How to cure senioritis: 3 changes to make in how you view your course

All teachers face an obstacle: students who don’t care, especially seniors.  You try everything to engage them but nothing seems to work.  Treating your course like a product to be purchased allows you to utilize research regarding social psychology to increase student engagement.  

Our goal is to have them BUY into your course.

Calvin is right, you can’t make them care.  But you can create an environment that encourages them to care.

Tons of literature describes how decisions are made and how people in the position of authority can help others make the right decision.  Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler co-authored a book called Nudge that describes to readers the concepts regarding choice architecture (how to design a situation that encourages favorable choices).

First, go buy the book.  Seriously.

To use a phrase from Sunstein and Thaler, lets learn how we can nudge our students to buy into our class.

1.  Help them predict the future

Brains involuntarily make decision maps where it creates mental representation of future scenarios that includes current variables.  In other words, the brain asks itself “how will the current situation and information change what I do in the future?”

Help them predict the future and point them in the right direction with carefully placed reminders.

“This class will help you as you enter college because…”
“Remember that as a consequence of taking this course, you will have acquired               set of skills”
“This course will prove to colleges that you are serious about perusing your interest”

Gentle reminders act as “nudges” and act to keep the benefits front and center in their mind.  They buy into the course when they understand how it helps them in the future.

2.  Incentives are central to decision making

People make choices and act on those decisions based on incentives; your students are no different.  The incentive for taking your class, at the most basic level is obvious: they will get something from it.

However, there is an underlying, and very important second incentive: they are in your class because if they were not, they would lose something as a result of not participating.  

The fear of LOSING OUT seems to be stronger than the feeling of receiving something. 

Give them the 1-2 incentive punch:

First: Remind them what they REALLY care about- what was their initial and original motive for joining your class?   “You enrolled in this course because you are excited about perusing your interests.  You are taking the next step and bettering yourself by learning about YOU care about.”

Second: Follow up by reminding them what the students who are not taking the course are missing out on.  “Think about those not enrolled in this course, they are missing our on X, Y, and Z”
This will keep their initial motive clear in their minds and highlight the second, more influential incentive they might not be aware of.

3.  Consider the default settings

Default behaviors are natural, safe, normal, and “predetermined”.  We are going to twist the concept of a default as an attempt to place ourselves in the shoes of our learners.  Our definition of default encompasses the “natural” process of their educational careers.  There are two settings that we need to be aware of:

-“what would my students be doing if they were not enrolled in my course?” (study hall, early release)
            -“what type of class are my students normally enrolled in?”(traditional)

These are important considerations when thinking of their decision to buy into your course.  We realize that study halls, early releases, and traditional courses are not only easier, but more comfortable for our students.

In summary, treating your course like a product enables you to use social psychology to help your students buy into your class.  Seniors especially need an extra "nudge" in the right direction.  Understanding decision maps, incentives, and defaults can help prevent senioritis.

Thanks for reading.

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