Editorial Note: This post represents something of a milestone for Dr. Bob's Cog Blog. Although technically not a year old, this is the blog's 52nd post. Given this milestone, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the process of blogging for a year (and enjoy some cake!). I will attempt to write my reflection in the context of intrinsic motivation.
I find the distinction tenuous because motivation is almost always is a mixture of the two. For example, why do I go to work? I go to work because I get paid (external motivation); in addition, I also have the opportunity to solve interesting problems with highly intelligent people (internal motivation). Why do I play video games? I enjoy it for it's own sake (internal motivation), but I also do it because I am able to socialize with my friends by playing online (external motivation) . Is there an example of purely internal or external motivation? Perhaps, but I would argue those tend to be the exception, rather than the rule.
Why, then, do I write? The act of putting words on paper isn't the first thing people think of when asked, "Are you doing anything fun this weekend?" Writing can be an excruciating process. I sometimes sit for long stretches of time, staring out the window, trying to come up with just the right example. Other times, I erase huge chunks of prose because they don't sound quite right. I decided to start a blog (and to stick with it) because I felt it was a worthwhile endeavor.
I am also extrinsically rewarded by writing a blog. Blogger – the platform that this blog is published on – generates reports on how often each post is read. That is extremely rewarding (especially since I love to analyze data). Since I'm not in academia anymore, I don't really have the opportunity to submit papers for publication. Blogging is a great alternative because it provides an outlet for some of my ideas.
Writing is about evolving.One of my coworkers asked me, "Will you ever run out of topics?" To be honest, I had to answer in the affirmative. The reason why is because there are only a finite number of concepts that have been developed in the field of Cognitive Science. If you look in any introductory textbook, you will certainly find a limited supply. So it is very likely I will run aground and have nothing left to say. However, new studies are being published every day; so it's unlikely that I will run out anytime soon.
So where do we go from here? First, I plan to revise my publication schedule and post a new blog according to a variable reinforcement schedule (i.e., unpredictably). This will help provide me with the time to learn about more contemporary research. As you may have noticed, most of the topics covered so far have concentrated on concepts that have been in the literature for some time. Second, I really enjoyed the guest post by Dr. Jason Chein. I plan to invite more guest writers to connect the topics that they are passionate about to education. Admittedly, this change is a bit selfish because it helps expose me to new ideas.
The STEM ConnectionHow does writing a blog relate to teaching? Teachers, you often find yourselves in a fairly tricky situation. On the one hand, intrinsic motivation is all around you. When you finally settled on teaching as your chosen profession, you had to completely buy into the notion that what you do makes a real difference in real students' lives. Hopefully, there is evidence all around you. You get to see it in your students as their faces light up when they finally "get it." You can also find examples of intrinsic motivation in conversations with other dedicated teachers. They help reinforce the idea that the bustling, chaotic classroom environment is full of learning activities that are enduring and meaningful.
On the other hand, external motivation can be in scarce supply: voters turn down pay raises for educators; documentaries unveil "rubber rooms" where ineffectual teachers are warehoused ; and administrators are pressured to heap ever more demands on teachers' time. Thus, the well of internal motivation has to run deep enough to offset the waning external factors.
My recommendation, then, is to focus on the intrinsic reasons for teaching, and reinforce those with the company that you keep. Additionally, if it is at all possible, collect data on your students' progress so you can see how far they've come. Finally, it doesn't hurt to have a hobby that helps refill the gas tank (like writing!) .
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For More Information I think it's interesting that the video game industry has fully embraced awarding achievements. This is the ultimate in external motivation. I think this helps prove my point that motivation is multi-faceted.
 Chilcott, L. & Birtel, M. (Producers), & Guggenheim, D. (Director). (2001). Waiting for 'Superman' [Motion picture]. United States: Electric Kinney Films.
 How does becoming more busy help increase motivation? To find out, take a look at Chapter 6: The Art of Motivation Maintenance in Grant, A. M. (2013). Give and Take: Why helping others drives our success. New York: Penguin.