Get Students Motivated

Photo Credit: Google Maps, CBC News

In the right way, for the right reasons

Adam Morrison, Associate Opinion Editor

Perhaps this comes from the fact that my schedule for the month of March is incredibly intense which has, in turn, left me jaded about not being able to fully participate in my extracurriculars of choice. However, both U of T and the students here need to recognize the fact that not developing oneself in fields other than academia seriously stunts their capacity to live and fulfill a meaningful adult life.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy being at school and going to class. Frankly, I could not conceive of what I’d be doing if I wasn’t in school, and I’m thankful that I’m in university. But life is not about who can work the longest hours and do the best. That being said, a large component of job success does involve performance (and here, I’m applying what I’ve learned in my operational behaviour course) but the leading determinant of work-life satisfaction and overall performance is personality and hobbies. In the case of U of T, this overreliance on academic achievement endorsed by the university is not only pushing students to become dissatisfied and disheartened by their lack of free time, but it diminishes a spirit of interest in the pursuit of knowledge and developing a long-term academic mindset.

By furthering the idea that grades and the eventual diploma are the sole outcomes of the educational process, the university greatly diminishes the importance of the learned material. This is a problem as it greatly reduces intrinsic motivation. This form of motivation is the push of being driven by enjoyment and fulfillment of the task itself. Ever ask yourself these days, “Why did I choose to go into x major?” or, “Why do I no longer enjoy the classes I take?” These feelings are all directly associated with a crowding out of intrinsic motivation by grades. Originally, you took the course because it interested you. Now, you are taking the course and being forced into the mindset of success or failure. Ultimately, centring grades and the degree as the dominant driving factor behind going to university takes away from the educational process, course content, or any other facet of education. This crowding out also deeply affects one’s mindset toward classes and university as a whole. It seemingly saps the enjoyment from the courses and the university experience. Causal links in behavioural psychology point out that a diminishing of intrinsic motivation directly impacts mental health outcomes in the workplace. 

So, is there anything that can be done to improve morale among students? I’d say so, despite how unrealistic these reforms are in actuality. First, promote in-class discussion: force students to actually talk to one another, defend and analyze an idea, and develop relationships with students in their classes. Doing this does two critical things. For one, it effectively mandates that students think more deeply about teachings in class. And two, it forces participants to phrase their ideas in a fashion that can be articulated and requires that they become more comfortable with defending their rationale in front of others in a pseudo-public setting. 

Additionally, the university could push post-selection back one year and require the enrolment in more diverse courses to help foster a cross-disciplinary exploration of ideas. By doing this, it further removes the singularity of achievement in a lone field of study, by relaxing grading in the first two years and developing a spirit of curiosity as well as baseline skills needed for success in university. This method forces the university to re-establish why students enrol by realigning priorities not with rigour and bell curves, but with intellectual development of the students. As well, it allows students the chance to explore different pursuits and alternatives to their own goals before they are locked in for the remaining two years of their program, with too few credits to graduate on time. This solution achieves two key things: it helps develop a curiosity for alternate studies, and it allows students to hone in on what they are genuinely interested in academically. 

Lastly, force students to go out. Yes, I understand how challenging this would be at an institution comprised of upwards of 40,000 undergrads. However, there is a more pragmatic solution to this: create degree requirements based on athletics, extracurriculars, and community involvement. I am by no means arguing that performance in these fields should be quantified and used as a metric of achievement, but simply that a set number of these activities must be fulfilled by the end of a student’s time at university. 

These solutions work because they draw focus away from grades as the sole motivation for attending university. They force students, professors, and administrators to reassess their priorities and shift them away from grading and more toward the development of a scholar and well-rounded individual, who is also good at whatever their program is. In addition, these solutions may create more relaxed and structured environments to discuss ideas, encourage interactions with students and their professors, and push for the exploration of differing viewpoints and perspectives. Treating the symptoms of dissatisfaction and broader mental-health crisis on campus is important and significant, but the university must first treat the cause of the existential dread brought on by programs myopically focused on As.