Students' Perceptions of a College Course: Contextual Influences on Motivation



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Research on motivation is important for understanding student learning and the context in which students are taught (Pintrich, 2003). This research integrated different theoretical perspectives of motivation in an effort to identify contextual influences on motivational beliefs. Motivation constructs within expectancy-value, self-determination, interest, and achievement goal theory were explored. The purpose of the present study was to identify contextual features of a college course’s climate that are related to students’ motivational beliefs and self-reported grade for that course.

Participants were an ethnically diverse sample of 305 college students enrolled in a face-to-face section of six upper level psychology courses. Participants completed a survey in which they reported upon motivational beliefs and self-reported grade for a course. Participants reported on their subjective perceptions of that course’s climate. Course climate is defined as the perceptions regarding the behaviors and beliefs of other course members.

Exploratory factor analyses using principal axis factoring with an oblique rotation were conducted to examine the extent to which eight hypothesized dimensions best represent a course’s climate in terms of conceptual clarity and ease of interpretability. The solution ultimately chosen to best represent a course’s climate included the following eight factors: autonomy support, performance avoidance goal structure, student relatedness, course situational interest, academic press, instructor organization, energy, and equity.

Hierarchical multivariate regressions results indicated that students’ perceptions of a course’s climate predicted self-reported self-efficacy, attainment value, utility value, personal interest, anxiety, mastery approach achievement goals, performance approach achievement goals, performance avoidance achievement goals, and self-reported grade for that course. For each motivational belief, a different pattern of significant individual climate predictors emerged.

Results of the present research reinforce the need to assess multiple aspects of the learning climate by adopting a multi-theoretical perspective. In addition to integrating a variety of motivational research traditions, the present study also incorporated classroom climate research. Suggestions for future research and practical implications for higher education are discussed. The assessment of the climate, at the course level, may be informative for higher education administrators, researchers, and instructors working to support students’ academic success.



Achievement motivation, College students, Classroom climate, Learning environments, Learning