As for the essay, I managed to get it done and handed in on time. No official grade and feedback yet, but I have been praised for how "beautifully insane" it was. Not sure if that's a good thing yet.. Here it is:
"Handling Motivational Dissonance by Manipulating Perceptions"
by Charlotte Gyseman
Essay writing as a game:
By manipulating our perception of essay writing, we can imagine it as a one-player game with goals, rules, challenges and interaction (Wikipedia, 2010a). To “write an essay in an academic style” can be perceived as the rules of the game. The goal can be to hand the essay in on time, while the challenge can be to write an essay that gets a good mark. We can also view it the other way around, with the goal being to write an essay that gets a good mark but the challenge being to hand the essay in on time. When the goal is to write a good essay, interaction manifests during the editing process where the “player” or essay writer will write the essay, read it back to see if they think it is good enough, and then make adjustments and continue in this manner, manipulating information and then evaluating their perception of the information until either they are happy with the essay or until they have reached the deadline (Wikipedia, 2010b). To make clearer the concept of essay writing as a game, I can compare it to a game of TicTacToe. We could say that writing a good essay is like getting three in a row, while meeting the deadline is like preventing the opponent from getting three in a row before we have run out of squares. While the ideal situation would be to hand in a good essay on time [just like the ideal situation in TicTacToe is to get three in a row before the opponent has a chance to], handing in an essay on time may not always result in a “win” or a really good grade, but you at least still have the chance to “tie” or to get a passing grade if you keep working against the clock, whereas if you concentrate too much on trying to get “three in a row” or to write a really good essay, you may find that it is too late and your opponent, Time, has reached “three in a row” first and won.
This is not the only way the concept of essay writing as a game could be compared to TicTacToe, and is by no means necessarily the best way for students to think about it. However, it is quite similar to the way in which many students will often perceive the situation that so often results in the feelings of motivational dissonance that I will highlight within this essay. “Motivational dissonance” in this essay refers to the sense of conflict between motivations, which can result in the motives not being resolved. It is related to the concept of cognitive dissonance (Wikipedia, 2010c) but focuses more on the conflict perceived between motives rather than the conflict perceived between ideas.
Playing by The Rules:
One of the first hurdles the student must overcome is learning the rules of the game. If they cannot play by the rules because they do not know them, they cannot win. This is where independent research and learning may be required, as for some university students the teaching of how to write well academically is not always a prerequisite of the setting an essay question and deadline, as sometimes the intention is to force the student to learn “the rules” independently (Manning et al., 2010). Some students will not attempt to learn how to write well; as they will feel that the most pressing issue is actually what they write about and not how they write.
This parallels the feeling that W. Kadinsky (1912) puts forward in his essay, On the Problem of Form. His writing implies that it is not important what form the expression of ideas takes, but instead what matter are the ideas themselves. While we can agree that the ideas expressed are of some importance, in the context of writing an essay in order to achieve a good grade it would seem that the form is just as if not more important as the ideas expressed, especially if the student is in fact being assessed in part on their capability to write an academic essay; their ability to follow the “rules”.
The opposite point of view; that the form or medium is more important to focus on rather than the content, has been argued by McLuhan (1964) within his works on media, such as Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Not only does his work imply that students should pay more attention to how they are delivering their ideas, it also demands inspection of the motivation to demand the academic essay style in the first place, and raises questions of what effects will arise from the demand for students to express their ideas in such a way. The implication is that although these effects are obscured or hidden by the more conscious awareness of the superficial effects of the content, the effect of the medium is just as if not more important to be made aware of because of the very nature and danger of their subtlety.
One of the possible effects is implied by Maslow (1943) in A Theory of Human Motivation, in which he suggests that humans are perpetually motivated to fulfil pressing needs and that when those needs are satisfied, new needs emerge. He implies that most people will go around with multiple unsatisfied needs, but will have prioritised those needs based on what they perceive they are lacking, and what they perceive they are capable of lacking without much harm coming to them or their ability to acquire what they need the most. This can suggest that when a student decides not to learn how to write an academic essay well, it is because they do not feel that an incapability to write an academic essay well is a great danger to their overall capability to satisfy their more pressing needs. A key point to be noted is that the behaviour is more directly dependent upon the perception of the situation, be it conscious or subconscious, rather than the actual situation itself.
Staying Aware of the Opponents:
The opponent in the TicTacToe example we used earlier is the deadline, or more generally, Time. Completing anything with a deadline is essentially a race against time, and the odds of winning the race depend not only on the student’s ability to run in the race, but also the awareness that they are even in the race. Some students will often deny they are even in the race, until the deadline gets really close and the pressure of it is felt. Only then will some acknowledge that they are supposed to be racing, often resulting in the phenomenon known as “Crunch Time”, where suddenly huge amounts of effort will be put in to finish the work. This phenomenon occurs not only in students, but in many other processes of production dependant on humans (Hughes, 2008).
Possible causes for the Crunch Time phenomenon are implied by Maslow. If his suggestion that people will satisfy those needs that demand the most attention to the detriment of all other needs that are perceived as less important is true, then it is safe to assume that those who bring upon themselves what Maslow would likely describe as “the symptom” of Crunch Time, do so because the pressing need to finish the essay in the time left before the deadline is not seen as important as satisfying other needs demanding their attention, at least until Time is short and is brought to the foreground of the student’s attention.
Procrastination is another symptom that seems to manifest often within students and humans in general. Continuing along the ideas present in Maslow’s theory of human motivation, we can suggest multiple causes for procrastination, which can be (but are not necessarily) linked to and feed off of each other (Maslow, 1943). Procrastination can result from feelings of inadequacy stemming from the student’s lack of knowledge of how to write a good essay. They will shun the essay as long as they can, doing instead the things that they feel they are much more capable of doing, anything, even cleaning their rooms, so long as they don’t have to face writing the essay, reassuring themselves as they do by saying they need to do those things first (AgentXPQ, 2006).
Procrastination can also result from a feeling of retaliation: in being told that they have to do the essay, the student can feel that their freedom is in danger, and as a result will ignore the fact that they should be spending time doing the essay and instead spend their time doing things they would usually take for granted. This need to exercise their freedom can also work with the need to feel adequate or right, and the student will justify their actions to themselves, for example, “I’ve been meaning to tidy my room anyway.” Maslow’s theory also suggests that social needs can play a part; students who ordinarily spend large amounts of time with friends but are not used to handling deprivation from their friends may react quite strongly, and will feel a stronger desire to go out and have fun. The needs that will take a student’s attention away from the task of completing the essay on time will not always have any relation to the essay itself. A student can be so focused on another problem, for example, an issue satisfying their need for love or comfort, that they will have trouble concentrating, not just on the essay, but on anything that will not help satisfy them directly. It is also possible that while the other needs can be merely somewhat unsatisfied, the combined dissatisfaction felt from these needs may be greater than the need felt to write the essay. (Maslow, 1943)
Winning the Game:
The good news is that if a student can be made aware of needs and issues such as these, then they will be better equipped to work out a solution. If they are made aware that feelings of inadequate skill in writing is a problem, they can more easily realise that to make things feel easier, then a possible solution is to get help with their writing until they can write well enough to feel like they have adequate skill. If they feel like the essay is taking up valuable time, they can realise that wasting time doing things in retaliation to this feeling of a lack of freedom is actually even worse, as not only are they wasting time, they are also allowing the essay to control their reaction, further thwarting their satisfaction of freedom.
When the essay is no longer seen as a dominant threat or enemy, the student can more easily accept the reasons why doing the essay would be more beneficial for them than not, and can even use it as an opportunity to satisfy needs that feel more pressing, essentially co-operating with the motives of the people who have set them the essay. To win the game of essay writing, we must manipulate our perception of the essay and what it will mean for our ability to achieve our own goals. When we work as if the essay is an opportunity to help ourselves, and not a threat designed with the intention to trap us or humiliate us or waste our time, then we can win. Otherwise, the best outcome that we can hope for is a tie.
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HUGHES B. 2008. InfoQ: Why Crunch Mode Doesn’t Work. [WWW] < http://www.infoq.com/news/2008/01/crunch-mode > (May 10 2010)
KADINSKY W. “On the Problem of Form.” Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider, 1912) [WWW] < http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/phil%20of%20art/kandinskytext5.htm > (May 10 2010)
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TicTacToe: a simple turn-based two-player game with the objective of getting three symbols in a row within a 3x3 square table, also known as Noughts&Crosses and 3-in-a-Row.
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