Dr Sabrina Kombrink (Mathematics) discusses self determination theory and how it's consideration in assessment and feedback can increase students' motivation.

Self-determination theory emerged from the works of psychologists E. Deci and R. Ryan [1,2]. The theory suggests that people have basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy, and that experiencing these is key for intrinsic motivation.

Competence can be experienced through feeling capable; relatedness is the desire to feel included in the social environment; autonomy is the individual’s strive for independence and ability to choose. Some suggestions for addressing these needs in teaching are presented in [3] – see additional reading.

A further idea is to embed enquiry-based learning components into in-course continuous assessments [4], for instance by including openly posed questions on assessment sheets, which give students the opportunity to follow their individual interests and deepen their knowledge in a topic of their choosing.

My experiences with this approach stem from teaching undergraduate mathematics courses; for example, in pure mathematics modules, students were given the task to explore applications of the theory learnt in lectures to an area of their choice (e.g., pure/applied mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and beyond). The aspiration behind giving each student the opportunity to carry out research in the topic they are most interested in and on an appropriate scientific level that they are most comfortable with, was to make full use of the diverse skill sets and interests amongst the student body and to have students experience autonomy and competence.

In support classes, time was reserved for students to share and discuss their findings in small groups, aiming at increasing students’ feeling of relatedness. Indeed, students appreciated and acted on their peers’ comments. They helped and supported each other through sharing ideas and asking meaningful questions in the small group discussions. For assessing students’ work and for providing feedback and guidance, some support classes were reserved for mini presentations led by the students. Moreover, as part of the summative assessments, students submitted short reports on their findings. 

An outcome of this approach was that many students wished to dive deeper into the subject matter of the module in their final year dissertation projects, suggesting an enhanced motivation to further study the material. Moreover, students generally performed well in the end-of-semester examination.

[1] Edward L. Deci, Richard M. Ryan. Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. New York: Plenum, 1985.

[2] Center for Self-determination theory. https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory

[3] Heya Kaplan, Nir Madjar. The Motivational Outcomes of Psychological Needs Support among Pre-Service Teachers: Multicultural and Self-determination Theory Perspectives. Front Educ. 2, 2017. 

[4] The Academy of Inquiry Based Learning. http://www.inquirybasedlearning.org