Go With the Flow


You know that feeling when you’re in the zone?

Csikszentmihalyi proposes that you’re experiencing “flow” – a deep intrinsic motivation where action and awareness merge.  In the classroom it’s a big part of focusing students on the value of what we want them to learn.  It’s achieved when the challenge of the task at hand matches the current skill level of your students – a very delicate balance indeed.


If the challenge is too great for the current abilities of your students, you might experience anxiety in the classroom. Conversely, when the task you’ve set is too easy for the current skills of your students, you’ll probably be met with boredom. It’s best to have your students ride the wave of the “flow channel” if you want to keep them engaged.

When I think about moments in my life where I’ve achieved a sense of flow, I remember being highly immersed in video games. And as I read more and more about why we play games, it’s becoming clear that there are deep-rooted design features based on what motivates us. It has a lot to do with what we think is important and what we believe we can accomplish. This is known as the expectancy-value model. Here it is described in the context of a video game:


Ultimately, video games excel at setting clear goals and showing a player’s progression towards those goals. This usually culminates in a substantial challenge that provides the player with some sort of sought-after reward for overcoming it.

Imagine the next course you teach is a video game that you’ve designed and will be played by your students. They’ll start at level 1 and be given clear goals and objectives along the way. Students will build their skills by engaging in appropriately challenging participatory learning activities and classroom assessment techniques, while getting plenty of formative feedback about their progress. This will build towards the various evaluations, which will increase in difficulty throughout the semester but match the skill level of the students at any given time. Hopefully they’ll be ready for the final boss and be completely immersed along the way.

I guess you can say that your students will just go with the flow.


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