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Final Conference Agenda

Overview and details of the sessions of this conference. Please select a date or room to show only sessions at that day or location. Please select a single session for detailed view (with abstracts and downloads if available).

Session Overview
SYM-04: What Can and Cannot yet Be Said about Motivation for Challenging Tasks?
Time: Tuesday, 28/Aug/2012: 9:00am - 10:30am
Session Chair: K. Ann Renninger, Swarthmore College
Discussant: K. Ann Renninger, Swarthmore College
Organizer: K. Ann Renninger, Swarthmore College
Location: 454

Session Abstract

This symposium is designed to be an interactive panel discussion. Findings from current research will be used to think through what is understood about motivation for challenging tasks—and how to define “challenge”. Panel participants will each present a short paper describing current research. These papers will provide a basis for the session discussion. The participants come from different research traditions and employ diverse methods. Their presentations address the relation between challenge and motivation as it is reflected in studies of: student follow-through on challenging writing tasks in a 2 x 2 x 2 design (in class writing vs. challenging writing; individual or collaborative writing, and audience or no audience), engagement with challenging content in small group and whole class discussions, and the relation between interest and performance in a computer program for physics learning. In their presentations, participants will describe their research questions in relation to the context of their study, their definition and measurement of challenge, the motivational variables with which they are working, what their findings suggest about the character of challenging tasks and motivation, and their sense of what still needs to be explored about motivation for challenging tasks. Following the short presentations, the Session Moderator will facilitate discussion among the participants and with the audience on these issues, with an emphasis on what can and cannot yet be said about motivation for challenging tasks.


Challenging writing tasks: How do students perceive the challenge and what is its relation to their motivation?

Pietro Boscolo, Lerida Cisotto

University of Padova, Italy

The aim of this study was to analyze how middle-school students (7th graders) perceive a challenging writing task. Such a task stimulates a student’s cognitive involvement in a collaborative context and requires the student to assume increasingly higher levels of responsibility for learning, that is, autonomy in carrying out a task as well as both retrieval of and elaboration on prior knowledge. The study was conducted according to a 2 x 2 x 2 design (traditional vs. challenging task, individual vs. collaborative writing, audience vs. no audience). In the challenging task condition, students, after seeing a short film about the town where they live, were invited to find and write at least three plausible ideas for improving their town, and to synthesize the ideas in a slogan. The traditional task consisted of writing the ideas without a slogan. Both writing tasks were carried out individually or collaboratively. In the audience condition, students were told that the municipal administration would receive and evaluate the best slogans. Thirty 7th graders, whose writing ability was rated by teachers, were assigned to each of the 8 conditions (N = 240). The effects of the challenging writing task were assessed through questionnaires administered before and after the task, and through linguistic analysis of the written texts. Findings will be discussed in light of prior research on challenging writing tasks.

Preservice science teachers’ strategies during challenging tasks

Martina Nieswandt

University of Massachusetts Amherst, United States of America

This qualitative study explored preservice science teachers’ engagement (PSTs; N = 19) during small group tasks and whole class discussions during a semester-long inquiry-based elective science course. Based on research on small-group interactions demonstrating student avoidance of challenging tasks, as well as on interest research stressing the generation of situational interest by particular conditions of a task, this study addressed (1) whether tasks that model inquiry-based science teaching arouse PSTs’ situational interest, and (2) whether the task’s level of complexity (theoretical and practical) influences student engagement. Results revealed that PSTs’ engagement (frequency and level of interaction) during small-group and whole-class discussions varied depending on the nature of the task. Despite the instructor’s probing and guided questions, engaging PSTs in theoretical discussions was difficult. PSTs quickly switched toward practical issues and the instructor complied; she moved on to the next topic. PSTs’ enthusiasm to engage in practice-based discussions is interpreted as reflecting a triggered situational interest, given that there were more PST participants in discussion and the quality of their arguments was stronger in the practice-based discussions. Such interest almost vanished (only one to two PSTs responded and with lower quality of argumentation) when PSTs were challenged with abstract and theoretical questions. Questions for future research should address: (1) reasons for PSTs’ resistance towards and loss of triggered situational interest during theoretical components of tasks and (2) what characteristics of the task (complexity, type) provide a balance between practical and theoretical components reflecting intellectual rigor, better preparing future science teachers.

Is there a curvilinear relation between interest and performance?

Mazen Shamsi, Regina Vollmeyer

University of Frankfurt, Germany

Many studies have reported a small relation between interest and performance (r = .30, meta-analysis by Schiefele, Krapp, & Schreyer, 1993). However, until recently the possibility that a curvilinear relation is a better fit had not been tested. Atkinson (1974) proposed that motivation and performance might follow the Yerkes-Dodson rule, as highly motivated people may work to mastery and when time is limited not finish their work.

In order to explore this assumption, we manipulated interest (control group CG, vs. medium interest MI, vs. high interest HI) and measured students’ (N = 148) performance during learning with a computer-based physics program. We manipulated interest based on increasing relevance of the topic (torque); that is, in the instruction we presented either 0, 4, or 18 pictures demonstrating how torque is relevant in everyday life. As a manipulation check we used the interest scale of the QCM (Rheinberg, Vollmeyer, & Burns, 2001). Performance was measured with a knowledge test that students had to complete following work with the physics program.

First, we checked whether our manipulation was successful. According to our hypothesis, self-reported interest increased (MCG = 3.07, MMI = 4.47, MHI = 5.17), and its relation to performance was curvilinear (MCG = 18.52, MMI = 34.92, MHI = 20.30). In the program students could use interactive graphics. With the interactive graphics, HI worked longer (M = 633.56) than MI (M = 573.62). This experiment provides the first indication that if time is limited, students with high interest may focus on mastery and therefore perform worse than those with medium interest.

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