Tag Archives: motivation

SMTs: Student Management Teams

This post is the latest in my annual series where I publically commit to share the evidence-based change I’m making to my teaching practice this year. (See last year’s post, where I shared rationale and resources on two-stage exams, which were awesome.)

What’s the idea?

A Student Management Team (SMT) is a small group of students (usually 3-5) that meets regularly throughout a course, and whose primary objective is to facilitate communication between the course instructor and the class. I first learned about SMTs at the Teaching Preconference at SPSP this past February, from a talk given by Jordan Troisi. He uses them to gather feedback on what’s working well and what isn’t, to gather ideas about potential changes, and sometimes to explain in detail why something can’t be changed. The SMT also creates, administers, and analyzes mid-course feedback, which springboards dialogue with the instructor. Overall, the SMT acts as a communication bridge between the rest of the class and the instructor.

Why am I interested?

Every major change I’ve made to my courses in the past 3-4 years has (a) increased the amount of peer-to-peer learning/interaction, and (b) implemented an evidence-based practice (see the impact of these on my teaching philosophy revision, here and here). Of all my courses, I think my introductory psychology courses (101 and 102) need the most attention. I see SMTs as an opportunity to work with motivated students to help me identify what changes are most needed and how we can implement them on a large scale.

Although most students rate these courses positively overall, I know that some of my 370 students (each term) feel overwhelmed, lost, stressed, and alone. To help somewhat, I have held a weekly Invitational Office Hour outside the classroom on Friday afternoons, and I have happily met many of my students face-to-face during that period. Some longstanding friendships among student attendees have even developed at those office hours! But I continue to struggle with the sheer size of my classes. How can I connect more students with each other more intentionally? How do I integrate more meaningful peer-to-peer interaction to help students learn while building community? I’m interested in hearing feedback from the SMT on these and other issues. I am also looking forward to building ongoing working relationships with a small cohort of students. My position is such that I don’t get many opportunities to mentor students (unlike, say, if I was running a research lab), so I’m excited by the idea of working closely with a few students to help me communicate with the many.

What evidence is there to support it?

Not as much as I’d ideally like to see, but as Jordan notes in his papers, it’s relatively new. I see no downsides to trying it at this point, and Jordan’s data suggest benefits not just to SMT members (Troisi, 2014), but also to the whole class (Troisi, 2015). I’m interested in adding a measure of relatedness, and seeing if his findings for autonomy hold with a class almost 15x larger (with, perhaps, 15x the need?).

Troisi, J. D. (2015). Student Management Teams increase college students’ feelings of autonomy in the classroom. College Teaching, 63, 83-89.

  • Shows that students enrolled in a course that had an SMT increased their sense of autonomy by the end of the course, but students in the same course (same instructor, same semester) without an SMT showed no change in their autonomy. In other words, students feel more in control of their outcomes if they have an SMT as a conduit (not just if they’re actually in the SMT). This paper uses the lens of Self Determination Theory (a major theory of motivation), and provides a nice introduction for non-psychologists who might be interested in using it to inform their teaching practice. (In a nutshell: highest motivation for tasks that meet competence, autonomy, and relatedness needs.)

Troisi, J. D. (2014). Making the grade and staying engaged: The influence of Student Management Teams on student classroom outcomes. Teaching of Psychology, 41, 99-103.

  • Shows benefits for the SMT members themselves. They perform better in the course than non-members (after controlling for incoming GPA), which seems partly due to increased engagement over the duration of the course.

Handelsman, M. M. (2012). Course evaluation for fun and profit: Student management teams. In J. Holmes, S. C. Baker, & J. R. Stowell (Eds.), Essays from e-xcellence in teaching, 11, 8–11. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology website: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/eit2011/index.php

  • Anecdotal discussion of benefits, with description of how he has implemented it.
  • Free e-book!

Are you thinking of trying out SMTs? Let’s talk! Email me at cdrawn@psych.ubc.ca

Creative Advertisement Showcase 2014

A couple of weeks ago in my section of Psyc 208 we held the Creative Advertisement Showcase, which was a fantastic celebration of what my students had discovered throughout the term! Previously, each team of students identified a learning challenge they face, investigated primary sources for insight into understanding and addressing the challenge, and summarized those sources in annotated bibliographies and team abstracts. (See the Team Project Guide for a full description of this multi-part assignment.) The purpose of the Creative Advertisement was to get the word out to fellow students about research-based techniques and strategies for addressing the learning challenges they face. They truly were creative! Projects ranged from video and live games to posters to live skits and demonstrations to videos and pamphlets… an impressive variety! Check out some of their videos and websites (ordered by team #)…

Team 4’s Sleep Fairy:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGOWxnPizOk 

Team 5’s Culture Shock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyZcynf2jk4&feature=youtu.be

Team 22’s Motivation Makeover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6syynl18XA

Team 11’s Loneliness: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_qDfS_x4VtvLWhIZXRNS2pxVHc&usp=sharing

Team 18’s Sleep: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B0xsEQGqsy3IVGczVVpZTGZkcGM/edit

Here’s a shot of Team 19’s Effects of Internet Use on Learning station…

… and one of Team 3’s Social Loafing game based on Apples to Apples

Thanks to everyone for a solid effort on these projects and throughout the term! Study smartly for your finals… and remember that no matter how you do on them, that’s not a reflection of your worth as a person.


[This post is a bit belated… I forgot I wrote it last month and just found it in my drafts!]

I understand that there are political, social, economic, etc problems with the Olympics. Like every institution, it’s flawed in many ways. And yet as a psychologist and a Canadian I am fascinated by the Olympics.

In the span of 2-3 weeks of watching the Olympics I feel like I was able to witness and sometimes feel a fraction of Olympic joy, pride, victory, defeat, humility, frustration, sadness. Olympians use self-control and internal motivation to train for years and years for that one moment to perform. Sometimes, their best happens and they win. Sometimes they do their best and still lose. Sometimes – for whatever reason – they don’t perform at their best and their hopes are dashed. But they pick themselves up and keep going. Sometimes re-appearing the next Olympics (I’m thinking Chris Del Bosco, Alex Harvey…) seeking redemption and it still doesn’t come.

The Olympic path is an uncertain one. It requires dedication, self-control, countless hours of training, and it all comes down to one moment, one performance. My job is one of patience and less measurable results. sometime even unknown results. Does that student remember a thing once they leave my class? I have no idea. I hope so. But it’s not measured. How can I be the best teacher I can be without a finish line? I train for countless hours without a coach, but with passion. There are awards, but I have to choose to put myself out there and reach for them… maybe that’s what makes the difference between an Olympian and a really good hobby athlete. Olympians put themselves out there to reach for markers of success, publicly and sometimes even when they face certain defeat. They show up anyway. Maybe that’s part of what being an Olympian really is: putting yourself out there to be tested in a very public way, and dealing with whatever success or defeat comes along.

I think one of the many important ways that my career differs from an Olympian’s is that my path is not a zero sum game. I think sometimes I forget this. If I make it to becoming a gold medal teacher, there can be — and I hope so! — many people sharing that podium with me. The world is a better place when more teachers are more effective.

Watching the Olympics also brings out my fierce Canadian identity. There’s something about the Olympic winter games that just grabs my spirit and reminds me that I wear red and white for so may good reasons. To cheer for a fellow Canadian in whatever sport I’ve never heard of means I’m part of a shared community with that person. And Canada tends to do well, particularly in the Winter Games, which probably influences my interest too. To the extent that my self expands to include their successes, I can claim a little tiny piece of their victory as mine too (called BIRGing, or Basking in Reflected Glory, in social psych circles). Waking up to find out we won a medal or two is like a little present. Does it make a difference in my life? No, not objectively. Does it add a tiny boost to my national pride? Yes.

Academically I’ve been interested in issues of goal setting, self-control, motivation, and identity for a very long time. Perhaps it’s no surprise then how addicted I get to the Olympics and Paralympics. But it’s more than that. There was something about being in Vancouver for 2010 that changed how I feel. Being there to spill out onto the Cambie bridge with hundreds of other Canadians after the men’s hockey team won gold… that was pretty magical. We were all dressed in red and white, laughing, cheering, singing the anthem, high fiving strangers. I can’t think of another time I’ve felt more like my ingroup was all Canadians. It was beautiful.

Goal striving, emotions, self-control, identity, self-expansion… these are realities of the day-to-day that get magnified for me during the Olympics. I finished watching the closing ceremonies feeling a little more connected, a little more aware of humanity and what we can accomplish alone and together. If we can do great things athletically as a nation, maybe we can do great things in other domains too. Maybe I can be bold enough to put myself to a public test, learn from the results, and fight to improve even more. Maybe I can be like an Olympian too.


Thoughts on the Value of an Arts Degree

This afternoon I attended a program and reception welcoming our international students (here early for Jumpstart) to the Faculty of Arts. One of our International Academic Advisors, Robert Tudhope, organized this event and I’m delighted that he invited me to speak at it, along with a current student and three faculty colleagues. My talk went something like this…


My name is Dr. Catherine Rawn, and here are some of my thoughts on the value of earning a degree in the Faculty of Arts. I have an undergraduate degree from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, a master’s degree, and a PhD both from UBC. I now teach here in the Psychology Department. All of my degrees have pretty much the same specialization: Psychology. And I’m proud to say they’re all from Arts. Every aspect of my life has been influenced by my Arts degrees. My bachelor’s degree in particular had a profound impact on my entire life trajectory. I wasn’t bound my history anymore. I created the foundation of a future on my own terms—a future I am now living. It is this opportunity for drastic life changes that excites me most about a degree in Arts.


In my opinion, one of the most important features that makes an Arts degree valuable is the opportunity to collect.

We get to spend four (or five) years taking classes, collecting different perspectives and ways of understanding the world around us. By studying Arts courses, I learned to use those perspectives to look inward and to call myself on my own prejudices and assumptions, so I can continually strive to be better. (My one regret from undergrad is that I didn’t collect even more different perspectives than I did… so I’m fixing that now by taking a course every now and then, and by collaborating with faculty from different disciplines.)

We get to collect people. For me, and maybe for you, I had friends in high school, but they weren’t really my people. They didn’t really get me. They weren’t interested in the things I was really interested in. It wasn’t until my Arts degrees that I found friends with common interests who would accept me, while challenging me to grow. As I learned to let myself get excited about learning, I met fascinating people who were also ok with getting excited about learning. It is the people I collected during my Arts degrees—not in high school—who I still call friends after more than a decade (and one of them, I also call my husband).

We get to collect experience that’s relevant for the working world… even though it might not be pre-packaged in that way. By taking courses in Arts, we get to collect a vast array of skills, including teamwork, writing, how to learn a lot… and quickly, how to ask questions and seek answers, speaking, thinking, research, video editing, (statistical) reasoning, social media management, club management, event planning, and the list goes on. These are all skills we can take into the working world, regardless of the exact content that we’re studying.

The challenge for you, then, is to set yourself up to collect the skill set you’re going to want to leave UBC with. This thought leads me to my next point…


When choosing among the vast number of courses and specializations in Arts, we decide which of those perspectives we’re going to keep building and cultivating in our collection, which we’re going to discard entirely, and which we’re going to let sit dormant, potentially ready to influence our thoughts some day in the future. We get to take all of those skills and ideas and connections we’ve collected and we get to mold them into a career however we want to. We might even create that career, it might not even exist yet.

In some fields, perhaps engineering or business or nursing, education is pre-packaged for one career. In Arts, each of us builds our own package. We curate and then showcase the collections we’ve acquired over the last four years, and we do all that on our own terms.

The way I see it, the right question for an Arts student choosing courses isn’t “what can I do with a degree in X?” I urge you to consider instead, “will this major/course/club/research assistantship/Go Global opportunity… help me to develop a skill set or perspective I want to collect, in a topic I find somewhat interesting?” Build your own collection, on your own terms.

So, what’s the value of an Arts degree? For me, it comes down to opportunity. Coming out of high school, I was just a kid from the low-class neighbourhood of a small city who had “potential”. None of my close family members had ever been to university before and I had no idea what opportunities awaited me. Carefully, I charted new territory, built my own collection. My undergraduate degree changed my life. Your life is about to change, too.

I urge you to start now: collecting perspectives, collecting people, collecting skills. I think that we—in Arts—have the richest opportunity of anyone else on campus to build our own unique and exciting and marketable collections. Welcome to the Faculty of Arts. What collection will you build?



This past weekend I completed the UBC Sprint Distance Triathlon! It was my first triathlon ever, and it’s something a year ago I said I’d never do (I’ve since stopped saying such foolish things!). It was also my first sustained attempt to swim and bike since I was a kid playing around at the pool and on my street. So when I came in last place in my age group at a total time of 2h4mins, I felt nothing but pride at having finished so strongly. My purely positive reaction to coming in last place surprised me a little. I’ve entered running and walking events before, and I’ve usually finished toward the middle/end of the pack. But coming in dead last is something else entirely. If I had any inkling of judging my success in terms of how I did relative to others, coming in dead last means failure. There is no way to hide behind “at least I didn’t finish last!” defense.

In my Psyc 208 class on Tuesday, I was teaching about motivation. As I explained the difference between motivation derived from a self-defined mastery approach versus a social-comparison-driven ego approach, I was quite aware of my recent performance in the triathlon. I was also quite aware that I took a mastery approach to understanding that performance. I felt like I had successfully completed the triathlon. I finished, and I had felt strong and happy the whole way through — it was fun just being out there on the course! Yet, I know deep down that as much as I take a purely mastery approach to my athleticism, it’s much harder for me to take that approach in my career. You see, my athleticism is new. It’s a new aspect of my identity that I’m playing around with. I’ve been building confidence by taking baby steps over the past three or four years (starting with “I think I could run for a minute” on a treadmill, and surprising myself that I could. Really.). No one had any expectations of me in this domain, least of all myself. Taking a mastery approach to athletics is easy.

Yet who I am as a teacher hits deeper to the core of who I am. This is my chosen field, my area of specialization I have chosen to cultivate because I enjoy doing it and derive great meaning from it. I have been hired into this fantastic and extremely demanding job because other people think I am and will continue to be successful in this domain. And I’d be lying if I said I took a completely mastery approach to judging my success. Social comparisons are so easy to do: How do my student evaluations compare with someone else’s? Are my tests and assignments as fair and challenging as they possibly can be? Am I doing enough to foster community and learning in my classes? Should I be focusing more on initiatives within the department rather than at the university level or beyond? That person is publishing more than I am… does that mean I’m not doing enough? Even letting these questions come into my consciousness at this moment is triggering insecurity… and I think a lot of that insecurity comes from comparing myself to other people. The reality is there will always be someone who seems better than me in some way. But that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough. 

Completing my triathlon is an opportunity for me to (re)think about how I define success in my career. If my triathlon experiences can be extrapolated (and I don’t see why not),  I think I will experience more moments of joy and fewer moments of anxiety from my career when I commit to setting my own standards and define success as mastering those. (I’m lucky enough to have a career in which I have a fair amount of autonomy in this way.) I have tried to do this somewhat, but this is a chance for me to take this attitude change more seriously. Like the triathlon, those standards will be demanding, but they’ll be mine. And when I reach them, I’ll be able to experience joy and pride for myself, but also for others who are on their own paths, achieving their goals.