This paper explores teaching in a post-COVID world using the lens of Self Determination Theory (SDT), an empirically generated theory that focuses on our basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and community—needs that when met result in a greater sense of personal wellbeing. Specifically, it considers how SDT and its mini-theories (Cognitive Evaluation Theory; Organismic Integration Theory; Causality Orientations Theory; Basic Psychological Needs Theory; Goal Contents Theory; Relationships Motivation Theory) can be applied in the post-secondary classroom to help us understand student engagement in course content and activities. SDT focuses on intrinsic motivation as a core component of learning and posits that systems reliant on extrinsic motivational strategies will actually end up demotivating many students. SDT explains how traditional teaching and assessment strategies adopt extrinsic reward and punishment mechanisms that end up demotivating students, causing us to further ratchet up and double down on even more extrinsic controls in an effort to force student engagement. Rather than accept this reliance on reward and punishment systems to control student behaviours, we explore the interaction of teaching, learning, and motivation using the lens of SDT, leading to a better understanding of positive student engagement in our classrooms and authentic learning experiences that can tap into a student’s intrinsic desire to learn. The paper opens with a summary of Self Determination Theory and it’s empirical foundation. It then offers a framework for its application in the classroom. While SDT recognizes the short-term power of behaviourism for stimulating change, it extends our theoretical understanding to consider individual, organizational and long-term effects of behavioural interventions on personal wellbeing, and in this case, student learning. By applying this framework to existing teaching, evaluation, and organizing structures we can identify demotivating practices currently in use and explore alternative approaches to enhance teaching and empower student learning.
Dan Laitsch is an associate professor with the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, and a Director on the SFU Faculty Association Executive Committee. He is currently the President of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations, British Columbia (CUFA-BC) and Chair of the Institute for Public Education, British Columbia (IPE/BC). A researcher with the SFU Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy, his primary teaching area is Educational Leadership. He co-edits the open access peer reviewed International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership (www.ijepl.org) and is active in the American Educational Research Association Special Interest Group on Research Use. Dr. Laitsch has worked with the Joint Consortium for School Health and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development on school health issues in BC and across Canada. Dr. Laitsch’s research examines the use and misuse of research in teaching, policymaking, and issue advocacy; the impact of neoliberal policies on educational systems; and the role of motivation within organizational and policy change efforts. He earned his doctorate from American University, in Washington, DC.