Fostering student motivation is a difficult but necessary aspect of teaching that instructors should consider. You have probably taught classes where students were engaged and motivated, however, you may have also taught classes where students were disinterested or unmotivated to engage. Being transparent with students and explaining why you are teaching a particular concept or asking them to complete a given assignment is one way to increase students’ motivation and engagement with the material. Sharing the why helps students understand the relevance of what they are learning and promotes students' desire to learn.
A simple way to be transparent with students is by articulating the purpose of each assignment. Although you know why the assignment is important and what it is meant to accomplish, students may not see the value or understand how it connects to the real world or their larger goals. Part of helping students be successful is helping them build an identity as a student with a career path and academic goals. Your students will appreciate an understanding of how the assignment will increase their skills and what they will learn from the process.
Questions to think about when developing the purpose of an assignment:
- What are the learning objectives?
- How will this assignment benefit students’ learning?
- What knowledge and skills will students get out of the assignment?
- How will the knowledge and skills acquired be important in students’ lives beyond the assignment, the course, the college?
- Example: If you are asking students to give a presentation to the class, explain what they will gain by practicing that skill. Connect what students are learning in class to what they may learn in future classes or what they may be asked to do in future jobs.
Writing a purpose statement explaining the why for each assignment and including it in the assignment instructions is a great way to start. However, you could also go beyond assignments by sharing why you chose to show certain content during a lecture or why you selected a particular piece of literature for the course reading materials. You are also not limited to providing the why in written form. Create a short introduction video to an assignment explaining the purpose or perhaps have student groups work together to brainstorm the why before starting a new assignment, then have a class discussion about it before students begin their work.
If you would like assistance with assignment design or to learn more about transparent teaching methods, please reach out to the LSA Learning and Teaching Consultants by emailing LSATechnologyServices@umich.edu or by requesting a consultation.
Barrett, C. (2017) “Why Do I Need to Know This?” Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/why-do-i-need-to-know-this/
Becker, K. (2022) Why the “Why” Matters to Adult Learners. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/course-design-ideas/why-the-why-matters-to-adult-learners/
Winkelmes, M. (2013) Transparent Assignment Template. TILT Higher Ed: Transparency in Learning and Teaching. https://tilthighered.com/assets/pdffiles/faculty.pdf
Yarborough, C. B., & Fedesco, H. N. (2020). Motivating students. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu//cft/guides-sub-pages/motivating-students/