Students will be stimulated not only when they are challenged, but also when they see that they can successfully meet the challenges that are presented. To promote intellectual effort you should design course tasks just past students’ current achievement level, but well within their reach (4). Student motivation and intellectual effort are increased when material is connected to students’ interests and when instructors provide authentic, real-world tasks relevant to students’ academic life (5). Other strategies to enhance students’ intellectual effort include increasing active learning through case studies and simulations, setting high expectations by using contracts and rubrics, and stating clear objectives.
To stimulate student’s intellectual effort beyond what is required by most courses, think about applying a few of Chickering and Gamson’s “Seven Principles” (6). In particular, consider techniques and practices that will develop reciprocity and cooperation among students, encourage active learning, and communicate high expectations. For example, have small groups of students do such things as generate or summarize ideas, assess levels of skills and understanding, rethink ideas, review problems or exams, process learning outcomes at the end of class, provide formative feedback to the teacher, compare and contrast key theories or issues, relate theory to practice through problem solving, and produce ideas about applications of theory to real life (7). Research indicates that students often perform at a higher quality when they share their writing or other work with each other than when the instructor is the only one who sees the work. (8) To do these types of collaborative tasks you can teach with simulations or other active strategies like case studies that engage students. Case studies that are centered on real-world issues or are connected to service learning projects, where there is a tangible connection to a recognized local need, are ideal. You can create your own case studies or simulations, use published ones, or have students create their own.
In all interactions with your students, communicate high expectations. As Chickering and Gamson (6) note, being explicit about expectations can help students reach high levels of intellectual effort. One way to be clear about expectations is to incorporate student contracts in your course. Contracts describe the academic work students plan to accomplish in a particular period of time. Such contracts are useful because when students “self-regulate” they become more committed to their work and are more willing to invest both intellectual and personal effort (9). The keys to a good contract are clarity, relevance, manageability, commitment, and oversight.
Another way to make your high expectations explicitly known to students is by using rubrics for assignments and activities. Rubrics provide students with the information about how to be successful on an assignment (10). Making rubrics available to your students will create transparency which gives them a guide to follow and high-level performance criteria to which they can aspire. Providing your students with clear objectives helps to communicate your goals for their learning. You should aim to have course objectives touch on all levels of the cognitive process and knowledge dimensions in Bloom’s Taxonomy, but most importantly to focus on those at higher levels. Creating higher-level objectives, and the activities and assessments aligned with those, will allow students to become more actively engaged in significant learning experiences (11). These experiences give students the opportunity to increase their intellectual effort, allowing them to analyze and solve problems, evaluate ideas and information to make educated decisions, and design and create new products.