Home > Research > Project 11

Technology and Motivation in Higher Education



  • Nathan Hall (McGill U., Theme 2)
  • Jacqueline Leighton (U. of Alberta, Theme 3)

Research Assistants:

  • Rebecca Maymon (McGill U.)
  • Man-Wai Chu (U. of Alberta)


Whereas research on motivation in students is extensive with respect to both descriptive and intervention research (for reviews, see Pintrich, 2003; Weiner, 1990), studies in which these variables are evaluated in teachers is scarce – a surprising finding given that up to 40% are expected to leave the teaching profession within their first five years (e.g., Roness, 2011). Moreover, whereas limited studies have explored the extent to which traditionally explored motivational constructs such as perceived competence (e.g., self-efficacy; Woolfolk Hoy et al., 2009), intrinsic motivation (e.g., Taylor & Ntoumanis, 2007), attributions (e.g., Reyna & Weiner, 2001), and goals (e.g., Butler & Shibaz, 2008) predict critical outcomes in teachers such as job satisfaction, burnout, and instructional approaches (e.g., mastery vs. performance focussed), notably few studies have evaluated the potential benefits and risks of more complex motivational strategies used by teachers to deal with classroom challenges (e.g., coping strategies; Schutz et al., 2007). Further, research in which theory-based, motivational interventions to reduce burnout, prevent attrition, improve instruction in teachers are evaluated is almost nonexistent.

To address lacking research on motivational strategies in teachers, a developmental theoretical perspective will be employed. Whereas most theories of achievement motivation in educational psychology focus on constructs that predict persistence and engagement (or prevent disengagement) such as perceived competence (Schunk & Pajares, 2009), intrinsic motivation (Deci & Moller, 2005), goal orientations (Elliot, 2005), interest (Schiefele, 2009), task values (Wigfield & Cambria, 2010), or causal attributions (Weiner, 2000), underutilized theoretical models from educational, social, and developmental psychology also highlight the potential benefits of a more balanced approach. The primary theory underpinning the present proposal is Heckhausen’s motivational theory of life-span development (Heckhausen et al., 2010) which offers a comprehensive approach to understanding how individuals psychologically adapt to the motivational challenges posed by challenging transition phases.

Following from prior research with students in which the potential benefits and risks of specific motivational strategies involving engagement and self-protection have been explored by the applicant (e.g., Hall, 2008; Hall et al., 2006a, 2006c), a web-based study is currently being conducted by the applicant with teachers from across Ontario and Quebec in which the long-term effects (6 month follow-up) of the various motivational strategies outlined above are evaluated on critical outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction, burnout, student engagement, intention to quit). Moreover, this recently initiated study evaluates the longitudinal effects of a brief, web-based intervention encouraging engagement strategies (e.g., effort, persistence) based on Weiner’s attribution theory (i.e., controllable attributions). It is anticipated that by presenting attributional principles to teachers in an indirect manner (e.g., treating teachers as consultants rather than participants in providing feedback on interventions for students) that defensive reactions can be prevented, and teachers will be better able to not only learn about previous research with students and implement relevant findings in their classes (knowledge mobilization), but also glean useful principles for how they themselves can adaptively interpret their own classroom challenges and teaching-related setbacks.

Given the success of this prior study with respect to recruitment protocols), the present study would employ the same web-based format, solicit the involvement of school boards and teachers’ unions, and utilize a subset of measures from the previous questionnaire (e.g., strategies, emotions, etc.). However, the sample would be expanded to include teachers from Alberta as well as Ontario and Quebec, and the intervention would be bolstered by encouraging not only engagement strategies (e.g., controllable attributions for setbacks) but also self-protective strategies (e.g., positive reappraisal) as per the theoretical model of Heckhausen et al. (2010) and prior intervention research with students by the applicant (Hall et al., 2006b). Moreover, the intervention content will be informed by the findings of the present ongoing study by the applicant. It is anticipated that by evaluating the longitudinal effects of balanced, web-based interventions for teachers that motivation, emotional well-being, student engagement, teaching strategies, as well as retention can be improved for new and experienced teachers alike, thereby contributing to a notable gap in the research literature on motivation and motivational programs for struggling teachers.