Category Archives: Motivational Strategies

Teaching in the Cognitive Domain

old-chimpanzee-11298298953dvvI teach introductory biology courses. I live in the cognitive domain. Some professors may view teaching 1st and 2nd year courses as boring in their simplicity, but to me, the challenge and responsibility is exciting. I have the challenge of providing a smorgasbord of an entire scientific discipline. I must present the discipline in the most palatable way possibly while laying a foundation for future studies.It is my responsibility to entice students to learn so that they can build a strong foundation. If I screw it up, I may turn students away or worse, set them up for failure down the road. So what are some strategies for teaching in the cognitive domain?

I was reviewing my notes for a course I took on curriculum development and came across a handy table that provides strategies for teaching in the cognitive domain. This seems very fortuitous because as the semester winds down, I’m reviewing what worked and what didn’t in the past year. So as I review the table, these are some of the strategies I want to incorporate into my course revisions.

At the introductory level, ensuring pre-requisite knowledge is in place is the top priority. One suggestion is to “ask students questions about relevant concepts, facts and processes”. I have provided the students with learning activities which ask these questions, but I think what is missing is more self-evaluation both in class and outside class. High on my list of things to do is to look into Socrative for in class assessment. Outside of class, I would like to redo my instructional videos as a tutorial instead of a lecture. I could also use Moodle to provide more self-assessment opportunities.

My next priority is creating enthusiasm. In order to learn, students must want to learn. Motivation ultimately comes from the student. This idea is expressed by the proverb, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink”. Or in the case of the cognitive domain, “you can lead the student to the material, but you can’t make them think”. So very true, but what if the instructor makes thinking about the material so appealing and so much fun and so engaging, the student can’t help themselves but think? So that is my motto. I want to add some case studies to arouse the learner’s curiosity. I’m also playing with the idea of alternative assessment techniques like learning journals that the students work on throughout the semester in addition to or instead of multiple choice midterms. One idea is to have students journal about their emotions regarding course material. A second journal approach is to have students find newspaper articles related to course material.


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Filed under Learning Environments, Motivational Strategies, Uncategorized

Setting Achievable Goals with Rubrics

Rubrics are generally considered a good thing since they simplify grading for instructors and provide feedback for students. There are a lot of resources on rubrics and how to construct them. This is one example from Harvard University and this is a link to an index page for more resources on rubrics. From the index page, we can even find a rubric for rubrics!

I like rubrics as a motivational strategy since it conveys expectations. In her book “Student Engagement Techniques”, Barkley says, “Students must have confidence that, with appropriate effort, they can succeed. If there is no hope, there is no motivation” (p. 11).

This blog is a class assignment and it is graded using a rubric.  This is the expectation for the highest level of achievement for this blog:

Level ofMastery Level 4 A superior, consistent performance; beyond expectations
Blog Project60 % The Blog reflects a professional product that could be used as an educational resource. Content, links, resources and media are substantive and reflect breadth and depth. A wide range of media is evident throughout the Blog.
Organization AndLayout

35 %

Organization and layout requirements are met. The document has a professional look and feel
Writing skills5% Writing is free of grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.


The only grade here is 10/10. Perfect. Who is perfect? But it is worse than that, because the level of mastery here says “beyond expectations”. If the expectation is perfection, how can we exceed that? Furthermore, we are only expected to spend 8 – 10 hours week working on this course, which includes other activities besides this blog. I can spend 8-10 hours on one blog post alone. How am I to achieve substantive content, links, resources and media within that time frame? For organization and layout, the document should have “a professional look and feel”. Well, thank goodness WordPress makes a professional layout easy, but I’m still not a professional writer. Besides, what does “professional” look and feel like anyway? The last criteria is that “writing is free of grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.” Yeah, right. As if that is going to happen without a copy editor and even with a copy editor, mistakes still happen.

So if we go back to our rubric about rubrics, the blog assignment rubric gets a poor since “expresses goals that are unclear, unattainable, or unrealistic“, “offers judgments that are merely opinions“, and “describes characteristics that are not age appropriate “. So how would I fix this, if I was the instructor? The description of criteria for each part of the assignment needs to be more objectively defined. For example, how many posts should be included? What constitutes depth and breadth (for me depth would be using the higher levels of Bloom taxonomy and breadth would involve using 3 or more sources in the post)? What format should the posts be in (text, video, audio, cartoons)? How many of each? Should these formats be self-generated or just include sharing the work of others? How long should the posts be?

I think the description of perfection is useful to convey the instructor’s vision of the assignment in terms of goals but not as an evaluation category. I see value in striving for perfection and knowing what that looks like helps, but as evaluation category perfection is unattainable. There is no hope, so why even try? Indeed, I had a mini-meltdown when I read this rubric at the beginning of the course, until I told myself I didn’t need to be perfect. Level 3 is good enough.



Level 3 A solid consistent performance; demonstrated competency of knowledge and skills

60 %

The Blog demonstrates a comprehensive perspective of the topics, however, more attention to detail could have been demonstrated in regards to content, links and resources.


35 %

Organizational requirements met (i.e., thinking and content). Issues exist re structure and layout of material.
Writing skills5% Writing contains minor grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.


The blog to me is a continuing project which helps me evolve as an instructor. The blog gives me a place to collect ideas and techniques, explore my thoughts, take risks, modify my approach and document this journey. A daily post forces me to keep thinking about my teaching and allows me to convey my dedication to my craft. The blog will never be done.

More importantly, I decided this blog is for me, not some grade. I’m also not out to seek fame. If people want to come along for the journey, they are most welcome and I appreciate all comments and shares. I find the thought of self-promotion repulsive in its arrogance. If a fellow instructor asks me a question, I will feel compelled to share what I have learned but I just don’t think that I’m all that interesting or brilliant to promote this blog without prior solicitation.

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Post-Test Analysis

Another fun assignment in PIDP 3250 is to create a video describing an instructional strategy. I chose “post-test analysis”. This strategy encourages students to analysis their performance on an exam beyond looking at the grade and seeing what questions they got wrong. The technique was described by Michelle Achasoso in a paper called “Post-Test Analysis: A Tool for Developing Students’ Metacognitive Awareness and Self-regulation“. Elizabeth Barkley then included this technique in her book “Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty“.  The Teaching Professor Newsletter reviewed Barkley’s book and included a summary of post-test analysis in an article entitled “Using Post-Test Analysis to Help Students See Correlation Between Effort and Performance“.

In a nutshell, post-test analysis is a two-step process. In the first stage, students predict their exam score, rank their effort in studying for the exam, identify which learning strategies they used to prepare for the exam and which questions they found easy and hard on the exam. These questions are completed after the exam but before the exam in submitted for grading. After the instructor grades the exams, students complete stage 2 to analyze their performance on the exam. There is a lot of variation if which questions are asked for stage 2. There are some examples of stage 2 questions here, here, here and here. There are also examples in the links above. Based on the results of the post-test analysis, students alter their study habits to hopefully do better on the next test.

This technique appealed to me because I already devote one class to reviewing exams, but I didn’t know how to guide students to make the most of this time. I also do practice tests so that students know what to expect for the real test. I think post-test analysis will be excellent for use with practice tests because students can make use of what they have learned to improve their grade on the real test.

So, here is my video. I personally am not a big fan of videos as I can read faster than I listen, but maybe it’ll appeal to an auditory learner out there, some where.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Filed under Learning How to Learn, Motivational Strategies

To Blog or Not to Blog

Cartoon from Cox & Forkum

photo courtesy of Cox & Forkum

This blog started as a course requirement for PIDP 3250 Instructional Strategies which is part of the Provincial Instructor Diploma Program offered by Vancouver Community College, so I thought the first post should be dedicated to the use of blogs as an instructional strategy.

To blog or not to blog?

A blog allows a student to reflect on the course material by writing a blog post. A blog post can be anything from the student’s feelings about a topic to a more scholarly essay. The blog allows a student to relate to the course material in a way that makes sense to them, and by placing the course material within a framework of their previous experiences be more motivated to learn and retain the new knowledge presented in the course.  The blog is an active learning activity where the student takes charge of the course material and puts his/her spin on it. The instructor can provide guidelines for what to include in the blog, but shouldn’t micromanage the task. Let the student use the blog to explore. I found this “Guide to Blogging” by Educause, a really helpful resource that explains what blogs are and provides some advice on how to use blogging within a course.

I found this assignment very intimidating at first. Cox & Forkum’s cartoon really speaks to me because I’m such a perfectionist. I want each blog post to be a literary work of art representing deep thoughts and outstanding insight as well as being free of all spelling and grammar mistakes. As if that is going to happen. I would be constantly asking myself “to blog or not to blog” and answering with “not to blog, because it’s not perfect”. I’d have whole bunch of drafts and no posts. Lucky for me, my instructor isn’t expecting perfection either. The blog can evolve and grow as much as I want. So, I have given myself permission to make mistakes as long as I write something, anything. I have a list of topics I must cover, but how I cover them is up to me. These topics are going to be my initial categories and I’ll expand the categories as I go. My goal is one post a day.

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Filed under Active Learning, Motivational Strategies