Random Thoughts on Instructional Design
Although there is ample evidence that setting challenging goals has a number of positive outcomes, do keep in mind that not all students come to your class with a desire to be challenged. As faculty, we must find ways to not only develop challenging learning environments for our students, but to create learning environments whereby students set goals that challenge themselves.
There are a few things you can do in your course to inspire students to set and to achieve challenging goals. A primary factor is to demonstrate to the students the importance of the subject matter covered in the course. Everyone is more willing to work longer and harder when there is value to the task to be completed. There are many ways to show the direct application of the material in the class:
Find a way to show students that the material learned can be used to directly help individuals or to solve pervasive issues in society.
A second way to inspire students to set challenging goals is to have them assist you on the first day of class in developing the course syllabus. One of our Women’s and Gender Studies faculty posted a syllabus with gender bias language to a course wiki and had student teams work on redesigning the syllabus and revising the narrative. This activity did a number of things for the class: 1) started them working in groups from the first class session; 2) assisted all class members in developing a comprehensive understanding of class goals and objectives; 3) provided a low risk project using the wiki tool that would also be used for a higher risk final project. During the revision process the students also negotiated the number of examinations, the days of examinations, scope of the team project, and other aspects of the course. The course adjustments allowed the instructor to maintain standards, while creating a syllabus and course that students were more invested in because they helped to create it and assisted in setting course goals and assessment measures. Student “ownership” of the goals will result in more consistent effort and better performance.
Make students accountable for their work and display it for external audiences. For example, if students know that their final projects will be published on the web, they will challenge themselves to complete more extensive projects (Chickering & Ehrman, 1996). In order to realize success, students need to have prompt and informative feedback as they complete their projects. It is also important that students develop an understanding or awareness of their own level of performance. Metacognition, or knowing what one knows, is an important skill for students to develop in meeting challenging goals. Evidence suggests that when students are taught to develop improved metacognitive skills, they are more likely to meet goals and achievement improves (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).
A final method to inspire students to set challenging goals is to have them contract for grades. Grade contracts have been reported to reduce the anxiety level of the student by having them focus on tasks, instead of worrying about specific grades on specific assignments. Research has demonstrated that grade contracting results in enhanced student learning and will often result in students setting challenging goals in the course by contracting for a high grade at the beginning of the semester (Dougherty, 1997). Overall, your “goal” is to help students to understand the importance of the content of your course and then to design methods to help them to meet challenging goals. It is well accepted that expectations of high levels of work will result in higher level of work. This turns into a wonderful self- fulfilling prophecy when challenging goals are encouraged, supported, and realized.
In any area of goal setting, determining the extent to which the goals have been accomplished is essential. This not only justifies the rationale for setting goals, but also demonstrates to the students the learning realized by setting and achieving challenging goals. The easiest way to assess the value of setting goals is to document when goals have been accomplished. For this, it is important to state goals in ways that are specific and measurable (see the “Developing Objectives and How to Measure Them” post for more information.) Another way to assess the impact of setting challenging goals is to look at work turned in with this method, versus methods in the past where goals were not set. Compare final projects with projects completed in the same course the previous year. Finally, you could use any of a number of classroom assessment techniques to determine whether setting challenging goals results in deeper learning or more critical thinking: focused listing, minute paper, concept maps, and directed paraphrasing , etc.. Learning is facilitated when individuals set reasonable, yet challenging goals, and then are supported in reaching those goals.