The role of teachers’ motivation and mindsets in predicting a (de)motivating teaching style in higher education: a circumplex approach

Abstract

Although different measures for (de)motivating teaching are available for primary and secondary education, a fine-grained instrument to assess a variety of motivating and demotivating teaching practices in higher education is lacking. Adopting a Self-Determination Theory perspective, this study first used the newly developed Situation-in-School Questionnaire—Higher Education to examine in a sample of higher education teachers (N = 357; Mage = 43.90 years) whether a broad set of need-supportive and need-thwarting teaching practices are organized in a similar circular structure as in secondary education (Aelterman et al. in J Educ Psychol 111:497–521, 2019). Second, this study addressed the role of higher education teachers’ motivation to teach (i.e., autonomous, controlled, amotivation) and their beliefs about the malleability of students’ intelligence (i.e., fixed and growth mindset) in relation to the various distinguished teaching approaches. Results of multidimensional scaling analyses confirmed the hypothesized circular structure of eight different (de)motivating teaching approaches that differ in their level of need-supportiveness and directiveness. Second, hierarchical regression analyses provided evidence for the fairly independent role of teachers’ motivation and mindsets, with the predictive role of each predictor systematically varying as one moves along the circumplex. Autonomous motivation and a growth mindset related positively to more motivating approaches (e.g., guiding, attuning), while controlled motivation, amotivation and a fixed mindset related positively to more demotivating approaches (e.g., domineering, abandoning). The present findings shed new light on the factors that underlie teacher-reported engagement in (de)motivating practices in higher education.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    In a first step, SDT experts and practitioners brainstormed about the content of the questionnaire, using the SISQ-SE as the basis, which resulted in a pilot version with 19 situations and 95 responses. In a second step, structured interviews were conducted with two teachers in higher education, using a thinking-aloud protocol (Van Someren et al. 1994) during which the participants were asked to vocalize every thought that came up while filling in the questionnaire. Further, two focus groups (N = 6 and 8) were organized with educational support staff members. In advance, the participants were asked to complete the questionnaire and to indicate for all the presented situations and responses (a) how credible they were, ranging from 1 (totally not credible) to 5 (totally credible), and (b) how frequently they occurred in higher education, ranging from 1 (never) to (daily). After clarifying the purpose and structure of the focus group discussion, participants were asked to indicate whether they perceive the items to be understandable and whether they had general remarks. Next, situations and responses were discussed one by one, thereby addressing the credibility, frequency, and social desirability of the items. Additional questions about the items were presented, including ‘which teaching style (i.e., autonomy support, structure, control and chaos) do you observe in this response?.’ In a second step, non-represented situations and responses were generated during a brainstorm phase to secure that the questionnaire covers the breath of relevant teaching situations in higher education. Based on the quantitative assessment and responses during the focus groups, several adjustments were made, resulting in a questionnaire containing 14 situations and 74 responses. Then, a second series of semi-structured interviews were conducted with university teachers (N = 5), leading to further refinements of the questionnaire. In a final step, a pilot study (N = 447; Mean age = 41.52; SD = 9.35) was conducted to provide a first indication of the internal validity of the scale through Multidimensional Scaling Analysis (Borg et al. 2013). Although the global structure fitted a circumplex structure, some of the distinguished approaches were not sufficiently covered, leading to further adjustments. This adapted version is presented herein.

  2. 2.

    Averaging across the motives for teaching and group management was justified by the observation that associations between motives for both roles were moderate to strong. Specifically, correlations were .40, .68 and .65 for, respectively, autonomous motivation, controlled motivation and amotivation. In addition, the pattern of correlations between these task-specific motives and the discerned teaching approaches in the circumplex was similar. These findings are presented in Appendix 2.

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Acknowledgements

This study was carried out as part of a university-wide project on motivating teaching. We wish to thank the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration and the Department of Educational Policy of Ghent University for partly funding this research.

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Appendices

Appendix 1

The SISQ-HE vignettes and scoring key

(*) = This situation or response is inspired by the Situation-in-School Questionnaire - Secondary Education (SISQ-SE; Aelterman et al., 2019) and adapted to the higher education context, (+) = This situation or/and corresponding response is unique to the Situation-In-School Questionnaire - Higher Education (SISQ-HE).

Instructions

The Situations in School Questionnaire - Higher Education contains 10 different teaching situations that occur regularly when teaching a (large) group of students. For each situation, several ways in which a teacher can respond are presented. You are asked to indicate to what extent each reaction describes what you have done this academic year in a similar situation. Each of these reactions may apply. If the presented reaction describes very well what you did, please circle a number close to 7. If the presented reaction does not describe at all what you did, please circle a number close to 1. If the presented reaction somewhat describes your approach, please circle a number close to 4, using the following 7-point scale:

1234567
Does not describe me at all  Somewhat describes me  Describes me extremely well

If a particular situation occurs rarely or not at all in your course, we ask you to imagine this situation for yourself and to think about how you would act if the situation would occur. To obtain a valid view of your teaching style, please answer the questions as honestly as possible. There are no right or wrong answers, only your personal actions and feelings matter to us. Don’t think too long about the questions. Your first thoughts typically best describe your approach.

Situation 1: behavioral guidelines and rules in your course

You think about behavioral guidelines and rules for your course, you… (*)

Set_expectations1… clarify your norms and expectations for cooperation. (*)
Wing_it1… wait and see. You will introduce fitting guidelines and rules when problems arise. (+)
Invite_input1… ask the students to help decide on the rules and guidelines. (*)
Provide_rationale1… discuss with the students why certain rules may be useful for them. (+)
Shame1… firmly speak to your students: “Those who are not able to follow the rules should stay at home. This is not kindergarten.” (+)

Situation 2: lesson preparation

You are preparing a class, your priority is… (*)

Insist_firmly1… to insist that students pay attention; you don’t tolerate any exceptions or excuses. (*)
Wing_it2… to not invest too much time in preparation. Things will run smoothly. (*)
Overview1… to ensure that your lesson is clear and complete. (+)
Invite_input2… to give students enough freedom to participate and offer suggestions during class. (+)
Communicate_trust1… to give your students the confidence that they will be able to master the more difficult subject matter of the course. (+)
Shame2… to emphasize that you will be disappointed if they don’t put enough effort into this class. (+)

Situation 3: an extra effort is needed

You are covering a difficult subject that requires a lot of effort from the students, you… (*)

Foster_enjoyment1… seek new or different ways to make the lesson more interesting and meaningful for the students. (*)
Exert_power1… simply command them: “Stay attentive during this class! If not, you won’t make it!” (+)
Helpful_strategy1… divide the lesson content into pieces and ensure that there is sufficient time for repetition (+)
Offer_choice1… offer students the option to go through an introductory text in preparation for the lesson. (+)
Lax1… don’t worry too much in advance. You wait and see if any difficulties arise. (+)
Push_compliance1… make it clear to the students that they have to pay attention or otherwise they have to leave the classroom. (+)

Situation 4: talking students

You want to start the lesson, but the students are still talking loudly to each other, as they often have in previous classes. Even when you have everything set up and make it clear non-verbally that you want to start, the chatter and noise doesn’t stop. You… (+)

Set_expectations2… ask the students for silence so that you can start the lesson. (+)
Indifference1… start the lesson despite the chatter. If they don’t understand it, they have to figure it out themselves. (+)
Invite_input3… attract attention with a thought-provoking statement and invite the students to react. (+)
Exert_power2… insist that the students have to stop talking. If you come to class, you are expected to pay attention! (+)

Situation 5: the lesson starts

The lesson starts. You… (*)

Overview2… begin with a clear schedule and overview of the lesson. (*)
Wing_it3… just begin where you ended the previous lesson and take things as they come. (*)
Insist_firmly2… strongly insist that students have to learn what you teach them. If students come to class, it is their duty to cooperate. (*)
Foster_enjoyment2… use an interesting statement or case to trigger your students’ curiosity. (+)
Invite_input4… ask the students for any suggestions on the lesson topic. (*)
Helpful_strategy2… teach the learning material step-by-step so that the students have the feeling that they understand everything. (+)
Shame3… warn the students: “Now it is time to pay attention or your exam will be a disaster” (+)
Indifference2… just start your lesson and waste as little energy as possible. (+)

Situation 6: holding students’ attention

You want to keep the students’ attention during class. You… (*)

Shame4… say that students who can’t pay attention during a full lesson don’t belong in higher education. (+)
Adjust1… check to what extent the students understand the subject matter and you adjust your explanation accordingly. (+)
Identify_benefits1… discuss with the students how the subject matter can be relevant in their daily lives or future careers. (*)
Indifference3… don’t do anything special. Students are responsible for staying attentive. (+)
Insist_firmly3… demand a maximum attention from the students present. (+)
Overview3… show the students what they can expect from today’s class through a clear overview. (+)

Situation 7: lack of cooperation

You ask your students a challenging but interesting question in an attempt to involve them in class. However, just like during the previous lesson, no one raises their hand to give an answer. You… (*)

Command1… force a student to answer: “You, show me what you are worth. What is the answer to my question?!” (*)
Invite_input5… first let the students discuss the question with each other and then ask if there are students who want to share their answer. (*)
Follow_pace1… provide the students enough time to think and then invite them to give it a shot. (+)
Overview4… explain the correct answer step by step and show them clearly what the desired answer looks like. (+)
Lax2… wait in silence until you get an answer from one of the students. (+)
Ignore1… give the answer yourself. If they don’t want to cooperate and learn something, that is their problem. (+)

Situation 8: background noise

A more difficult part of the lesson elicits a lot of background noise. You… (*)

Insist_firmly4… insist that the noise stops. You demand full attention of the group. (+)
Adjust2… gradually reintroduce the more difficult part. (+)
Ignore2… ignore the noise and continue with the lesson. Students have to figure out themselves how they can overcome obstacles. (*)
Invite_input6… discuss this with the students and ask how you can organize the remainder of the class. (+)

Situation 9: a wrong answer

You ask a question during class. After waiting for a while, someone raises their hand and gives a partially wrong answer. You… (+)

Ignore3… give the right answer yourself and continue with the lesson. You don’t waste any further energy. (+)
Shame5… express your disappointment: “No. That is wrong. Someone who does know the right answer?” (+)
Adjust3… ask some additional questions and guide the group towards a correct answer. (+)
Interest_taking1… show interest in how the student came to their answer. (+)
Overview5… gradually develop reasoning underlying the correct answer so that the students clearly know what is expected. (+)
Lax3… don’t respond to the answer and you wait for other students to respond. (+)

Situation 10: preparation students

You consider it necessary for students to go through a reading at home before the next lesson. You… (*)

Wing_it4… don’t explain too much and see how the assignment turns out. (*)
Offer_choice2… offer the students various readings and ask them to choose one to read. (*)
Indifference4… don’t really explain the assignment; after all, students in higher education do not need to be pampered. (+)
Offer_help1… tell the students that you offer extra help and guidance if necessary. (+)
Shame6… make it clear that you are disappointed in students who don’t complete the assignment: “Do students really need hand holding in higher education?!” (+)

Scoring key for calculating the subscales

Autonomy support

  • Participative: (Invite_input1, Invite_input2, Offer_choice1, Invite_input3, Invite_input4, Invite_input5, Invite_input6, Offer_choice2)/8

  • Attuning: (Provide_rationale1, Foster_enjoyment1, Foster_enjoyment2, Identify_benefits1, Follow_pace1, Interest_taking1)/6

  • Autonomy support: (Invite_input1, Invite_input2, Offer_choice1, Invite_input3, Invite_input4, Invite_input5, Invite_input6, Offer_choice2, Provide_rationale1, Foster_enjoyment1, Foster_enjoyment2, Identify_benefits1, Follow_pace1, Interest_taking1)/14

Structure

  • Guiding: (Communicate_trust1, Helpful_strategy1, Helpful_strategy2, Adjust1, Adjust2, Adjust3, Offer_help1)/7

  • Clarifying: (Set_expectations1, Overview1, Set_expectations2, Overview2, Overview3, Overview4, Overview5)/7

  • Structure: (Communicate_trust1, Helpful_strategy1, Helpful_strategy2, Adjust1, Adjust2, Adjust3, Offer_help1, Set_expectations1, Overview1, Set_expectations2, Overview2, Overview3, Overview4, Overview5)/14

Control

  • Demanding: (Insist_firmly1, Push_compliance1, Insist_firmly2, Insist_firmly3, Insist_firmly4)/5

  • Domineering: (Shame1, Shame2, Exert_power1, Exert_power2, Shame3, Shame4, Command1, Shame5, Shame6)/9

  • Control: (Insist_firmly1, Push_compliance1, Insist_firmly2, Insist_firmly3, Insist_firmly4, Shame1, Shame2, Exert_power1, Exert_power2, Shame3, Shame4, Command1, Shame5, Shame6)/14

Chaos

  • Abandoning: (Indifference1, Indifference2, Indifference3, Ignore1, Ignore2, Ignore3, Indifference4)/7

  • Awaiting: (Wing_it1, Wing_it2, Lax1, Wing_it3, Lax2, Lax3, Wing_it4)/7

  • Chaos: (Indifference1, Indifference2, Indifference3, Ignore1, Ignore2, Ignore3, Indifference4, Wing_it1, Wing_it2, Lax1, Wing_it3, Lax2, Lax3, Wing_it4)/14

Appendix 2

See Table 5.

Table 5 Correlations between motivation for teaching and group management with teaching styles

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Vermote, B., Aelterman, N., Beyers, W. et al. The role of teachers’ motivation and mindsets in predicting a (de)motivating teaching style in higher education: a circumplex approach. Motiv Emot 44, 270–294 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-020-09827-5

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Keywords

  • Teaching styles
  • Motivation to teach
  • Fixed and growth mindset
  • Higher education
  • Self-determination theory