Carlton J. Fong, an Educational Psychology Ph.D. student, has dedicated his doctoral studies to researching the causes of intrinsic motivation. Carlton has seen his research reach beyond its primary scope, and with the help of his Powers Fellowship, is ready to add even more new insights to his field.
“I’m really grateful for the Powers Fellowship,” said Carlton. “It’s been wave upon wave of good news through this process.” He added, “For me, this past year I taught as an AI for an educational psychology course, and that was a joy to teach and to get to know the undergrads, but it took up a lot of time.” The Powers Fellowship will allow him to focus all of his efforts on his research.
His project began with the desire to better understand how educators could best motivate students. Through his research, though, he has seen that his findings also apply to other relationships, such as coach-athlete, boss-employee, and even parent-child.
“I talk to teachers, and their biggest complaint is that students aren’t motivated to learn,” he said. “That’s what drew me to this large field of motivation. By better understanding motivation, it can be easier to motivate anyone."
In addition to his research’s wide-reaching significance, Carlton appreciates the sweeping importance of psychological discoveries throughout many fields. In order to take advantage of the flexibility of psychology’s ability to reach multiple domains, Carlton is making motivation easy for all people to understand.
Under the advisement of Erika Patall, Carlton was able to see the gaps in the existing research and is now working on filling those gaps. There is a lot of research that has been done on positive feedback leading to motivation, but what he wanted to see was how criticism can be a motivating factor. “Sometimes you need negative feedback,” said Carlton, “and when you give someone negative information, you should do it in a positive way.”
Because constructive feedback is difficult to define, Carlton set out to define it through his research. With the help of his other advisor, Diane Schallert, primary research is being conducted with pre-service teachers to better define and evaluate constructive criticism as motivating feedback.
Carlton has been inspired for a long time to add something new and substantial to his field. “When I was a senior (at UC Berkeley) I was torn between education and research... But then I realized that I can not only train future teachers, I can conduct research that will affect teachers and students; I can shape education.”
He knew that UT Austin was the right place to achieve his ambitious research goals. Then he visited the UT College of Education and was very impressed by the faculty, students and the diverse community of support and research.
Since he got to UT, he has been achieving his research goals, and recognizing how to continually improve his research. “It will continue to develop. I think there are going to be useful implications for how people in positions to give feedback can play a motivating role. There are going to be practical implications for how to give feedback and evaluate performance,” he said.
Considering the volatile position that education is currently in, Carlton is inspired to continue in academia when he has graduated. He hopes to be a faculty member at a research university and to continue his line of research.
“I think we’re in an era, policy-wide and politically, of evaluation, which is really important today. Telling people how to be evaluated will be prevalent, and teaching how to give that feedback needs to be understood. Seeing this grow into multiple contents and directions is where I want to take this research,” said Carlton.
Carlton has helped launch a related blog that talks about this research. You can view it at motivationlab.wordpress.com.
by Laura Messer