Monday, 8 June 2015

Motivating Students in a Web-Enhanced Class

Daniel R. Bailey
Instructors should understand how to motivate students in a web-enhanced class. Research shows that the most successful learners use a wider variety of learning strategies and use them more often than less successful ones (Oxford, 1990). Knowing this, we should try to maximize learning opportunities for our students by having them use in-class learning strategies during class time and technology enhanced ones at home. Integrating learning managements systems (LMS) like Moodle and are terrific for getting students motivated to use a wide array of learning strategies both inside and outside the classroom.  

One thing an LMS allows is comparing learning accomplishments and grades between classmates. This is possible through online writing assignments (i.e. forums, wikis, and blogs) viewable among class members or private groups. Learning management systems like Moodle allow instructors to privately show student scores and rankings for individual assignments. 

Students might feel stressed because others can see their grade, but stress at much more manageable levels since the grade is for a single assignment opposed, for example, to an unwarrantedly heavy weighted item (i.e. end of semester presentation worth 10% or more of their final grade). I suggest grade comparison composing of multiple assignments that carry minimal weight on the final grade could be beneficial for motivating students who fear unwarrantedly (and possibly unethically) heavy weighted grade items. I feel this is a form of affective strategy training. Training which is accomplished through administering multiple assignments, with manageable increments of weight deviation, opposed to debatably unethically heavy weighted tasks. This allows students opportunities to face their fear of using English in public or online environments without the burden of bombing their course if, by chance, they fail such heavily weighted assignments (e.g. 10% plus tasks like end-of-course presentations).

Moving Forward

I have had success with grade comparison when administering assignments through forums, wikis, and blogs. These platforms allow students to compare their work in groups or with the entire class. The instructor sets up the online assignment in an LMS, the students do the writing, and the instructor rates it. In addition to these steps, the LMS also allows me to correct crucial grammar mistake so students can give clear presentations in class. Presenting this material in class is another opportunity for students to compare their work with one another which hopefully motivates them to excel.

Instructors can use platforms like forums to quickly review and edit writing assignments. Forums can be graded quicker than individual essays because a group of students are working on the same forum thread. This means the instructor doesn’t need to scroll between different pages for each student, but review and edit a group of students at the same time. I find this to be great for grading, providing corrective feedback, and correcting grammar mistakes. In addition, forum assignments familiarize the student with using forums for purely social online discussions in a second language. My personal hope is eventually students reply back and forth with one another in English without grade incentive to do so, perhaps on a social network site like Face book or Twitter.

In addition to forums, wikis can be used to deliver writing assignments. Wikis allow the instructor to correct the students’ writing through the first draft up until the due date. The instructor can directly correct grammar mistakes and provide comments. The original writing contributions from the student are stored in the wiki database so writing quality and grammatical errors can accurately be assessed and tracked after corrections have been made. Students are able able to review their mistakes by comparing the wiki page history.

Like forums, wikis can also be used as platforms for writing assignments. Traditionally wikis have a group of people working on one project, but this is not the only way to use them. Instructors may also have a group of students independently work on their own writing within the same wiki page. As with forums, this promotes motivation through comparison and competition. Grading is made faster because the instructor doesn’t have to navigate between different pages to see each assignment.

Blogs are a third option instructors can use for giving writing assignments which can be compared between students. Blogs are assigned to each student and span the entire semester. Blogs are structured and edited by the student. The instructor can give corrective feedback, and classmates can leave comments. Unlike forums and wikis, blogs are not group activities. Students completing their writing tasks through blogs can have access to all class blogs which hopefully promotes motivation through comparison.

Forums, wikis, and blogs differ in presentation. Blogs are web-pages that the student contributes to during the entire course. This means that each writing task will be stored in his/her blog in chronological order throughout the course. Forums and wikis on the other hand are group activities assigned to specific writing tasks. Therefore, writing assignments are delivered through a series of forums, a series of wikis, or just one blog. Each of these platforms can be edited by the teacher, commented on by others, and easily copied into learning portfolios which is why I find them all ideal learning tools.

From personal experience I find students are overwhelmed if I use multiple platforms to deliver writing assignments during the same semester. Instead, I recommend using one platform for the majority of writing assignments; preferably whichever one suits your teaching style.

Each of the three platforms described above can contribute to learning portfolios. Barret (2007) defines learning portfolios as the cumulative collection of work learners have done from the start of the semester to the end. They can transform and enhance curriculum. They also have a potential to display to learners and educators the interactions between their learning and assessment. Students are given a continual repository for their academic achievements which they can store and take with them into the workforce. Portfolios are something tangible students can be proud of, not just a letter grade or number.

 Teachers help students become self-regulated learners through developing and managing portfolios. Students reflect on past writing achievements and witness how their language proficiency has grown. The assessment of portfolios is a continuous act which does not evaluate students with a test but rather a constructivist approach to project completion (Johnson, 1996). Students set goals for their learning and then begin to monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behavior as guided by their objectives. Highly self-regulated learners approach the learning tasks in a mindful and confident manner and develop strategies to accomplish objectives (Alexioua & Fotini, 2010).

In addition to motivation through writing assignments, I use my LMS to award students digital badges for meeting assignment criteria or displaying role model behavior. Teachers can use digital badges for anything as trivial as electronic stickers to something as complex as a course certificate of completion. Digital badges can also add an element of entertainment to the classroom. Entertainment in education is often about smiling and having a good time with students as well as providing opportunities for them to compete together in activities. Teachers can award badges for completing class activities or showing exceptional communication skills. Giving students a symbol of their achievement, however big or small, provides a source of pride and motivation.

Flipping classes is a concept growing in popularity and made possible with learning managements systems. A flipped class might refer to a teacher who provides take-home video lectures and spends class time doing other activities like homework-style assignments or student presentations. Through LMS delivered writing assignments, students get started on learning objectives in the classroom and complete their assignment at home. For example, students begin a first draft in class and finish it at home through a forum, wiki, blog or essay. Online instructor feedback allows instructors to spend class time doing activities like student presentations since writing assignments can be guided to fruition through the LMS. This is only one example of how an LMS can flip a language learning classroom.

Language acquisition is a long term goal which doesn’t have to be accomplished in class alone. The time teachers spend with their students in oversized classrooms falls pitifully short of meeting the requirements of mastering English. As teachers, we should provide more opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom, and we must get them motivated to do so. If done correctly, student-centered curriculum design using an LMS motivates and provides extra opportunity to study. Sure, both students and teachers will feel stressed at first when learning how to navigate LMS assisted assignments, but hardly an unreasonable amount and arguably much needed.



Alexiou, A., and Fotini, P. (2010). Enhancing self-regulated learning skills through the implementation of an e-portfolio tool. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(2), 3048-3054.

Anderson, T. and Miyazoe, T. (2010). Learning outcomes and students’ perceptions of online writing: Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog and wiki in an EFL blended learning setting. System, 38(3), 185-199.

Barrett, H.C. (2007). Researching Electronic Portfolios and Learner Engagement: The REFLECT Initiative. Journal of Adolecent & Adult Literacy, 50(6), 436-449

Johnson, K. (1996). The Role of Theory in L2 Teacher Education. Tesol Quarterly, 30(4), 765-771.

Oxford, R. (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should. New York. Boston; Heinle and Heinle.

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