Student Motivation @ 42: Advice from Our Chief Academic Officer
Motivation literally means the desire to do something. But how do we take that thought and turn it into action? We sat down with the Chief Academic Officer at 42, Gaetan Juvin, to get his take on it.
How do you define motivation?
It’s the fuel for life.
Why is student motivation so important in education?
Motivation is the key to education. Every day we need to learn new things: what prevents us from learning every day? We have a huge number of resources available to us in today’s world.
The question is more about how to be motivated and that is a combination of different things when it comes to each individual person. Sometimes it comes from wanting to get a good paying job; sometimes it comes from an interest. And there is also the factor of feeling guilty if you don’t follow through with a task.
Motivation is great; the thing is, it’s not linear and it’s always fluctuating. The key is to motivate yourself when you are down. What we are doing at 42 is great because not everyone is up or down at the same time. When you are working alone it is harder to motivate yourself: working as a group motivates. It’s also why we won’t put our curriculum online; remote study, particularly for learning to code, is hard. Many people don’t have the motivation when they are alone and staring at a computer screen.
What have you observed when it comes to student motivation at 42?
At the beginning of the piscine, we have people who aren’t able to motivate themselves. We want people who are able to motivate themselves. When students are involved with the direction of their own education and are passionate about learning, that can give you the fuel, or motivation, to push through.
There was a student who was ready to do the minimum requirements of a project, and he told me it would be enough. He was athletic, so I said, “yeah, that will be fine to do the minimum…it is important to be in the competition and not win.” Of course, I was being sarcastic. I told him if it was too hard to do more, it’s okay, you don’t need to do it. Basically, I motivated him by challenging his mentality. When someone is not motivated because they are lazy, you can push them when you want them to do more by reminding them they are just pursuing the bare minimum.
On the other side, there are students who aren’t lazy but they are afraid of starting. They go blank and they are afraid of failure. Some people get overwhelmed with the “big picture.” For this one guy, I helped him to set small goals, and every time he accomplished something I gave him encouraging feedback. I followed up with him and met with him weekly. And for each goal he met I said, “good job, you did it” and gave him time to explain what he had done. I told him that there is a part of you that doesn’t want to do it, and the other side that says, “you need to do it.” If you achieve one small task, then another and another, you complete the project. You need to find a way to self-manage yourself, but you need to learn how to do it yourself.
How does our education model affect student motivation?
You have two ways to lead a horse, the stick or the carrot. The carrot is gamification: you are doing something because you want to achieve and get that reward at the end. At a traditional school, you are expected to shut up and listen. There is a feeling of wasting your energy and time. At 42, people cannot blame other people. It is more efficient because not everyone is at the same stage which keeps you active and engaged. Education is a process that goes on your entire life. It’s about self-management and management of the group, knowing yourself, and asking the question of “why?”
There was a student at the very beginning of the piscine who was really bad at coding. But he was really strong because he didn’t give up. His motivation kept on going up and down, but he never gave up: it was never an option. He had to go through two piscines in order to get into the 42 program. Every day he worked really hard. And now he is starting to be better at coding. I have never seen any student who works really hard fail because they are determined to achieve their goals.
How does peer learning impact student motivation?
They motivate each other. You may think, “today I don’t need you but tomorrow I may need you.” We aren’t talking about a competition where you are bringing others down, it’s about collaboration. When it comes to motivation it’s about understanding the “why?” and the goal. Motivation is what you need but being motivated is something you need to emulate.
Another story on motivation that I’ve seen: at the end of a huge one-month project, there was a group of 4 or 5 students who were working 80-90 hours per week for 4 weeks. Towards the end of the project, they pulled 1 or 2 all-nighters. After the oral defense, the first question is, “did you put your names on the project?” If you didn’t then you are done. Everything you have done is nothing and you get a zero. It’s the same as putting a number on a house. It is a way to identify yourself with the project.
The youngest of the group was really ticked off; he hated me, and he went to the dorms crying. One of the other group members ran after him and talked to him. He said to him, “you know we are not doing it for the grade, we are doing it to learn. Don’t stop because there are so many opportunities. It is a pain now, but later we will laugh about it.” A few hours later he came back and apologized to me. After a few days of rest, they started working on the next project. I told him he needs to learn to control his emotions. I explained how even though you are not happy now, don’t screw everything. And again, asking yourself “why?” is very important.
What can employers expect from 42 students when it comes to motivation?
42 students are good at being self-motivated, and they are good at motivating other people. When you are at the bottom, it’s hard to motivate someone else. If you are able to self-motivate yourself you will be able to carry other people. In a job, you have to be willing to learn new things all your life. Every day you need to motivate yourself to learn new things otherwise you’ll get bored. 42 students are always learning and ready to take on a new challenge.
Do you have any advice for students when it comes to motivation?
Everyone should be aware of their own learning style in order to motivate themselves.
Ready to get motivated? Follow Gaetan’s lead and start with some push-ups!