The university environment can act as a great proxy for real life work and organisations
The university environment can act as a great proxy for real life work and organisations. There are great many parallels between university and a job as far as goals and methods of achieving them are concerned. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many methods of motivating workers also apply to a typical university student, and grants us an opportunity to analyse and experience them first hand. However, there are certain nuances that prevent it from being a one to one comparison and certain aspects of the environment, demographic in question, and end goals need to be considered to get a proper appreciation as to why some of the traditional motivation methods don’t yield any results or at times lead to disproportionate increase in productivity.
In theory, the main goal of anyone attending Warwick should be to graduate with a good degree. The driving force behind this could be either desire to grow as a human being, to attain some level of respect and status, or at a purely cynical level to signal your worth to a future employer (Krassén, 2014). All of these things can fall under the umbrella of “Esteem needs” and “Self-actualisation” on the Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1943). According to his theory certain lower level requirements need to be attained before those higher-level goals can be considered. It is fair to say that Warwick tries very hard to ensure that these lower level goals are achieved. Campus security ensures our safety, quite times are established to allow for proper sleep. From personal experience, it can be said that lack of sleep leads to rapid decrease in academic performance and vice versa. Some peers have already dropped out of Warwick or decided to delay their education by a year citing mental health issues which further supports the theory that personal growth through education cannot exist without first ensuring stability of physical and mental health. Whilst I believe that of all motivational theories Maslow’s holds the most credibility in the context of university it is nevertheless not fool proof. Some people are willing to forgo sleep, food, and even security and still pursue and attain good academic performance. In some ethnicities and cultures education is considered so crucial that it in itself becomes a lower level requirement at times outweighing most other human needs (Cheah, 2013). Despite these counter points I believe them to be outliers and will insist that my experience at Warwick has only suported Maslow’s theory of motivation, and should be the first consideration before any other theory is utilised to motivate a student.
Principipal-Agent theory (Eisenhardt, 1989) seems very relevent in Warwick since students esentially act as principals who pay for the services of the university, the agent, but simultanously the roles are reversed when the profesors want us to do something on their behalf, e.g. mentor schemes. Due to the assymetric nature of these interactions, self interest could lead to a moral hazard. For example a professor might decide that publishing a research paper deserves more time than preparing a lecture for the students. As we pay the fees before we even get to experience the first lecture, there needs to be a mechanism to ensure that the agent delivers what they promised. Normally this issue is circumnavigated by providing a tip or a bonus but clearly students can’t do that. Furthemore, whoever is supposed to overlook the performance of the profesors can’t do so in a fair way that can easily adjust for the noise in the environment e.g. some modules might naturally atract pupils that are easier to teach or are smarter. That’s where (Roberts, 2004) proposes that a person’s reputation is an asset itself that is needed in every transaction and acts as a proof of quality. Warwick requires its pupils to fill out a survey that determines the quality of each lecturer and module, and is publicly displayed for all to see (at least for the department of Economics.) All the necesery requirements for a sucsesful lecturer should be there however basen on one’s experience of Warwick so far it has been demonstrated that it quite often doesn’t act as a motivator for the lecturers. This could be due to a delay between the lectures and the actual review period meaning it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly was wrong to begin with. Another possible reason is that some of these statistics aren’t easy to find and hence pupil’s aren’t making informed decision about their module choices. As a result a lecturer can do well or poorly and still face the same ammount of people sighning up for their course, and reap the same awards (assuming that the size of their lecture audience equates to prestige or a bonus.) Hence I believe that Warwick or more likely any university faces the problem that it’s very hard for the principal to hold the agent accountable if the contract or social contract is not met.
On the flipside when we, the students, provide a service in exchange for compensation it also frequently leads to an underwhelming ammount of effort being put in. Some minor tasks are usually done without much care mereley to “tick a box”, and this will always happen as the cost of monitoring the students far outweighs the benefit of them doing the task properly. Good example being the Personal Development Module in the Economics department which can be completed in part by scanning a card and walking away from certain events. For some bigger and more time consuming tasks the department offers vouchers as a form of compensation. This is a good motivator as it acts as a form of payment and according to (Ariely, 2008) when payments are made in something that has value but isn’t technicly money, social norms become surperior to the forces of economics that would normally lead to profit maximising behaviour. Now, in theory, students should be more likely to work harder on their task just in order to do the right thing. Unfortuantly so far I have seen that to be not the case. The consensus seems to be that while the “Eating at Warwick” vouchers are nice, cash is still prefered. I suspect that Ariely’s example mainly applied to people who already have a steady job and a disposable income. In other words their basic needs are met and according to Maslow can now do something that gives them a feeling of achievement. University students however don’t have a disposable income (1st year students at least), hence would instead prefer the more liquid form of payment in order to sustain their most basic requiremtns. Hence I belive that compensation schemes or vouchers as a form of motivation can be highly effective under the correct conditions but go largly to waist on people with low/nill income and hence real need for real fiat money, which is the main demographic of people at Warwick.
Feedback, specificity, challenge,and being accepted are four important criteria for any goal to be achieved that an individual is striving to fulfill. (Locke, 1968) I believe that Warwick shows that these conditions are indeed necesery for a goal to be achieved it is not however enough, and at times can lead to a bigger problem of people achieving the goal and nothing else. Feedback is provided in Warwick through seminars and review of fullfiled asighnements. However as previously mentioned there can be a delay in the feedback system (here because it takes time to mark a script) which means that it’s hard to relate the mark and critique provided to the time period and intital setting in question. Specific goals allow for a clear path to sucses to be established, and provided a clear goal post that can not be shifted by an individual. However, this usually works best when the goal is set up by the indivual for one self rather than by an organisation. Here the desires of the university and the individual do not align, which could lead to disatisfaction and reduced motivation (Eden, 1988). Whilst I personally agree with Locke on the need for specific goals, whenever the goals are so restrictive and don’t allow to choose between goals, this could lead to a person attempting to meet the goal at any cost as trying to meet them in the proper way doesn’t yield and gratification to the individual. (Catania, 2013) On the whole experience at Warwick would make me very doubptful of the original claims of Locke as his prequisites are very open to distortion by either party(cheating or misrepresentation), miscomunication(language barriers), the goals could loose relevence over time(why perform well when you met all the minimum requirements), and so on. Locke’s 4 criteria I assume are much more relevent to the study of firms where the goals being met would lead to a net gain not just for the firm but for every agent involved, and goals can be negotiated and are somewhat determined by the over all ethos of the group. In a university like Warwick however, the benefit of meeting the goal migh take a long time to arrive or never if goals don’t align with future career path. In other words the potential future gains of goal atainment are heavily discounted. More importantly there is no room for negotiation or fluidity in goal setting as frequently majority of the course might be decided by the creditation board.
Valence, Expectancy and Instrumentality must be present in order for an individual to be motivated to do something according to Expectancy Theory of Motivation (Vroom, 1994). Issues with valence and instrumentality have already been discusses above, so here expectancy is to be discussed. Expectancy in context of Warwick would most likely be the correlation between effort put in and expected outcome. So far based on anecdotal evidence valence and instrumentality are concepts that are fixed in a person’s head early on and hard to shift. Expectancy however is very susceptible to swing based on incoming information. Some feel unmotivated as they struggle with the more mathematical aspects of the course and feel highly unmotivated. However, following a realisation or moment of clarity, a student undergoes re-evaluation of net gain per unit of effort, and becomes more motivated as a result. On the whole, I believe that Vroom’s model of “Motivation =
Expectancy x (Valence x Instrumentality)” holds sometimes an individual’s evaluation of those three variables can be wildly off. All of them experience a high amount of noise making them unreliable from observation alone, but also hard to compute. A person would most likely use psychological heuristics to get around that and as a result adopt some flawed reasoning. Most likely they will be anchored to a ball park figure they got from a third party, or they might undergo a sunk cost fallacy as they will try to convince themselves that a pursuit is worthy of their time even if it hasn’t yielded any net gain so far. (Thaler, 2016) Hence my time at Warwick can only justify using this model to explain whenever goals directly lead to a motivated student, but can’t explain why things don’t always work out, how to rectify it, or how to measure and account for noise in the environment. As a whole, it’s a weak model that can be discarded for the ones previously mentioned.
To condense my thoughts, I believe that my experiences at Warwick have mostly highlighted the flaws of each model. At its worst, it has shown a model to be nothing more than a way of describing success when it occurs once in a while. For most it just highlighted the areas of the theory that would need to be tweaked to account for different lifestyles and spirit of the typical Warwick student who lives in a different era to the one when the papers were first written. Considering whom the theories were meant to originally describe, they hold up well under scrutiny of another realm.