By: Tamer Beitelmal
While it advances quickly, technologies can and should be used by educators to improve the learning process, especially as new generations of students are using internet, social-media, computers, and smartphones in their daily lives. In this article, I explain how the practice of daily progress tracking can be a powerful tool for student motivation, engagement, and, ultimately, learning. Technology is an enabler for this practice but not necessarily a must. This practice is not an innovation in itself; however, employing it for learning purposes can contribute significantly to accomplishing, and enjoying, challenging tasks related to my research. We know that student engagement is essential for improving the learning experience . Progress tracking is well established in the field of habit change . Two important elements of the daily tracking practice are immediate reward and timely feedback, elements that are studied, among others, in the literature of gamification (the use of game elements in non-game contexts with the goal of engaging people in a variety of tasks) , . In the rest of the article, I will introduce the concept of daily progress tracking, followed by an example of how to implement it for an example assignment. Then I will highlight some possible challenges related to implementing the practice.
Although simple, daily progress tracking is, I believe, very important in improving the learning process. It might seem overwhelming at the beginning, but once students get used to it, it can be fun and rewarding. Personally, I use the daily tracking to track various goals. It started with tracking my running using a smartphone application; later, I successfully applied it to my own research. The procedure is simple: if you achieved the required task for the day, mark that day on the calendar. Once you build a chain (five consecutive days of successfully accomplishing the task), it has shown that you are more likely to continue and you will make every effort not to break the chain . The beauty of this practice is that you can use technologies (e.g., software, a smartphone app, an online spreadsheet) or a printed calendar to track your progress. My favourite is the traditional paper calendar. Using this practice, students can get timely feedback (the mark on the agenda) as well as an immediate reward (building the daily chain). Embracing this practice aims at dividing the learning process into small daily segments. Even when you don’t feel like studying that day, you will be motivated to do your daily task to keep that streak of marks. The activity does not need to be tracked on a daily basis; its frequency may vary based on its contribution to the overall learning. As a self-monitoring practice, it does not acquire a lot of time from the teaching assistant (TA), as students are responsible for tracking and watching their own progress.
To explain the practice in details, here is an example of how to implement it. As a TA, you need discuss with the instructor on the type of activities/assignments students should track and to ensure their contribution to the overall course outcomes. Let’s say the activities to track are writing for 10 minutes twice a week, and reading 10 pages 5 times a week. The first step is to prepare the guidelines for how to track the progress and what qualifies for a check mark on the calendar. You need to build trust so students feel responsible and accountable for recording their own progress. Your duty is to monitor student engagement and address any concerns. It can be especially effective if you can participate by recording your own progress; students will get motivated when they realize even TAs are applying this practice. Feedback sessions where students can reflect on their experience with the practice can also be helpful.
TAs should be aware that there will be some challenges in embracing this practice. You should spend extra time in class on the subject during the first two weeks to ensure student engagement. Comparison rewards, such as badges or a leaderboard, should be avoided as they might demotivate students in the long-term ; instead, a good bonus might be a rest day after a streak of 5. Students will get busier as the term goes on, so make sure that the daily practice is sustained by encouraging and reminding the students of the overall benefits.
In conclusion, engaging students is important for the learning process. In this article, I explained the concept of daily progress tracking and provided an illustrative example, and also highlighted some possible challenges. Students will be motivated when they find that the small daily tasks are contributing to the final essay writing; in the example discussed, 10 minutes of daily writing is short, but it is more manageable than writing a 15-page essay in just two days. Although it is well studied in other fields, tracking daily progress has not been, I think, utilized to its maximum potential in education. Adopting this practice has the potential to enhance the student learning experience.
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