Brain with words embeded

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

If you are a hobbyist, an entrepreneur, or just a lifelong learner looking to explore new territories of expertise, you may have come across one of the ten million online courses floating around the internet.

Usually it happens like this. You’re interested in golf or something, so you do a search on Google for something golf-related. You click around on a few sites. Then for the next SEVEN MONTHS you get targeted with ads on Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Twitter for some online program that will help you master your golf swing or something like that.

Okay, maybe my examples aren’t exactly dripping with showing details. Obviously, I’m not a golfer.

But you probably still know what I’m talking about. If there is an interest in it, then someone out there has probably made an online course to teach it, and you’ve probably seen one of their ads before.

Well, I’ve actually checked out a few of those non-traditional online courses. I’m a constant lurker at Dropship Lifestyle, a student of Veridical SEO, and a proud member of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion. Even though these programs all cover very different subjects, they all share one thing in common: the mindset module.

There’s a saying that goes something like “If your why is big enough, you will find your how.” That’s what these mindset modules are about: helping students find their big why, and helping them establish a mindset that will keep them focused on it. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to start an online business, lose weight, or improve your golf swing – having a reason to motivate your action will get you to the goal faster and better.

For example, let’s use the lose weight example. A pretty lame why might read something like this:

I want to lose weight to be more healthy.

Sure, that might be true, but it ain’t exactly motivating. That’s not gonna kick your butt to get up at 5 AM every day to go for a walk, or say no to fried food when the temptation strikes.

But this might:

I want to lose weight because I’m sick of waking up every morning and being disgusted at the person I see in the mirror. I’m sick of running out of breath when I play with my kids. And I’m worried that if I don’t make lasting changes today, I might not have much of a tomorrow.

Now that’s a BIG why. That could help kick someone into high gear and get serious enough about fitness to completely change their lifestyle.

I bet you’re about ready for me to get to the point now.

Well, have you ever asked your students why they are taking your class? If so, you might be used to answers like this:

I need it for my major.

My advisor told me to.

To get good grades.

It transfers to UD.

Yep. Those whys are about as motivating as a moldy sack of potatoes (okay, that might actually be good motivation to clean out the pantry).

For the past few years, I’ve titled the first week of the semester in my English 102 classes Why Writing Matters. We watch videos that talk about the importance of writing in all aspects of life, hold a brainstorm and discussion session on how writing will help us get ahead, and even write a one page essay to explain why writing matters. It’s gone well for the most part, and I think I am generally able to convince students that writing is an important skill beyond the classroom.

ish-stabosz-big-whyBut, I think I could go further.

After reflecting on the power of the big why and the effectiveness of the mindset module, I think that I could make a few tweaks to this first week of instruction that would set students up for even more success.

One thing I could do, is share my big why with them:

I want to become a better writer because I want my voice to be heard in this world. I know that a good writer can sway hearts and win minds. I know that writing skills are valued by employers and audiences everywhere because they are hard to come by. There are few things as satisfying to me as a well-written piece that pleases an audience, and I want to create as many opportunities as possible to make that happen in my life.

I think students are motivated when they see that their instructors still want to get better at their subject matter. If they can see that I am able to motivate myself to become better at something that I’m already experienced in, they might not see it as such a stretch when I ask them to invest themselves in their writing.

And that brings me to the other thing I could do to strengthen my Why Writing Matters week: help my students find their own big why. While reading a one page essay gives me a pretty good gauge of the class’s baseline writing skills, I think that a short statement of their big why would be a better assessment.

For starters, it’s more heartfelt. They’d probably be less likely to spit back info from our class discussions and brainstorms if I frame the assignment as a “big why” instead of an essay. Furthermore, a concisely written big why can become an anchor that keeps students grounded for the rest of the semester. Whenever they moan and groan at the difficulty of a new skill or assignment, I can point them back to their big whys. I can ask them “What’s changed since the first week that makes you want to quit now?”.

How about you? Have you found the BIG why that keeps you motivated to never stop exploring your subject matter? Share it in the comments!

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