Innovative Instructor: Mindsets and Academic Motivation

Graphic depiction of fixed vs growth mindset with characteristics and results

By Dr.Carol Dweck, graphic by Nigel Holmes. View full size graphic here.

Do you wish students were more engaged with the content? Have you struggled with lethargic students in your class?  Carol Dweck’s research on the psychology of motivation describes how a student’s “mindset” can influence their motivation to learn and ultimately their academic success.

Carol S. Dweck is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.  Her research on motivation led her to develop a theory of mindsets described in her book Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success.  There has been much discussion of her research in the popular press including National Public Radio (Students View of Intelligence Can Help Grades), Wall Street Journal (Flumoxed by Failure –  or Focused?), and the New York Times (How to Not Talk to Your Kids).

A fixed mindset is one defined by a belief that talent and intelligence are innate.   Students with a growth mindset believe that innate talents and intelligence are just the starting point, and can be cultivated through hard work (Mindsets, p.7). A mindset analogy used at the Laurel School is that brains are more like muscles than skeletons.  Brains, like muscles, start small and grow with sustained, challenging effort.

Both mindsets can motivate someone to succeed, but Dweck’s work shows it occurs for different reasons and with different outcomes.  Those with a growth mindset learn for the love of learning, while those with a fixed mindset are motivated to reveal their identity as talented and/or intelligent.  Students with a fixed mindset are vulnerable to failure – criticism can lead them to shut down. A fixed mindset “creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character – well, then you had better prove you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics” (Mindsets, p.6).

Dweck’s research has shown that over time individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to outperform those with a fixed mindset. (Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S., 2007. Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an interventionChild Development78. 246-263, Study 1). In addition, helping students develop a growth mindset may reduce gender and racial achievement gaps. (Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C.S., 2007, Study 2; Aronson, J., Fried, C. B., & Good, C., 2002. Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligenceJournal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 113-125.)

If a growth mindset is more likely to lead to deeper learning and lasting outcomes, can we help our students to adopt a growth mindset?  Dweck suggests teachers can shape their students’ mindsets through the following.

1)      Set high expectations – Students don’t learn by simply being celebrated.  They need to be challenged.

2)      Praise the process – Feedback shapes a student’s mindset.  Words reflecting permanent traits (e.g., “You must be smart to have done so well!”) lead students to develop fixed mindsets.  To encourage the development of a growth mindset, focus feedback on effort and process.  “You did well on this test. Tell me how you mastered the content?”

3)      Create risk-tolerant learning environments – allow students to fail and experiment. Communicate at the beginning of the semester or difficult assignment that you expect mistakes will be made.  “When students fail, teachers should also give feedback about effort or strategies — what the student did wrong and what he or she could do next.” (

4)      When appropriate, expose students to basic neuroscience research – Dweck’s research shows that students briefly introduced to how the brain changes through the learning process (e.g., how neurons change after a challenging task) are more likely to adopt a growth mindset. (Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C.S., 2007).

Michael J. Reese, Associate Director
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: © Nigel Holmes (thanks to Mr. Holmes for permission granted for use in this post)

Plagiarism Detection: Moving from “Gotcha” to Teachable Moment

Parts of this post appeared in our The Innovative Instructor print series with the title Turnitin by CER staff member Brian Cole.

A previous The Innovative Instructor post on preventing plagiarism gave links to websites with guides, tutorials, and activities.

Sign with hand and text reading prevent plagiarism.Integrity is a core value for every academic community. Here at Johns Hopkins training students on ethical behavior including plagiarism begins at freshman orientation. However, the importance of proper citation and use of paraphrasing and quotations are not learned in a single session. While our librarians offer ongoing support, both directly to students and by working with faculty in the classroom providing modules on research resources and specific citation standards, improper citation practices and outright plagiarism continue to be a problem at our campus and elsewhere.

Part of the problem is the ease of cutting and pasting that comes along with unparalleled access to online content. Although resources on avoiding plagiarism are available to students, often they do not have a good understanding of proper quotation and paraphrasing techniques or when and how to cite borrowed material. On the other side, it is cumbersome for instructors to check submitted papers for originality against online sources. At a certain point, particularly in courses with large enrollments, the process of checking suspect papers using a Google search becomes unmanageable, and some content will not show up using standard search engines.

Enter plagiarism detection software applications. These applications have gained popularity in the higher education community as easily available online source material has proliferated. Googling for “plagiarism checker” will yield links to a number of applications, including some that are free. At Johns Hopkins, we have a license for the widely-used application known as Turnitin. Turnitin is a web-based service for detecting plagiarism and improper citations in student-submitted work.

Some faculty have been reluctant to turn to a plagiarism detection tool feeling that it creates an atmosphere of distrust in the classroom. But rather than seeing it as a “gotcha” faculty should know that Turnitin’s value goes beyond simply identifying plagiarism in student papers. The reports produced allow instructors to flag misunderstandings as to proper usage of borrowed content and direct students to remedial resources. Turnitin can be an excellent teaching tool.

Turnitin’s Originality Report does not judge whether a student has plagiarized. Rather, it shows what percentage of a paper’s text matches a source and what source it matches. It is then up to the instructor to decide whether the matches are acceptable, whether they are the result of improper citations, or if they constitute inappropriate use of others’ works.

Instructors can decide on several variables for each assignment, such as whether students can see the Originality Report and resubmit papers. Writing classes often use these options to teach proper citation.

It’s worth noting that in the past there have been controversies surrounding the use of Turnitin and similar services. Students have contended that it is illegal for these companies to keep their papers in its database and accused them of improperly deriving profit from student submitted work. Turnitin has weathered these controversies and prevailed in court challenges, mainly because they do not publish the student submissions but only use them for matching.

Knowing that their papers will be checked sends the message to your students that they need to be mindful of proper citation practices. As a best practice, it is recommended that you not single out individual papers for checking as then all students are not subject to the same scrutiny. Rather, all student papers from a given assignment should be submitted for plagiarism detection.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Brian Cole, Senior Information Technologist
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art edited by Macie Hall