Purpose, Mastery, and Autonomy. Which one is more powerful motivator?

When I listen to Dan Pink’s TED talk, I realized I already experienced them all, purpose, autonomy, and mastery, but did not know exactly the difference. Since I know right now, I can say that I absolutely agree with him and none of the assignments or grading system works well as much as those.

When I was working in D.C. before coming to Blacksburg, I was not a supervisor, but nobody was telling me what I should do because I already knew what needs to be done. I had an autonomy on my job. Actually, that situation was a great motivator for me. I was happy and never thinking to quit. The quality of my life was better when I look from outside, but my purpose was set even before starting to work. I wanted to do Ph.D. and had a purpose to go back to academia as a professor. I quit the job, left my home there and moved to Blacksburg. It was quite challenging decision for me because I was living in Istanbul before and love living in big cities, personally. It is interesting because I am actually here, in this class, Contemporary Pedagogy, and in Blacksburg, just to learn something and be a good educator at the end. I aimed to gain different perspectives, but now I am forcing myself to write a blog as an assignment. It means, I have a purpose but still grades are important somehow.

On the other hand, I can tell that I started to learn more in grad school because I was trying to keep my grades high until grad school. My first concern was a grade, so I did not study for learning. In other words, I tried to memorize whatever the professor showed us and did not learn really. I never ever learned anything in my life without learning purpose. If my purpose or motivation is not learning, then I do not learn at all. Particularly, memorize something is not my cup of tea. But after I started to grad school, everything has been changed. I knew that nobody would care about my grades anymore, and nobody would judge me by looking my grades. My purpose was learning that time and I did not care grades, I cared to learn but got good grades. Because my professors also were caring teaching more than our grades.

I first realized that the grade is not a purpose, learning is the most important factor when I was taking my Quantitative class. As many of us in the Contemporary Pedagogy class heard the Professor name David Kniola thought me that the school or university whatever is not just for giving grades to students, they are actually for teaching how to be a better learner -and also a teacher- in life. Knowing yourself and your own style of learning and teaching was the purpose of his Quantitative Research Method class. Which is extremely important and meaningful to me because I never saw a professor like him before. And I never understood before that the mastery is one of the best ways of teaching or learning. Even the best professors considered grade as a motivator in my life. And I think, I got used to that idea and cared about grades too much unintentionally.

I think each professor should think about motivators. They should think about if the grade can be a motivator. Or they should think about what is their aim in the class. For example, a professor punished me with a grade last semester. She asked me a tricky question and I kindly give feedback to her about the course as an answer, and then she gave me a lower grade and she decided not to be in my dissertation committee anymore. I thought she was serious when she asked me my opinion about that course. I did not say anything wrong or rude for sure, but she was expecting compliments I assume. She forgot something: I came here not for a grade, I came here to be a better researcher and a better educator. It means, I always should have ideas about courses, about educators and everything because I am observing and evaluating faculties and students, of course. And I am thinking how can it be better? Because I want to be a professor soon and should develop a good strategy and perspective about it. Did her punishment motivated me? Of course not! It only made me sad because it is sad to see institutions have those kinds of educators. But understood that, I know that if I am not ready to hear, I will never ask any student about feedback for my course or my research 🙂

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3 Responses to Purpose, Mastery, and Autonomy. Which one is more powerful motivator?

  1. Jyotsana Sharma says:

    Wow! That sounds harsh to ask something and in return for an answer provide a lower grade and quit your committee! You are correct for sure, that is not a way to motivate. I wonder if you think there may be a better way, apart from what Dr. K does in his class, what would you want to do to motivate students to learn in yours?

    • A. Nelson says:

      I agree with Jyotsana. The behavior you describes sounds really vindictive and petty — an abuse of power. I wouldn’t consider that a pedagogical strategy or motivator at all. I’m sorry that happened to you!

  2. Yan says:

    Sevda, I enjoy reading your post and I also feel a little angry about your experience. It is so wrong for a teacher utilizing grade for punishment, and it is a big relief that as PhD students, our progress is not dependent on grades anymore.

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