What (or Who) is "In the Flow"?

Since I have been steeped in thought over trends and issues in instructional design and technology these past few months, I have given much thought to the notion of motivation. Many of us work in institutions where a language requirement exists, and as such a large body of students enter our beginning courses each semester with little to no intrinsic motivation: they’re there because they have to be there. Some instructors (not all, not even many, but some) manage to positively motivate students while they are in the classroom, but our current curricular paradigms do little to maintain this extrinsic motivation once they leave the classroom, when their motivation quickly evaporates (if we managed to give them any at all). “Immersion” in our language courses has become a cheap platitude that our students aren’t buying, even if we do speak only in the target language in class.

I was thinking about all of this while plowing through some readings on John Keller’s ARCS Model for Learner Motivation (You know: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction) when I came across a reference for one of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s books on Flow Theory, which I have started to read. Flow is the mental state in which students (to give an example) are truly fully immersed in what they are doing, experiencing energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of (in our case) language acquisition.

Csikszentmihalyi identifies the following dimensions of flow (not all needed to experience it, either):

*Clear goals, aligned with one’s skill set and abilities

*A high degree of concentration on a limited field

*A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness

*Distorted sense of time

*Direct and immediate feedback

*Balance between ability level and challenge

*A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.

*The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so that action seems effortlessness.

*People become absorbed in their activity

Looking at this list, you have to wonder what TELL technologies are Flow-friendly. Not to pick on products in particular, but is Blackboard doing it for you? How about Sanako? Any thoughts on this?

Of course, I’m going to argue that games in general, and Second Life in particular could, as far as they are fashioned correctly.

However, as you look at this list, you also have to wonder which teachers are Flow-friendly. Are you? How?

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Doug Canfield has been running an "other-minded" language center down in the Tennessee Hills for about 8 years. A lapsed (recovering?) medievalist and French teacher, his passion now involves emerging research paradigms for exploring language instruction and learning, especially in virtual worlds. His goals include fostering the use of technology for instruction, communication, collaboration, and recreation. His alter ego sometimes blogs elsewhere.

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