment for not reaching specific goals or performance levels, may include demotion or a job loss. A threat of that nature can serve as a powerful motivator, even if the essence of this approach is negative and stressful.

The Carrot and Stick Approach in Higher Education

If you are uncertain about the use of this approach in higher education, consider the following example. You are providing feedback for a written assignment and it is now the halfway point in the class. For one particular student, you believe they have not met the criteria for the assignment and more importantly, they have either not put in enough effort, they did not perform to your expectations, or they did not live up to their full potential.

It is worth mentioning that your beliefs about students are shaped by how you view them and their potential. In other words, I try to see my students as individuals who have varying levels of performance and that means some will be further along than others. In contrast, instructors who believe they do not have enough time to get to know their students as individuals may view the class as a whole and set an expectation regarding the overall performance level that all students should be at for this particular point in the class.

Returning to the example provided, my question to you is this: Do you reward the attempt made by the student or do you penalize that student for what you perceive to be a lack of effort? As a faculty trainer, I have interacted with many faculty who believe that all students should be high performers and earning top grades, regardless of their background and prior classes. When students fail to meet that expectation, there is a perception that students either do not care, they are not trying, or they are not reading and applying the feedback provided. The instructor’s response then is to dangle a carrot (incentive) and use the stick to try to change the necessary student behaviors.

Relevance for Adult Learning

There is a perception held by many educators, especially those who teach in traditional college classes, that the instructors are in control and students must comply. This reinforces a belief within students that they do not have control over their outcomes and that is why many believe grades are beyond their control. I have seen many students stop trying by the time they were enrolled in a class I was teaching simply because they could not make a connection between the effort they have made to the outcomes or grades received. In other words, while they believed they were doing everything “right” – they were still getting poor grades.

At the heart of the adult learning process is motivation. There are as many degrees of motivation as there are types of students and it is not realistic to expect that all students will be performing at the same level. I’ve learned through time and practice that adult student behaviors do not or will not permanently change as a result of forced compliance. However, behaviors will change in time when an instructor has built a connection with their students and established a sense of rapport with them. I encourage instructors to think beyond dangling a carrot and try to influence behavior, and not always through the use of rewards.

From a Carrot to a Connection

It is important for instructors to create a climate and classroom conditions that are conducive to engaging students, while becoming aware of (and recognizing) that all students have a capacity to learn and some gradually reach their potential while others develop much more quickly. My instructional approach has shifted early on from a rewards or carrot focus to a student focus. I want to build connections with students and nurture productive relationships with them, even when I am teaching an online class and have the distance factor to consider. I encourage students to make an effort and I welcome creative risks. I teach students to embrace what they call their failures as valuable learning lessons. I encourage their involvement in the learning process, prompt their original thinking during class discussions, and I teach them that their efforts do influence the outcomes received.

I recognize that this type of approach is not always easy to implement when classroom management is time consuming, and this is especially true for adjunct instructors. However, at a very minimum it can become an attitude and part of an engaging instructional practice. I encourage instructors to include it as part of their underlying teaching philosophy so they recognize and work to implement it. Every educator should have a well-thought out teaching philosophy as it guides how they act and react to students and classroom conditions. A student focus, rather than a carrot and stick focus, creates a shift in perspective from looking first at the deficits of students and seeing their strengths – along with their potential. It is an attitude of looking away from lack and looking towards meaning in the learning process, and a shift from seeing an entire class to viewing students individually. My hope is that this inspires you to re-evaluate and re-examine how teach your students and consider new methods of prompting their best performance.

Higher Education Must Rise to the Challenges and Opportunities Presented by COVID-19

One thing that we have all begun to appreciate since the arrival of the Corona-virus Pandemic has been the importance of scientists and those that support them. It is clear to the world that until there is a vaccine there is no real chance of bringing the situation under control. Governments have endeavored to wrestle with the need to minimize risk and deaths, and social distancing has become a key aspect of those efforts. Progress is being made, but it is often fitful and patchy, and there is always the ever present danger of further peaks of infection if we ease up too quickly, or simply resume life as it used to be before the arrival of COVID-19. The reality is that the ways of behavior, of interaction and doing business need to change and already there are signs of a new normal emerging, one that is predicated on the need to be cautious, vigilant and aware of the fact that anyone can catch the disease, and that anyone can spread it. Yet for all that, there is a pressing need to try and return to some form of normality, mindful of the fact that the disease remains a very real danger.

One sector that has found itself severely disrupted by the Corona-virus has been that of higher education. Universities and colleges have been closed, academic and support staff left in fear for their futures, and students’ studies interrupted, and exams cancelled or postponed indefinitely. It is as if the pause button has been pressed on the entire sector, and yet this is the very sector that provides those scientists and others that will tackle future crises. Looking at the higher education sector it soon becomes apparent that the current paralysis need not exist, with a little imagination, and some technical know-how learning can continue. Granted the traditional face to face teaching that we have all been used to cannot go ahead at present, but various technological platforms mean that academics and students can interact in a controlled and professional manner. Already hundreds of institutions around the world have realized that they can justify their existence by conducting online teaching, with staff finding the process something of a revelation. Naturally, there have been a few technical glitches and teething problems, but once these have been ironed out all concerned seem to feel that the process is beneficial and what is more know that learning is being maintained and advanced.

So, what are the challenges for such a process in Bangladesh? Well, one of the greatest hurdles to surmount is the psychological one in respect of resistance to change. Some academics and many members of leadership and management teams are not particularly tech savvy and do not entirely grasp how online learning platforms might work. There are understandable anxieties about the need for training, and the development and availability of suitable learning resources. Such processes require total commitment, and that means that staff think through what material is made available and how lessons or units develop along with the learning objectives and assessment tasks. Many staff have little or no experience of such learning and so fear being exposed by such a process. Everyone needs to engage in some heuristic learning – learning by doing, and overtime ambivalence or hostility to such learning evaporates, and it can often be found to be a iterating experience. What is more institutions are finding that they can develop units and courses that can be easily offered to students who for whatever reason actually prefer distance learning. With planning and the appropriate monitoring and checks and balances, and of course safeguards around privacy etc. there is potential to tap into a way of learning that is undergoing exponential growth across much of the world.

For such learning to be effective in Bangladesh it is paramount that all students have access to the learning platforms, and this might well mean that tablets and other devices become a standard learning tool, one that is issued to all students and if necessary built into the fee structure. Rather than viewing such technology as a cost, it is needs to be seen as an asset, one that helps facilitate and optimize learning. It is vital that internet connectivity is improved and consolidated, something that is integral to the national economy. So, with this in mind, there are some questions that need to be asked of each and every HE institution:

1) What learning is available online?

2) What plans are afoot to develop online learning?

3) How often are staff given training to support the introduction of online teaching?

4) What funds have been budgeted for the development of online learning? If not, why not?

5) What is being done to ensure that all students can access the online learning platform?

6) What lessons are being learnt from what is being done internationally?

7) Who are the Online Learning change-makers in the institution, and are they being adequately supported?

8) What are the chief concerns about online learning and how might these be addressed?

9) Are various stakeholders being consulted in order ensure that the system works efficiently and effectively?

10) What mechanisms are in place to protect IT systems from viruses and hackers?

11) Could time and resources be saved by holding more meetings via online meeting platforms?

12) How is online learning being recognized and celebrated?

There are very real opportunities at the present time to innovate, not just for the time of the Pandemic, but for the future. The most forward-thinking institutions have already recognized that this is a golden opportunity to embrace positive chance, to ensure the sector is both relevant and dynamic. No one is saying that it is easy, but it certainly can be exciting. When people embrace change and are helped to adapt to it remarkable things happen. Now is the time to harness the country’s considerable IT talent to ensure that it becomes trans formative in the field of higher education and beyond. Quietly and relentlessly a revolution is taking place, one that will broaden all our horizons about what learning and indeed the world of work can become. Looking further afield we will notice that resistance is futile, change is already happening, it is just that the situation arising from the Corona-virus has speeded things up. No one should be in any doubt that there will be challenges, but the simple fact is that these are far outweighed by the opportunities.

Open Courses: Changing the Higher Education Scene

Want to take a course from M.I.T., one of the most revered technology schools in the world? You don’t have to have almost-perfect SAT scores, you don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA, you don’t have to pay the $50,000 tuition – in fact, you don’t even have to be enrolled as a student. Sound too good to be true? M.I.T. has put its entire course catalogue online so that anyone who wishes to check out class lectures, class notes, assignments and other materials will be able to via their computer.

Online education continues to change the way educators and students envision higher education and M.I.T.’s open courses are just one of the many ways that traditional ground schools are adapting to advances in technology. Due to the expansion of online education, OpenCourseWare Consortium, a non-profit organization committed to advancing global education opportunity, was created to give students worldwide the opportunity to access higher education courses and relevant material.

M.I.T. isn’t the only prestigious ground school to get involved. Stanford, Tufts, Yale, the University of Michigan and Harvard also offer many, if not all, of their courses online for free. So, why give away something that many students pay so much for? “My deep belief is that as academics we have a duty to disperse our ideas as far and as freely as possible,” says Rebecca Henderson a business professor from M.I.T. and Harvard.

Sharing the world’s knowledge is the goal of OpenCourseWare Consortium. Obtaining copyrights from more schools and then delivering the material effectively as well as long-term funding are issues which are still being dealt with. Initial funding came from the private sector by way of affluent schools and organizations like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. But, say Consortium directors, “relying on philanthropy is not sustainable.”

To address sustainability, copyright issues, and course effectiveness of the Open Education movement activists, educators, and scientists will converge in Barcelona for meetings on education, accessibility, and trends in Open Education. Open Ed 2011 and the Drumbeat Learning Freedom and the Web Festival will convene to address the future of education and the Web and the “decisions needed to make open education a reality” as well as ‘impact and sustainability.”

Mary Lou Forward, executive director of the OpenCourseWare Consortium is planning to attend both meetings. Unequal access to education is one of the most prominent reasons OpenCourseWare was developed, bringing free education to the masses is a concept that is always on Forward’s mind. “What I think about all the time,” she says, “are ways to bring education to people.”

While open courses don’t provide actual course credit or an eventual degree to students, they are used by many to self-learn or to find areas of study that may interest them in their eventual degree track. Additionally, open courses give underprivileged students or students with traditionally little access who may be incapable of attending college an opportunity to study and learn exactly what their peers elsewhere are studying.

OpenCourseWare hopes to eventually make national and worldwide higher education courses freely available to students and learners across the globe.

The Family University Network: Unplugging Institutional Higher Education

Why not build a Christian family enterprise with the energy, funding, and infrastructure that would otherwise build the state or private educational institutions?

It is common knowledge today that serious moral problems exist in families, churches, schools, colleges, corporations, and political arena. These problems have academic, moral, and philosophical roots reaching back centuries, and have been promoted by the systematic separation of knowledge from faith in God. The significant amount of teaching required to equip people with the ability to discern the times and apply Scripture by faith to all areas of life, requires diligence in all areas of learning, and at all levels of education.

Secular universities are openly hostile to the Christian worldview, and the best of the Christian colleges cannot replicate the family away from home. Nehemiah Institute worldview assessment of 1177 students in 18 Christian colleges over 7 years demonstrated that Christian students are graduating from Christian institutions with a secular humanism worldview, even where their professors have a Biblical Theist worldview. Even the above average Christian colleges are little better than their secular counterpart because the curricula are developed under the same institutional accreditation guidelines, the same text books are used, many of the faculty were trained at secular institutions, and the family learning context is ignored.

Even the best of Christian distance education does not purposefully involve the family in the learning process, nor couple with individual family convictions, nor uses the family knowledge base, nor earns family income. It is time to unplug institutional higher education and bring higher education home.

The establishment of family universities and networks based on the fellowship of the church is one solution. This can help individuals and families implement the Christian philosophy of education through developing their own family university and complementary business as a part of the dominion mandate (Psalm 8).

University education needs to be reinvented with a Biblical understanding to strengthen the family and church. Christian people can easily learn how a family university can uniquely provide the humble, relational, and Spirit led ideal Biblical higher education for their young adults to participate in building a strong Christian family, church and culture.

The benefit of a network for learning was forseen by Ivan Illich, philosopher of the 1970s who spoke in favor of home education. He stated that “If the networks I have described could emerge, the educational path of each student would be his own to follow, and only in retrospect would it take on the features of a recognizable program. The wise student would periodically seek professional advice: assistance to set a new goal, insight into difficulties encountered choice between possible methods. Even now, most persons would admit that the important services their teachers have rendered them are such advice or counsel, given at a chance meeting or in a tutorial. Pedagogues, in an unschooled world, would also come into their own, and be able to do what frustrated teachers pretend to pursue today.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 1970.

There is only one such family university network in operation at this time, but the time has come for this concept and therefore this is likely just the beginning of home schooling expanding into home college.