All posts by Bill Wyngaard

Student Motivation-Is It Possible?

For as tedious as it is to force reflection for my Individual Development Plan, I do find myself reflecting beyond the IDP on ways to offer improved experiences for students in the classroom. A few months ago, I signed up to join other faculty at one of Dr. Terry’s Student Success Listening Sessions. That day is fast approaching. Being the good boy scout that I am (actually I’m a country boy and participated in 4-H), I wanted to prepare my talking points to the four questions posed for discussion. One of the questions is: “what is the best way to achieve student success?”. (If I could, I would insert a ten-minute pause here as my mind pondered that question yet again.) I am sure if one asked 100 people that question, one would get 100 different answers. But no matter what answer each person gives, I hope that all faculty can agree that we want an actively engaged student body in the classroom. In fact, my answer would be student engagement is the best way to achieve student success. As a nascent educator, I thought I was engaging the students by introducing active learning activities in the classroom. As a slightly more experienced educator, I now know that active learning is only half the battle. My formal educational background includes a bachelors in business, a masters in business, and a PhD in business. Although this makes me a content-rich instructor, it does not make an expert educator. Therefore, I search for resources that provide insight into teaching and learning. One of my favorites is Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by E. Barkley. Barkley argues that students are only engaged when motivation and active learning overlap.

I can do learning activities all day long, but motivating students is the difficult part. Motivation is internal. Every person has their own incentives for being motivated to learn. How can one determine what motivates 125 students every semester? No worries.  There are some highly-researched theories that might help educators motivate students. This is one area where my business education background might be helpful. Any student of basic management theory has studied employee motivation. A modern theory of employee motivation is Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. Expectancy Theory suggests that employees are motivated to perform when they value the reward to be received for performing well and there is a reasonable expectation that the reward can be achieved.  This same theory has been applied to students in an educational setting (Becker, n.d.). Becker posits that in an educational setting, expectancy is the degree to which students expect to be able to learn successfully if they apply themselves, thus expecting to get whatever rewards that successful performance will bring. Value is the degree to which students value those rewards as well as the opportunity to engage in the processes involved in carrying out the learning itself. Although motivation is internal and specific to each student, faculty do have direct control over emphasizing and providing the expectancy and value responsible for student motivation.

At the risk of this blog post sounding like a dissertation chapter, I will stop discussing theory and provide practical examples of how faculty can provide rewards that students value. The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University provides the following examples. As I read these, I tally how many I am already using and ponder how to incorporate the others. I encourage all to do the same.

Deliver your presentations with energy and enthusiasm.  As a display of your motivation, your passion motivates your students. Make the course personal, showing why you are interested in the material. (relatedness)

Get to know your students. You will be able to better tailor your instruction to the students’ backgrounds, and your personal interest in them will inspire their personal loyalty to you. (relatedness)

Use examples freely. Many students want to be shown why a concept is useful before they want to study it further. Inform students about how your course prepares students for future opportunities. (relatedness)

Set realistic performance goals. Design assignments that are appropriately challenging in view of the experience and aptitude of the class. (mastery)

Be free with praise and constructive in criticism. Negative comments should pertain to particular performances, not the performer. Offer nonjudgmental feedback on students’ work, stress opportunities to improve, and look for ways to stimulate advancement. (mastery)

Give students as much control over their own education as possible. Let students choose paper and project topics that interest them. Assess them in a variety of ways (tests, papers, projects, presentations, etc.) to give students more control over how they show their understanding to you. (autonomy)

I found it interesting that as I read through these suggestions that each of them was practical advice on how to achieve the three components of self-determination theory—relatedness, mastery, and autonomy.  (I labeled each.) Self-determination theory is the basis of the Reimagine Teaching and Learning project that GCC is about to commence. I suspect those of us who may participate in that program will learn, discover, and implement more strategies to achieve student engagement through motivation and active learning.

Becker, B. (n.d.) A new meta-model of student engagement: The roles of student motivation and active learning. Retrieved from



I could tell “Sally” was struggling. Fifteen minutes into the exam, she asked if we could make it an open book test. I said “no”. She hunkered down and got back to work. Another 15 minutes passed and she asked if we could make it a group exam. That window had passed. I said “no”. She got back to work. Then she asked specific questions about the exam problems. I gave a hint that I had hoped would point her in the right direction, but to no avail. The struggle continued. The 75-minute exam period was a long one, not only for her, but also for me as I watched everyone eventually file out of the room except for Sally. Alone in the room with time about to expire, she raised her hand and gestured me to the back of the room where she was working. I thought “finally, she is going to turn in her exam and leave.” As I approached her, I said, “Are you finished?” as I reached for the exam. She said “no” and clenched the exam to her chest. “What can I help you with?” I replied. She didn’t reply. She stared at me with a glare I could not interpret. I now know the glare was part curiosity, part mercy, and part insinuation. Slowly, painstakingly slow it seemed to me, she pulled the exam away from her chest, and there it was staring me in the face.

At this point in the story when I told my dean and my work wife about the incident, they both assumed she had exposed her bosom to me as an indication of exchanging sexual favors for a passing grade on the exam. They were wrong—but close. What was staring me in the face was a $100 bill attached to the exam. The intention was the same. At the time, I guess the going rate for an “A” on the exam was a hundred bucks.

I immediately explained to Sally that the offer was unacceptable behavior. She got the point and submitted the exam (after removing the Benjamin) and left. I reported the incident to my dean. I documented the incident and reported it to the dean of students.

I guess I can partially blame myself. As part of my self-deprecating humor in the classroom, I would always refer to myself as poor because I only earned a mere schoolteacher’s salary. I guess Sally missed the sarcasm and assumed her offer would be mutually beneficial. I have not used that joke since this incident.

I often wonder what would have happened had I accepted the bribe. Would another c-note appear every exam? Would Sally try this tactic in all her classes? Would I have sent the message that this was an acceptable method for conducting future business? I still wonder what kind of upbringing or environment led Sally to believe bribery was acceptable. I wonder even more why community college students are carrying around $100 bills!

In the end Sally turned out to be a pretty good student. When she applied herself, she did well. For the remainder of the semester, I pretended nothing happened that day which allowed us to carry on a relationship befitting a student and her instructor. On the inside I was distraught. To this day, that was the most uncomfortable I have ever felt in the classroom. I dreaded going to that class in fear of a repeat incident.  But time heals all wounds. I feel like I should have some profound learning experience from this incident, but I do not. Maybe I learned that one should expect the unexpected in the classroom. Maybe I learned that you cannot prepare for the unexpected. Maybe I simply learned that integrity is always the best response.  


Simple Avatars for Visual Learners

What do Casper the Friendly Ghost, Ben Affleck, and Miranda Priestly (the fashion guru portrayed brilliantly by Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada) all have in common? Not much until you step into my financial accounting class during a discussion on internal controls. I’ll admit financial accounting can be a bit dry. It is a highly technical course and most students take it because it is required for their degree. I always look for ways to spark interest in the topic. For our discussion on internal controls, I always diagram a scenario on the whiteboard which involves a boss, an employee, and an accountant. Then I ask for volunteers to assume each role. The student who selects the boss role is assigned the Miranda Priestly avatar. The student who selects the accountant role is assigned the Ben Affleck avatar. For those you who don’t know, Ben Affleck played the badass accountant in the movie of the same name. The student who selects the employee role is assigned the Casper the Ghost avatar. Then I explain the roles of each in a scenario in which the employee is hired by the boss and paid by the accountant. Then I pause and ask each student to think like a crook. Be deceitful. Do what they can to circumvent the controls and steal from the company. Critical-thinking skills? I say yes. The goal for the students is to determine a way to steal from the company so that we can identify the controls that are missing that would prevent this kind of theft. In the end, the problem with the scenario is that the employee was hired by the boss, had time approved by the boss, and had a paycheck delivered by the boss. There was no evidence that the employee really existed. Employees who are on the payroll but not working for the company are called… Anybody want to guess?  You got it! … ghost employees.     

When I ask the students the term for non-working employees who are on the payroll, they usually make the connection between the Casper avatar and the ghost employee terminology. “I see what you did there” is a typical response. The use of pop culture avatars is a simple addition to a class that captures the students’ attention and appeals to visual learners. Visual learners prefer pictures and other forms of visual presentations (charts, graphs, diagrams) versus words.  Visual stories help them understand material that is not easy to comprehend. By adding a few avatars and a diagrammed scenario I was able to add interest to a topic that could be dry and appeal to those learners who prefer visual learning.                

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Casper the Friendly Ghost image retrieved from                                                          


Think Like Your Learners. Say what?

I am fairly certain I am the only person who does this, but sometimes I will watch a YouTube video with a specific purpose in mind, and an hour later I am still watching videos that are not related whatsoever to my original video. It’s true. Recently I sat down with the purpose of learning how to operate a verticutter and an hour later I was watching music videos of 1970s diva Helen Reddy! There are days when I wish I could have that wasted hour back.

Not always do these video sessions result in wasted time. Last week my purpose was to watch a tutorial of the online lesson-builder SoftchalkTM. As I was viewing, out of the corner of my eye, I could see a suggested video called 10 Lessons I Learned My First Year in eLearning by Tim Slade. I could not resist. I fell for the bait. The next time I had a spare 44 minutes I watched the video. I was not disappointed. The audience for the video was focused more towards instructional technologists, but the content was still valuable. All ten lessons were interesting and I would like to explore some of them more deeply, but the one that caught my interest was lesson #5: Think Like Your Learners. I Have been a CPA and an accounting professor over 30 years. I know my discipline well. It was one of the reasons I was hired. However, Slade suggested to not focus so much on being a subject matter expert and design a course based on the needs of the learners and the motivations of the learners. The motivations of learners? The longer I let that sink in, the less I understand what those motivations are. As an experienced educator, I know with which topics students will struggle. I adjust my lessons and spend more time on the challenging topics. I believe this is the purpose of assessment, both formative and summative. But understanding students’ struggles with content is not the same as understanding their needs and motivations. I do not even know where to begin to understand student motivation.

Coincidentally, the same week I was viewing and reflecting on Slade’s lessons, an invitation to attend Reimagine Teaching and Learning appeared in my inbox. Reimagine Teaching and Learning is a workshop sponsored by the CTLE that allows faculty to step back, re-think, and imagine how their courses could operate to increase teaching satisfaction and student engagement. The workshop is based on Purdue University’s IMPACT transformation. IMPACT is a 13-week transformational program which guides faculty through the process of purposely creating a course designed to meet student needs. IMPACT is based on self-determination theory which suggests that a student-centered learning environment will be created when students feel connected to the class, when they have mastered the material, and when they take ownership of the learning process. Hmm. So, Slade is suggesting a course be designed based on student motivations and then this perfect opportunity falls in my lap to learn how to re-design courses to increase student motivation. I believe the Greek goddess of luck, Fortuna, was smiling upon me and sent me this opportunity. I look forward to attending and hope for guidance as we transform education to meet the needs of the learners.

Fortuna, goddess of luck and fate.


What are the Three Worst Mistakes to Make in the Classroom?

I attended a webinar with the same title as this post. The webinar was hosted by Maryellen Weimer, the long-time editor of The Teaching Professor. She garnered the information for the presentation based on years of editing best practices in higher education andragogy. The title of this webinar caught my attention. Of course, I had to know if I was making any of the three worst mistakes. To get straight to the point, here are the three worst mistakes. 1) Letting content dictate instructional decision-making. 2) Making decisions about who can and cannot learn. 3) Instructional experience is the best the best teacher.

For as interesting as all three are, mistake #1 is the one which challenges me and interests me the most. The presenter indicated that faculty are so focused on covering so much content, and covering it so thoroughly, that they are missing opportunities for instructional design that could increase strategies for more and better learning. The presenter referenced a study by Bacon and Stewart (2006) titled How Fast Do Students Forget What They Learned in Consumer Behavior?: A Longitudinal Study. The study tracked an upper level consumer behavior course and determined that every student in the class had forgotten all the information from the course within two years. What?! My first reaction is “Why are we wasting our time as educators?” If everything we teach is soon forgotten, what is the purpose of education? What is the purpose of our profession? The presenter did go on to stress that she is not suggesting abandoning the teaching of content based on this one study. But she did advocate not being too bogged down by content that we, as educators, miss opportunities for spontaneous learning opportunities. For instance, if a student asks a question about something related to the current topic but the question is off course a bit, does the instructor address the question or tell the student that the topic is for a future conversation. The content-driven instructor will avoid the question and focus on the content of the day. An instructor not so driven by content will use the opportunity to promote important lessons about learning such as critical-thinking and problem-solving. They will use the content versus cover the content.

When I heard the presenter mention that faculty should use content to promote critical-thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills, I could not help but think about two recollections from this academic year. First, at a district-wide conference designed for career and technical faculty, I had the pleasure of hearing Trevor Spokes, Workforce Programs Manager from the Arizona Department of Office of Economic Opportunity, speak. He said that the “ability to learn might be the single most critical professional skill you ever develop.” Second, Dr. Terry has been encouraging us all to read a book by Joseph Aoun called Robot-Proof. In both cases, the sources are asking us to develop skills in students that will prepare them for jobs that may not exist yet, rather than prepare them for professions that are disappearing. Aoun suggests providing skills to our students that robots cannot perform. Rather than fill students’ minds with facts, acclimate them with a creative mindset to invent and discover. To do this, students will need data literacy to manage data, technological literacy to know how the robots work, and human literacy to communicate and design. I do not disagree with either of these sources. The challenge is to determine how to develop the needed skills. I believe providing facts are building blocks from which to build the desired skills. My job is to present the building blocks and then use that content to develop the higher order skills. How do we that? I am not certain, but now I have a goal. I know my students memorize terminology. I know they regurgitate facts back to me on exams. I know, based on teaching consecutive courses, they do not retain the information. My goal is to do as Weimar suggested and turn the mistake of being content-driven into a positive and use instructional design to drive the course. My goal is to get students to take facts and critically analyze them so that those facts can become useful information to guide managerial decision-making.

” Aim not to cover the content, but to uncover part of it.” Author Unknown


Play “Meet Your Teacher”

I have never been lucky. I never win contests, sweepstakes, the lottery, the one-armed bandit in Vegas, or even a BINGO game. In fact, every time I enter a game of chance, I immediately begin belting out En Vogue’s 1992 classic “No, You’re Never Going to Get It”. However, I did “win” a door prize once. In a former life, the equivalent of our CTLE was giving away prizes for anyone brave enough to attend a presentation called “Make Life Easier Using Excel’s Concatenate to Combine Text Strings”. As you can imagine, faculty would rather attend an exciting department meeting than attend that smash hit. I was the only one who showed up. I won the door prize. Although I remember absolutely nothing about the concatenate function, I do still refer to my door prize frequently and keep it by my bedside just as some might keep their daily devotions, Vanity Fair, or a glass of warm milk with a shot of brandy. My prize that day was 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Professors (1990) compiled and edited by Robert Magnan.

If you think this is life changing book that fortifies our call to teach. You would be wrong. This is a brief 61-page glorified pamphlet that provides short, to-the-point tips that make a professors’ life easier and helps differentiate experienced faculty from novices. The tips are brief. The tips are practical. The tips should be common sense. The tips range from the simplicity of erasing white boards to the complexity of drawing up a strategic plan to improve teaching and learning to benefit every class and every student. It would be unthinkable to believe that I could incorporate all 147 tips into my teaching, but my goal is to evaluate each one and determine which are feasible and which will make the classroom a more rewarding experience for the students. The practical tip I am presenting now is one Magnan calls “Meet the Teacher”. Let me begin by stating that I do not like to talk about myself. In an online class, it is easy. I post my bio and, Boom!, I am done. In a face-to-face class, I tell the students how to pronounce my name and that is pretty much the extent of our bonding. And even that does not work because my name continues to be butchered all semester long. Magnan suggests that the semester should start with a teacher introduction and a Q&A session. Yah, I do that. I review the syllabus and ask for questions. As you can imagine, there are hardly ever any questions.

Magnan suggests a slightly different approach. He suggests that all handouts and the syllabus be distributed to the students with ample enough time to read. Then the students should form small groups and decide to collectively which questions to ask regarding the course. Give the students free rein in their questions. They can ask anything that will inform them about the class or the teacher—either professional or personal. This approach will likely result in more questions than traditionally asked. If the questions are about items that should be obvious from the syllabus like grading, expectations, assignments, or attendance, Magnan suggests revising the syllabus if the questions arrive from lack of information or ambiguity in the materials.

The questions about the less obvious are those that may be of greater importance.  Why did you choose to teach? What are your qualifications? What have you done outside of academia? What do you like or dislike about his course? Magnan encourages instructors to be human. Answer the questions. By answering the questions, the instructor gets to interact with the students in a personal way.

This tip/approach is not simply an opinion by the author. Back in the late 80s, Chickering and Gamson (1987) presented seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. These principles have been rigorously researched and have provided enough evidence to indicate that they work. The suggestion by Magnan to interact with students reinforces one of these principles—contact between faculty and students (Chickering & Gamson, 1987).

Magnan also suggests answering any questions posed by students openly and frankly, but not in excess. As an instructor who hesitates to share personally with students, I agree. I want to share enough to let students know I am human, but not so much that I cross a line. My modification to Magnan’s tip is to provide several questions that are fair game and then allow students to choose the questions they wanted answered. This modification will still allow faculty/student interaction without crossing a line that may invalidate the respect and authority needed to manage the classroom.