Encouraging Students to take Responsibility for their Own Learning

By Amy Erickson

Taking Responsibility
“It’s not about achieving outcomes. It is about getting them [students] to want to achieve the outcomes” (Price, 2017b, para. 51). This idea really stood out to me in Dr. Christy Price’s 20-Minute Mentor video. In her video, “How Do I Get Students to take Responsibility for their Own Learning?” Price (2017b) discusses research demonstrating that today’s learners have a need for extrinsic motivators (para. 13).  In order to get them engaged in the assigned material, one must connect coursework to grades and points. Additional resources may be neglected, as today’s students perceive their lives to be very busy (Price, 2017b). Because they feel so busy, they don’t believe they have time for materials given purely out of interest or materials that will not directly contribute to a grade. Some may even struggle with the assigned content, but Price (2017b) gives strategies to “light a fire” under students by teaching them to be responsible for their own learning (para. 52).

Consistent Consequences
At Excelsior, instructors are asked to adhere to a specific late policy designed by administration. Some may see bending the rules as being helpful to students, but Price (2017) recommends being consistent with policies as a better way to help students. If we as instructors don’t enforce the rules of the class, there is no motivation to adhere to those rules. If a student consistently submits late work and the required points are not deducted due to tardiness, the student may perceive the late policy as more of a suggestion and not feel compelled to ever submit work on time. It is our own fault if we get frustrated by this behavior and it does not help students or future instructors. “My previous professor let me turn in work whenever it worked for me and my schedule.” Many of us have likely heard this statement. Instead of caving in, be clear about timely submissions and explain why additional points must be deducted from late work in order to be fair. Underscore your obligation as a faculty member to adhere to the policies set forth by the department. Understanding the why behind your actions could encourage student accountability and curb future tardiness. Price (2017b) warns, “if we’re not holding them accountable, it’s not likely that they will be motivated to achieve the outcome” (para. 16).

Making the Grade
“Why didn’t I get an A?” I think we have all heard this question.  Similarly, we’ve all attended webinars discussing grade inflation and worked to be consistent and fair in our grading. However, we may not have considered how communication surrounding our standards can motivate students.  Price (2017b) recommends making your standards clear in the syllabus. I recognize that we do not alter syllabi in Excelsior courses, but instructors are encouraged to provide an introduction in each online course. This provides a wonderful opportunity to share late policies, assignment rubrics, and standards surrounding attendance, discussions, and other coursework.  Price (2017a) shares the following in her syllabus “Grades are earned based on your performance. Be careful to note the requirements for earning the grade you desire, and be sure to devote yourself accordingly.”

Excelsior provides thorough instructions and rubrics for assignments and discussions. Unfortunately, many students disregard both and then are frustrated when they receive a poor grade. (Many students will even ask if they can re-do the assignment.) One way to prevent such frustration is to alert students to both instructions and rubrics in your introduction as well as your weekly announcement. Take the opportunity to outline and explain any items that could cause confusion. For some of my courses, I create a brief video outlining expectations and how the assignment will be evaluated. I frequently refer back to the video and ask students if they got a chance to watch it. (It is always clear when they have skipped it!) I’ve also started sharing lists of recommendations before important projects. Here is a brief excerpt of a list I post prior to the submission of a final literature review:

  • Your paper should be a minimum of ten pages long. This does not include your title page or reference page.
  • You should have 15 resources, ten of which should be scholarly.
  • Less than 10% of any academic paper should be direct quotes.
  • If you use direct quotes, they must have quotation marks and an in-text citation. Paraphrased material also requires an in-text citation.
  • Insert graphs or tables after your reference page.
  • Contact me if you have questions about APA formatting. This is an expectation of this course, and I want to help you perfect this important skill!
  • Submit your work by Sunday at midnight. As you know from the late policy, late work is not accepted after Week 7.

Consider how you communicate academic standards, as this is an important way to motivate students.

Outlining Effort in Discussions
Although many of Price’s suggestions are geared toward a residential classroom, I felt one suggestion would be easy to use with online discussions. Discussion participation can be difficult to quantify, so Price sets out very clear expectations and delineates how participation is evaluated. Price (2017b) shares a rubric where she outlines and defines three roles—observer, contributor, and scholar—and the points that will be awarded for each role (para. 39). This specifically outlined material demonstrates her expectations of A-level work and makes the expectation very clear to students. If students fail to engage in the behaviors that would label them a scholar, they understand why they did not receive full points. This evaluation technique is beneficial to students and instructors; students understand expectations and must be accountable if they want to achieve a high score. Instructors will likely enjoy thorough and thoughtful discussions while fielding fewer emails with grade inquiries or do-over requests.

Price, C. (2017a). How can I get students to take responsibility for their own learning? [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/ascotterickson/Downloads/price-christy-take-responsibility-20mm-note-taking-guide%20(1).pdf

Price, C. (2017b). How do I get students to take responsibility for their own learning? [Webinar]. In Magna 20-Minute Mentors. Retrieved from http://www.magnapubs.com/mentor-commons/?video=13857