A computer science student of mine (Martin Perebner) had an interesting idea on how to motivate students. Basically, he stated, experimentation with new technologies can serve as motivation. Put differently: students are motivated, if they have the freedom to do things the way they like. I gave this some thought and there a few things that need additional considerations.
First of all, this works mostly with “responsible” students: they have already a good knowledge of available technologies and are able to work on their own. Students, that do not know technology that well, run the risk of failing: they become lost, because of their “freedom”. In my experience nothing can frighten students more than saying:
you can decide on your own how to do your project. Your goal is to do “A” (A begin an abstract description like “implementing a crowd sourced service registry on mobile devices that follows the village paradigm”) and you have to find your “path” through the project on your own.
This leads immediately to confusion, because students are sometimes not able to see the bigger picture. They simply do not know enough to truly understand their assignments. This is by no means due the a lack of intelligence, but simply due to a lack of knowledge.
Second of all, as a supervisor you have some requirements for the work of students. If they simply experiment with technology, but fail to produce something in the end, what do you do? Punish them for experimenting by failing them? Or give them credits for their “experiments”? I guess, this depends on the assignment: if their assignment was to implement a Service registry and they end up with a game, well then it is difficult to give them credits for this “creative” approach. After all, if you go into a supermarket and pay for a bottle of milk you won’t be happy if you get a pizza instead.
So, as supervisor you have to cope with a difficult situation: details make assignments boring, “mechanical”, whereas more abstract assignments and “freedom” can easily confuse students. The way I see it, the solution to this is not easy: it requires flexibility form supervisors in order to accept unintended results (pizza instead of milk) and lots of responsibility from students (more than they are probably aware of) to do things the way they like.
your ikangai university team