Last week I posed the question “What information, tools, tasks, and activities could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?” So, let’s start with the first part of that question – what information could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?
There are several pieces of information, as well as ways to disseminate that information, that can promote graduate student success.
The first piece of information that comes to mind is the grad handbook. Our handbook now has several “tips” sections for students. We have 1) tips for success (i.e. meet with your advisor often; get to know your fellow grad students), 2) application tips (i.e. be yourself; proofread), and 3) tips for registering for courses (i.e. talk with your advisor; make it count). We also have advising best practices (from the OSU graduate school), including both graduate student responsibilities and graduate advisor responsibilities. Finally, the handbook includes guidelines for making reasonable progress through the program, including information about what reasonable progress may look like each year (i.e. first-year students will want to be involved in research and have a minimum 3.0 GPA; fourth-year students will want to have a first-authored conference presentation and complete their required coursework).
By having a detailed handbook with advice and tips, students can 1) plan a course of study that is going to foster success, and 2) use reasonable progress standards to set annual and long-term goals for themselves.
I have been working on revising our grad handbook, and leading some revisions to our graduate curriculum this year in my role as grad studies chair. One process I looked at was the end of the year report. We have grad students submit annual evaluations. These annual evaluations were used to give students a rating of “satisfactory”, “excellent”, or “unsatisfactory”. Starting next year, to be in line with the OSU grad school, we are changing the ratings slightly so that they are “reasonable progress”, “excellent”, and “warning”. As part of this change, I wrote up some guidelines for what reasonable and excellent progress might look like for graduate students. My thinking was that students might want to see what would be needed to achieve these categories. My colleagues reacted negatively, in particular, to the “excellent” progress guidelines. Thus, I began to reflect on this question – what motivates graduate students?
I started my search for the answer with a search of the literature. I found almost nothing on motivation or self-regulated learning among graduate students. Indeed, it seemed that there was virtually no literature on the topic. Lucky for me, I have two new fabulous colleagues in my college that are experts in self-regulated learning – Chris Wolters and Shirley Yu. I had coffee with both of them, and they agreed with my assessment – there was virtually no research on motivation and graduate students.
Thus, I was on my own. I discussed with both Chris and Shirley about strategies that work with regard to grad students and motivation. The first thing I learned was that intrinsic motivation is much better for achievement than extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation exists within the self, and stems from a personal interest in the task itself. Extrinsic motivation is externally motivated, and usually stems from an external entity setting the goal. That is, the motivation to do the task is that the outcome is desired, not that the task is inherently interesting to the individual. Intrinsic motivation is related to greater achievement.
As I thought more about motivation, that lead me to the concept of self-regulated learning. There has been much written on self-regulated learning as it applies to undergraduate education. What is self-regulated learning? According to Zimmerman (1990), “self-regulated learners plan, set goals, organize, self-monitor, and self-evaluate at various points during the process of acquisition” (p. 4-5). Sounds like the perfect graduate student, right?
Designing syllabi for graduate courses is a lot of work, particularly when they are seminars, and particularly when you are in an interdisciplinary program. In an interdisciplinary program, you might want to teach a seminar on a topic, say intimate relationships, but may only know the research in the discipline (e.g. clinical psychology) you were trained in. This is one instance where crowd-sourcing can really help.
Here is my story. I teach a graduate course in family theory and research. There are several constellations of family relationships (i.e. couple relationships, sibling relationships, parent-child relationships, in-law, grandparent-grandchild, etc.), as well as several theories related to the study of families. Thus, putting together the syllabus for this course the first time was overwhelming.
I began by looking at a syllabus for a family theory/research course I enjoyed that I took in graduate school in HDFS at Penn State taught by Catherine Cohan, HDFS 525 for you Penn State HDFSers. Next, I googled “sociology of the family”, “economics of the family”, “family communication”, “family psychology”, and “family theory”, and variations on these, with the word syllabus to try to find syllabi that might be relevant. In writing this post, I looked back at my folder of syllabi, and I have several sociology, HDFS, economics, and psychology syllabi related to the family that I used to get ideas of what important readings I might want to include.
Next, I put together an initial draft. I circulated the initial draft among 12 faculty outside of my home institution and my colleagues at Ohio State. I sent the following message: