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Teacher motivation, student motivation and teacher-course evaluations
Vincent F. Filak, Ph.D.
Ball State University
Department of Journalism
278D AJ Building
Muncie, IN 47306
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Kennon M. Sheldon, Ph.D.
University of Missouri-Columbia
Department of Psychology
Paper submitted to the Scholastic Division for presentation at the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference.
Does academic motivation go "down the line," from administrators to
teachers to students? We tested a two-level path model based on
self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000), using a sample of 220
introductory journalism students nested within 14 different course
instructors. In the best-fitting model, perceived autonomy-support from
administrators predicted self-determined instructor motivation. In turn,
self-determined instructors provided more autonomy support to their
students, which then predicted more self-determined course motivation in
students. Self-determined student motivation and teacher autonomy-support
led to greater student psychological need-satisfaction, which led finally
to higher grades and higher teacher-course evaluations. Overall, the
results replicate and significantly extend Filak and Sheldon's (2003)
earlier study of need-satisfaction and teacher-course
evaluations. Implications for pedagogy and educational interventions are
If instructors accept the premise that students control their own grade
through effort, skill and intellect, then the question of how to attain
positive grades of their own should be of considerable interest to
teachers. What can teachers do to cause students to "grade" (i.e. evaluate)
them most highly? Researchers have long examined what causes students to
positively evaluate their instructors and their classes. Some research has
centered on concrete factors, such as grading policies and workload, and
other research has focused on more psychological concepts, including
rapport and enthusiasm (Best & Addison, 2000; Ellis et al., 2003; Feldman,
1976; Marsh, 1987; McCarthy et al, 2003). Recently, Filak and Sheldon
(2003) argued that variations in students' psychological need satisfaction
accounts for many earlier-reported effects. According to
self-determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1991, 2000), students
whose psychological needs are most fully satisfied during the educational
process should indicate the highest valuation of the instructor and the
course, as well as the greatest objective performance levels.
A Four-Stage Model of Optimal Motivation and Performance
Over the past two decades, SDT researchers have found support for an
intricate causal model of the entire motivational process (Deci & Ryan,
1985, 1991, 2000). This model focuses on the crucial role of psychological
need-satisfaction as a mediator, helping to explain positive outcomes of
many types. However, the SDT model also focuses on two variables
"upstream" of psychological need-satisfaction: namely, the autonomy
support that an individual receives within the socio-motivational context,
and, the type of task motivation he or she derives as a result of that
support. The general SDT model is presented in Figure 1 and has received
support in a wide variety of domains including medicine (Williams et al.,
1998), sports (Chatzisarantis et al., 2003), organizations (Sheldon et al,
2003) and personal well being (Reis et al., 2000). We will review the
general model below.
The Importance of Autonomy Support
Ultimately, SDT is a social theory of motivation, which addresses the
dialectical relations between motivating authorities and partially engaged
subordinates. Specifically, SDT posits that autonomy-support is essential
for building positive motivation in others. Deci and Ryan (1985) define
autonomy-support as the process of providing choice whenever choice is
possible, offering a meaningful rationale when no choice can be made
available, and taking the perspective of subordinate in such situations
(i.e., "You have to learn the multiplication tables, but you can choose how
you do it, and who you do it with. I know this probably doesn't seem like
fun, but it is really important for everything you'll learn after
this."). A wide variety of studies in the educational realm have
documented the importance of autonomy-supportive (versus controlling)
motivational styles. For example, Deci, Schwartz, Sheinman and Ryan (1981)
found that elementary-school teachers who employed more autonomy-supportive
tactics had students who reported more curiosity, more respect for learning
and more independent attempts for mastery. Also, Black and Deci (2000)
found that college-students' perceptions of instructor autonomy support led
them to report increases in self-regulation and diminished anxiety
regarding their grades. Benware and Deci (1984) and Grolnick and Ryan
(1987) provided further evidence that autonomy-supportive teaching produces
higher-quality student motivation.
Quantifying the "Quality" of Motivation
This leads to the question of what is the "quality motivation" that
autonomy-support produces? According to SDT, quality motivation is that
which has been fully internalized, such that the person feels a sense of
owning and causing his/her own behavior, even if he or she does not enjoy
it. Ryan and Connell (1989) outlined a four-step continuum of motivations,
ranging from non-internalized to partially internalized to fully
internalized to automatically internalized. In order, external motivation
is driven by a sense of outside compunction, in which an individual feels
forced to undertake an activity and would not have done so otherwise had
they not felt forced to act. Introjected motivation is driven by internal
pressure, as a person compels himself or herself to undertake a task in
order to avoid guilt or anxiety. On the other side of the continuum,
identified motivation involves seeing value in the activity even if it is
unpleasant, and engaging in the activity with a full sense of
volition. Finally, intrinsic motivation involves acting purely for
enjoyment and challenge. In other words, the experience of undertaking the
activity is itself is more than adequate reward. External, introjected,
and identified motivations are all extrinsic motivations, because the
person acts in service of some reward beyond the behavior itself. However,
both identified and intrinsic motivations are viewed as self-determined,
because the person feels a full sense of volition in their enactment.
According to SDT, the primary goal of good teaching should be to enhance
intrinsic motivation (or at least, to avoid undermining it). Good teaching
should also help transmute external and introjected motivations into
identified motivations – that is, to foster students' internalization of
the academic behaviors, such that they can feel self-determined even if
they are not enjoying what they are doing at a particular moment. Research
indicates that this is precisely what autonomy-supportive teaching brings
about (Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, & Leone, 1994; Deci, Ryan, & Williams,
1996). Thus, we have included a path from Autonomy-Supportive Teaching to
Self-Determined Motivation, in Figure 1.
Assessing Psychological Need-Satisfaction
According to SDT, internalized (or self-determined) motivation is important
because it tends to produce psychological need-satisfaction (hence the path
from Internalized Motivation to Need-Satisfaction, in Figure
1). Psychological needs are viewed as experiential nutriments that all
humans need to have fulfilled, in order to achieve optimal levels of mood,
performance, and health (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Ryan, 1995). Specifically, SDT
posits that all individuals need to feel autonomy, competence and
relatedness during their daily lives in order to thrive, in the same way
that plants need sun, soil, and water to thrive. The three needs are
additive in nature; thus, while the satisfaction of one need is beneficial,
an individual's psychological well being and overall functioning will be
best served when all three needs are met (Ryan, 1995).
In brief, autonomy involves feeling that one is the owner or author of
one's current behavior, rather than feeling that one is being coerced or
controlled by others. In an educational setting, students would feel
autonomous if they were allowed input into their behavior, and if they felt
a sense of identification with that behavior. Competence involves feeling
that one is taking on and mastering significant challenges, rather than
feeling that one is behaving ineffectively or incompetently. In an
educational setting, students demonstrate competence by achieving command
of increasingly difficult material. Relatedness involves feeling a
meaningful connection between oneself and important others, rather than
feeling like an object whose experiences are ignored or
discounted. Relatedness is similar to the universal need for belongingness
or inclusion that was posited by Baumeister and Leary (1995).
Considerable research now supports the idea that these three needs are each
important for optimal functioning (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Sheldon et al., 1996;
Sheldon et al, 2001). Our own previous research in regard to course
evaluations (Filak & Sheldon, 2003) demonstrated that all three needs
simultaneously predicted positive teacher evaluations, and autonomy and
competence predicted positive course evaluations (and thus, we have
included a path in Figure 1 from Need-Satisfaction to Positive
Outcomes). However, in our prior work we only examined the third and
fourth steps of the Figure 1 model. That is, we did not assess instructor
autonomy-support or student course motivation. Thus, the primary aim of
the current study was to test all four steps of the SDT model
simultaneously (Deci & Ryan, 2000). The current study would be the first
to examine the entire four-stage model in the post-secondary domain, and
also the first to focus the model upon students' evaluations of their
teachers and courses as the primary outcome variable in such a model.
Extending the Four-Stage Model Backwards from the Student
We also wished to extend the model backwards, beyond the student. We tried
to apply the model to students' teachers, as well as to students
themselves. Since the class was in its first semester of being redesigned
-- from a completely lab-centric course to a lecture/lab course taught off
of a master syllabus that dictated what teachers should teach, as well as
how and when it should be taught – we were presented with a unique
opportunity, namely, to examine the extent instructors felt their own
autonomy was being supported by academic administrators, during the
transition. Applying the SDT model a second time at this "higher level" of
analysis yields an extension of the Figure 1 model, which is presented in
Figure 2. The model states that administrator autonomy-support influences
teacher motivation, which in turn influences teacher autonomy-support.
Teacher's autonomy-support in turn influences student motivation, which
influences student need-satisfaction, which in turn affects teacher-course
evaluations as well as student grade.
In this study we collected the data relevant to this entire six-stage
model. Because of the two-level design, the data allowed us to evaluate
important concepts of motivational contagion and transmission, perhaps
illuminating the means by which higher-level administrative attitudes
"trickle down," ultimately, to influence student outcomes. A few studies
have examined this important transmission issue. For example, Williams and
Deci (1996) found that medical students who received instruction that was
autonomy supportive were more likely to use similar methods when they
explained their actions to a patient. Wild, Enzle, Nix and Deci (1997)
found that students who perceived teachers to be intrinsically motivated
not only showed higher levels of task enjoyment but also better transferred
this level of enjoyment to a second learner that they were asked to
teach. Our study attempts to demonstrate this transmission process in a
somewhat different way than before.
Because we hoped to replicate and extend the results of our earlier work,
the primary "final outcomes" we examined were teacher evaluations and
course evaluations. However, we also assessed student grades, to examine
whether these positive psychological processes impact students' class
performance. Considerable SDT research suggests that it should, as
motivation and need-satisfaction have been shown in many studies to
influence objective performance outcomes (see Deci & Ryan, 2002, for a
review). Our analytical strategy is to first evaluate the four-step path
model provided in Figure 1, using structural equation modeling
software. Then we attempt to extend the model to the teacher level of
analysis, thereby demonstrating the "transmission effect" (see Figure 2).
In addition to conducting these primary model tests, we also conduct
several supplementary analyses. In one analysis we examine the influence
of the number of years teachers have taught this specific course upon
student need-satisfaction, hoping to replicate our earlier finding that
longer-term teachers produce less autonomy and relatedness
need-satisfaction, but equal competence need-satisfaction, in their
students. In a second analysis we compare the current sample and the
previous sample (Filak and Sheldon, 2003, Study 2), by evaluating mean
differences between the two samples on psychological need-satisfaction and
teacher-course evaluation variables. Because these data were collected
immediately after the curriculum for the course was standardized across the
14 sections of the course (perhaps depriving teachers of autonomy), it
seemed possible that students in the current sample would evidence reduced
need-satisfaction or lower teacher-course evaluations compared to the
We administered a survey at a Midwestern university to students in an
introductory journalism course that was composed of 14 individual lab
sections. Students (n = 220) and instructors (n = 14) completed survey
instruments during one of the lab periods near the end of Winter Semester
2003. Students were asked to rate their responses to a series of items that
evaluated their experiences in the class. Instructors were asked to rate
their experiences in teaching the class.
The instruments in the student survey were administered in the following
Students' course and instructor evaluations. Students rated their overall
reactions to the course and the instructor. Course approval was defined
with a two-item index ("Overall, this was an excellent course" and "I would
recommend this course to a friend," alpha = .86). Instructor approval was
defined similarly ("Overall, this teacher was excellent" and "I would
recommend this teacher to a friend," alpha = .93). These items mimic the
overall approval items normally used in this department's student course
evaluations and thus provide good real-world indices of instructional
effectiveness (d'Apollonia & Abrami, 1997; Marsh & Roche, 1997).
Students' psychological need-satisfaction. The measure was based on the
Basic Psychological Needs Scale (Ilardi, Leone, Kasser & Ryan, 1993), which
we had previously adapted to measure student experiences in class (Filak &
Sheldon, 2003). The autonomy items used in the student survey were "I feel
like I had a lot of input in deciding how to learn in this class," "I was
free to express my opinions in this class," and "The teacher took my
perspective into consideration in this class" (alpha = .79). Competence
items were "I enjoyed the challenges this class has provided," "Most days
I felt a sense of accomplishment from doing work in this class," and "I do
not think the tasks I did in this class were very stimulating" (last item
was reversed; alpha = .81). Relatedness items were "The teacher cared about
me and my progress," The teacher was pretty friendly towards me," and "I
don't feel the teacher understood me" (last item was reversed; alpha = .80).
Teachers' autonomy-supportive behavior. Students were also asked to rate a
series of statements assessing the degree to which they felt their
instructors engaged in autonomy-supportive behaviors. The scale used here
was the truncated version of the Learning Climate Questionnaire (LCQ; Black
& Deci, 2000; Williams & Deci, 1996). Statements included in the six-item
scale were: "I feel that my instructor provides me with choices and
options" and "My instructor listens to how I would like to do things"
(alpha = .92).
Students' self-determined motivation. In addition, we used a
self-determination questionnaire, based on that of Ryan and Connell (1989),
to assess what motivated students to complete the coursework. A four-item
scale was used to measure the level of external ("You did the coursework
because somebody else wanted you to, or because the situation seemed to
compel it."), introjected ("You did the coursework because you would feel
ashamed, guilty or anxious if you didn't."), identified ("You did the
coursework because you really believe that it's an important course to
take.") and intrinsic motivation ("You did the coursework because of the
enjoyment or stimulation that it provided you.") the student felt when
completing tasks in the course. We computed an overall self-determined
motivation score by summing the ratings for extrinsic and introjected
motivation and subtracting them from the summed ratings of internalized and
intrinsic motivation (external and introjected items were reversed for
reliability analysis; alpha = .78).
We also asked students what they thought their final grade would be in this
class, as a third major outcome variable. Demographic information,
including area of specialization within the major, age, gender and year in
school, was also collected.
The instructor survey mimicked the student survey in regard to the
measurement of autonomy support from a superior and the level of
self-determined motivation felt with regard to the course.
Administrator's autonomy-supportive behavior. We again used the LCQ
six-item scale to measure autonomy-supportive behavior. The scale was
adapted linguistically to allow instructors to rate how supported they felt
by administrators in the redesigning of this course (alpha = .87).
Teachers' self-determined motivation. Teachers were asked to rate the
reasons why they taught the class. A four-item scale that mimicked the
student scale regarding the level of external, introjected, identified and
intrinsic motivation the instructors had in regard to teaching the class
was used to measure the instructor's felt self-determination (external and
introjected items were reversed for reliability analysis; alpha = .60).
Additionally, we collected demographic variables from the instructors,
including age, gender, years teaching at a college level and years teaching
this particular course.
Descriptives and correlations. As a first preliminary analysis, we
examined basic statistics. Table 1 presents means and standard deviations
for all variables, and Table 2 presents correlations between all of the
major study variables. Correlations between student-level variables are
based on an N of 220, and correlations between teacher-level variables are
based on an N of 14. Correlations between teacher- and student-level
variables are also based on an N of 14, and were computed after averaging
the student variables associated with each teacher. Although the
teacher-level correlations are similar in magnitude to those found within
the student data, only one of the teacher-level correlations (between
administrative autonomy-support and student competence satisfaction)
approached significance because of the small sample size.
Replicating earlier effects concerning teacher/course evaluations. As a
second preliminary analysis, we examined the replicability of the basic
effects reported in Filak and Sheldon (2003). In two different studies,
they found that all three need-satisfaction variables predicted positive
teacher evaluations, and that autonomy and competence predicted positive
course evaluations. In the current data, we conducted two simultaneous
regression models, one for course evaluations and one for teacher
evaluations, in which all three need-satisfaction variables were entered
simultaneously as predictors. We also controlled for participant gender,
GPA, and class. Replicating our earlier findings, autonomy (‚ = .24, p <
.01), competence (‚ = .17, p = .01), and relatedness (‚ = .47, p < .01)
each predicted a unique portion of the variance in teacher ratings. Also,
competence (‚ = .57, p < .01) and autonomy (‚ = .28, p < .01) both
predicted course ratings, whereas relatedness (‚ = .03, ns) again did not.
Predicting course grade. As a third preliminary analysis, we examined the
association of the three needs with the new outcome introduced in this
study, namely, expected course grade. In this analysis competence was
significant (‚ = .14, p = .05), relatedness was marginally significant (‚ =
.16, p < .10), and autonomy was non-significant (‚ = .05, ns). Thus,
whereas the earlier results and the results of Filak and Sheldon (2003)
suggest that autonomy and competence are most relevant for predicting
positive course evaluations, here, relatedness and competence appear most
relevant for predicting positive course performance. Future research will
need to evaluate the replicability of this pattern.
Teacher characteristics as predictors. Next, we conducted a fourth set of
preliminary analyses. Again, in our previous work (Filak and Sheldon,
2003, Study 2), we found that the number of years teaching this particular
course was negatively correlated with satisfying the interpersonal needs,
namely autonomy and relatedness. However, number of years teaching the
course was unrelated to competence satisfaction. We examined whether this
pattern would replicate in the current data.
Although we surveyed the same course here as we did in our earlier study
(exactly two years later), 9 of the 14 sections in the current study were
taught by instructors who did not take part in that earlier study (in
neither sample were instructors identifiable, thus no repeated measures
analyses could be conducted for the 5 continuing instructors). Furthermore,
while some of the same veteran teachers took part in both studies, a
rotational teaching schedule and instructor turnover allowed for the
removal of some previously surveyed veteran teachers. It also infused this
sample with different teachers who had considerable experience in teaching
this course but who had not been part of the earlier study.
To account for the two-level data structure, we employed SAS proc mixed
(Filak & Sheldon, 2003). In three different models, student
need-satisfaction (autonomy, competence, or relatedness) was predicted from
teacher's years of experience with this course, with class section
specified as an upper-level covariate. As before, we found that the number
of years teaching this course was negatively associated with average
student autonomy and relatedness need-satisfaction (both coefficients were
- .54, p < .05). Also, student competence need-satisfaction was again not
associated with the number of years teaching this particular course (the
coefficient was .10, p > .50). Thus, although longer-term instructors
continue to demonstrate effective behavior in conveying key material, they
again seemed less willing or able to connect with their students as people.
This replication of the earlier "course burnout" effect suggests that the
pattern is real, although further research is needed to evaluate whether
this finding can be generalized to other disciplines, courses and sets of
Comparing means for the pre- and post- syllabus standardization
samples. Finally, as a fifth preliminary analysis, we compared the data
from our earlier article's Study 2 sample, and the parallel data from the
current sample. Again, the earlier data was collected during a period in
which teachers were free to structure the course the way they wanted, and
the later data was collected immediately following the introduction of a
standardized syllabus for all sections of the course. Our purpose here was
to examine whether this change would affect students' levels of
satisfaction, or their teacher-course evaluations.
We added the files together then compared the ratings of the three needs
and the two outcome measures from the previous and current samples, using
one-way ANOVAs. Interestingly, there were no significant differences
between the groups in regard to the three needs or the teacher approval
ratings (all ps > .15). However, the current group was significantly less
positive in their course approval ratings (Ms = 4.48 vs. 4.95, F(1, 397) =
9.90, p < .01, suggesting that the change in format led students to reduced
appreciation for the course, but not for the instructors. These divergent
results should be good news for any instructor forced to implement a
curriculum that he or she did not choose, or to teach a course that
students are not fond of.
Primary Model Tests
Testing the path model at the student level. First, we tested the entire
Figure 1 model, evaluating the four-step sequence proposed by SDT at the
level of the students (ignoring the teacher level and questions of
transmission and contagion). Specifically, LISREL software (Joreskog &
Sorbonne, 1993) was used to test a model in which teacher's perceived
autonomy support predicts student's motivation, which in turn predicts
student's autonomy, competence, and relatedness need-satisfaction, which in
turn predict grade and positive teacher and course evaluations. In the
first run, we specified only direct paths from each variable to the next
variable downstream. In addition, we omitted paths from relatedness to
course evaluation and from autonomy to course grade, consistent with the
regression results above, which replicated our earlier results. We set the
error covariances between the three need-satisfaction variables free, as
well as between the two evaluation variables (course and teacher).
In this model, the expected paths based on theory and the above results
were all significant at the .05 level or better. Specifically, teacher
autonomy-support predicted student motivation; student motivation predicted
autonomy, competence, and relatedness need-satisfaction; autonomy,
competence, and relatedness each predicted positive teacher evaluations;
autonomy and competence predicted positive course evaluations; and
competence and relatedness predicted positive course grade. However, the
model did not provide an exceptionally good fit to the data (chi-square
with 13 degrees of freedom was 351.67, p < .01, where non-significant
values are typically considered indications of good fit; Comparative Fit
Index (CFI), Normed Fit Index (NFI), and Goodness of Fit index (GFI) were
.79, .80, and .82, respectively, where values of .90 or above are typically
considered indications of good fit; the root mean residual (RMR) was .22,
where values of .05 or less are typically considered indications of good
Inspection of the residuals indicated that the model would be improved if
direct paths were included from teacher autonomy-support to the three
student need-satisfaction variables, bypassing student motivation. Because
we do not necessarily expect that all of the benefits of good teaching flow
through the positive student motivation it engenders, we incorporated these
three paths and ran the model again. In this model, the new paths were
significant, all of the original paths were still significant, and the
model fit much better. Although chi-square with eight degrees of freedom
remained significant (chi-square = 44.80, p < .01), this is common with
large models. More telling is that CFI, NFI, and GFI improved to .98, .97,
and .95, respectively, indicating good fit. Also, the RMR was .039, less
than the .05 value usually taken as indicative of good fit. Thus, we
accepted this as the best-fitting model. The specific parameter estimates
for the model are given in Figure 3.
Testing the model with the inclusion of transmission effects. Finally, we
evaluated whether the "transmission" effects could be profitably
incorporated into the model. In other words, we examined whether
administrative autonomy support can be appended to the front of the chain,
followed by teacher motivation, followed by teacher autonomy support (where
the previous model begins). Again, the administrative autonomy support and
teacher motivation variables are based on a different sample size than the
student variables, and thus the statistical significance of the two new
paths could not be correctly estimated by this modeling
approach. Nevertheless, we added the two new paths to see if the model as
a whole is coherent when they are included. Specifically, we re-conducted
the LISREL analysis reported above and in Figure 3, adding the two new
paths, while specifying a sample size of 220 for all variables.
The path coefficients in this model were essentially the same as those in
the Figure 3 model. The coefficient for the new path from administrator
autonomy-support to teacher motivation was .33, and the coefficient for the
new path from teacher motivation to teacher autonomy-support was
.21. Also, the model fit approximately as well as the Figure 2 model
(chi-square with 23 degrees of freedom = 77.86. p < .01: CFI, NFI, and GFI
= .97, .96, and .93; RMR = .055). Thus, these results suggest that the
entire top-down sequence proposed in Figure 2, in which administrators'
treatment of teachers carries over from teachers on down to students, may
be correct. Apparently, teachers do some extent serve as a conduit from
administrators to students.
The purpose of our study was to again examine the influence of
psychological need-satisfaction upon positive teacher-course evaluations
(Filak & Sheldon, 2003), and also to demonstrate that need-satisfaction is
rooted in factors that extend well "upstream" from the
student. Specifically, we hoped to test an integrated path model of the
process by which contextual supports affect student motivation, which in
turn affects student need-satisfaction and hence their course performance
as well as their evaluations of the course and instructor. We also
evaluated whether the model could be applied at the level of the teacher as
well as at the level of students.
Summarizing the Preliminary Findings
As expected, the most important pattern of findings from our earlier
article was replicated here. Specifically, autonomy, competence and
relatedness satisfaction independently predicted instructor approval, and
autonomy and competence satisfaction independently predicted course
approval. We also extended those prior findings by examining an
outcome-based measure, demonstrating that competence and relatedness were
predictive of students' anticipated grades. This finding corroborates other
SDT research showing that when students' psychological needs are undermined
their sense of academic ability is affected (Miserandino, 1996).
Replicating a second earlier finding, instructors who had taught the course
more times in the past were less likely to satisfy the students' needs for
autonomy and relatedness. We had previously argued that this finding
represented a "burn out effect," in which repeatedly teaching a course
created an unwillingness or inability for instructors to connect with
students on an interpersonal level, even though their ability to satisfy
students' competence needs remains unchanged. Of course, it will take
longitudinal studies to convincingly verify these ideas.
As a third preliminary analysis, we also compared the current and the
previous sample (Filak and Sheldon, 2003, Study 2) on psychological
need-satisfaction and teacher-course evaluations. One significant
difference was observed, in that students' course evaluations were lower
than in the previous study. Although students were less positive toward
this new version of the course, this apparently did not impact what they
thought of the instructor. This is a potentially encouraging finding for
instructors, as it demonstrates that instructors are not doomed to poor
personal evaluations if they are saddled with teaching a class that
Primary Model Test
Our initial model test supported SDT's general four-stage conceptual
model. The perceived autonomy support of the student's teacher was
predictive of students' self-determined class motivation. Self-determined
motivation, in turn, predicted student autonomy, competence, and
relatedness need-satisfaction, which in turn predicted various positive
outcomes. We also found that teacher autonomy support directly influenced
student need satisfaction, independently of student's course
motivation. This suggests that even the less self-determined students can
derive satisfactions from a class, if they feel that their instructors
provide them with choices, take their perspective, and provide meaningful
rationales for course rules and procedures.
We then extended the model to include the teacher level of analysis. This
allowed us to examine the means by which positive (or negative) motivations
are transmitted down the line, from academic administrators to front-line
instructors to students themselves. As was illustrated in Figure 3,
instructors who felt that their own autonomy was supported by
administrators were more likely to feel self-determined motivation for
teaching the class. This in turn seems to have led them to teach in a more
autonomy-supportive manner, in turn positively influencing students' own
motivation, need-satisfaction, and course outcomes. The current article is
the first to test this entire six-stage sequence, in which SDT's basic
causal model (see Figure 1) is simultaneously applied to two levels of
This model and these results suggest several possible targets for
intervention. Administrators are the initial driving force within the
model, and as such may be key to cultivating the seeds of a positive
educational environment. Administrators who can be helped to see
instructors as autonomous and valued agents of education, as opposed to
names to be filled in on a course roster, are more likely to have
instructors who provide students with a positive instructional experience.
However, teachers are also targets for interventions, independent of their
administrative climate. Indeed, Reeve (1998) has shown that
autonomy-support can be taught, with resulting benefits both for the
instructors and their students. Finally, one can imagine interventions
that directly target student motivation, independently of their
instructors. For example, Sheldon, Kasser, Smith and Share (2002) showed
that asking students to reflect on their personal goals could produce a
greater sense of self-determination regarding those goals; in future work,
their intervention might be adapted for use with students' classroom goals.
Limitations and Future Research
One limitation of the current study was that the data were all collected at
the same point in time. A longitudinal design would enable a more powerful
test of the processes specified by the SDT model. In particular,
administrator autonomy support and teacher motivation are probably best
measured at the beginning of the semester, and student motivation and
need-satisfaction are best measured all during the semester. Another
limitation is that only self-report measures were employed. Future
research might rectify this, for example by measuring teacher
autonomy-support via classroom observation, or student grades by going to
the university registrar. Furthermore, the model needs to be evaluated for
other contexts and settings; for example, in other courses within the
journalism department, in other academic disciplines at this institution,
at other institutions of higher learning, and even in other nations besides
the U.S. (see Deci & Ryan, 2000 for a summary of recent cross-cultural
evidence supporting the SDT model).
Despite these limitations, we believe this study provides significant new
support for the basic SDT model, as well as showing the model's
simultaneous applicability at more than one level of analysis. In
particular, the "transmission effects" demonstrate the importance of
implementing autonomy-supportive practices at every level of the
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Table1: Descriptive statistics for need satisfaction and outcome variables
Table 2: Zero-order correlations and coefficient alphas for key study
Admin Auto Sup
(· = .87)
(· = .60)
(· = .92)
(· = .79)
(· = .81)
(· = .80)
(· = .86)
(· = .93)
+ p < .10 *p < .05 ** p < .01; Correlations involving Admin Auto Sup and
Teacher Self-Det are based on N = 14. All other correlations are based on
N = 220.
Figure 1: Four-stage SDT model of optimal motivation and performance
Figure 2: Proposed two-level model of motivational transmission
Figure 3: Final student-level path model