Project Title: Maintaining Long-term Student Motivation for Academic Content Courses in English


JII is supporting a three-year research project that will analyze motivational factors of students studying academic content courses in English at a major private university. Funding is also being applied for from the Ministry of Education.

Research goals include: 1) identification of motivational factors associated with program attrition and success; 2) identification of study strategies critical for succeeding with high-level academic work in English; 3) identification of program features critical for maintaining long-term student motivation. The theoretical framework used centers on the notion of deep learning, and psychological engagement and resistance. Results will inform program improvements such as: study skills workshops, and best-practice seminars for faculty members. Results will be widely diffused within Japan to support other universities offering academic content courses in English.

Background: Increasingly, universities in Japan are offering academic coursework in English, whether as individual courses or entire programs of study. However, doing high-level academic work in English is a challenge for many students. This research will be carried with students participating in one such program, the Global Interdisciplinary Course (GIC) at Keio University. The GIC was started in 2016 as part of the Top Global University Project (Type A). The GIC offers academic classes in English to students at all ten Keio faculties. Students who complete 40 credits total are awarded a certificate. In 2019, the GIC offered more than 400 academic content classes in English.

Key questions: The research will do a needs analysis to identify non-linguistic factors which are associated with maintaining long-term motivation and successful completion of coursework. Specifically, this project will compare inner-directed motivation (interest in foreign experiences, personal growth, making foreign friends) versus outer-directed motivation (grades, certificates, career advancement). It will also examine social factors in maintaining long-term motivation, such as peer-support and good relations with teachers. Research results will be used to make improvements in the program, and to allow for the GIC to act as a model for academic English programs at other universities. Often, programs promoting English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) focus on linguistic support (concept summaries/translations, academic word lists, writing labs), and may overlook other ways in which learner motivation can be increased. This research seeks to identify practical program features (e.g. study-skill workshops; community building activities) that have an important impact on program success.

Scientific Significance: Academic content courses in English can be difficult to implement successfully. At GIC, student motivation is high at the beginning, but students struggle to maintain their motivation over time. This is not simply a question of English ability. Research suggests, that metacognitive abilities such as planning, monitoring and evaluating the direction of learner efforts are critical for success with high-level academic work in English, and even more important than language proficiency or general intelligence. Students may lack experience with basic study skills. They may need support with critical thinking or specific skills, such as research paper writing. Motivational factors are also important. Students may also feel isolated because of a lack of social support; they may have little experience with classroom interaction in English (discussion, project work, raising hands to ask questions, interactive discussion, etc.). They may have little experience interacting with foreign teachers or international students and lack intercultural confidence. Any of these factors can reduce motivation and lead to students giving up and dropping out of classes or the program.

Research Objectives

Purpose: This project will evaluate the forms of support that are most important for Japanese students doing academic studies in English. Those results will be used to inform study-skills workshops and faculty development initiatives. In the third year of this project, student satisfaction and learner success will be compared with previous years to quantify improvements. Data gathering will focus on three areas:

1) Motivation profiles: Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods, this project will identify common motivation profiles among program participants. In particular, it will seek to understand the relative importance of 1) inner (intrinsic) versus 2) outer (extrinsic) forms of motivation. This will help the program know whether to emphasize, for example, awards, certificates, points (extrinsic motivators), or opportunities to develop inner motivation (intrinsic motivators), such as social events with foreign students, peer support groups, etc.

2) Learner support: Based on motivation profiles, and qualitative program feedback, the effectiveness of different forms of learner support will be explored. In particular, results will inform the development of workshops to help students deepen their engagement in learning, and increase autonomy. In particular, research will evaluate the importance of providing study strategy practice, as well as opportunities to deepen their relationships with peers, foreign students, and faculty members.

3) Faculty support: Based on a better understanding of learner needs, faculty development workshops will be planned to help faculty members better meet the needs of their students through improved pedagogy. In particular, teachers are sometimes not accustomed to teaching academic content in English, or may struggle to pedagogy appropriate for mixed-level classes.