Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jennifer E. Lewis, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeffrey Kromrey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Potter, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeffrey Raker, Ph.D.


academic achievement, chemistry education, multivariate analysis, psychometric evidence, structural equation modeling


More graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathmetics (STEM) fields are needed to keep our nation’s preeminance in the global fields of technology and science. However, fewer than 40% of students who intend to major in STEM fields when entering college complete a STEM degree. Therefore, it is important to explore factors to improve student persistence in STEM fields at the college level as well as to understand the interrelationship between student motivation, academic achievement, and persistence. Motivation is strongly associated with student achievement and persistence; meanwhile, academic achievement can also affect persistence. Self-determination theory (SDT) represents a framework of several mini-theories to explore how social context interacts with people’s motivation. The three studies in this dissertation aim to investigate student motivation using instruments based on SDT and to explore the viability of the theory in a reform environment.

In Study 1, the Academic Motivation Scale – Chemistry (AMS-Chemistry) was developed as an instrument based on the self-determination continuum to measure seven types of student motivation toward specific chemistry courses. Data gathered with AMS in college chemistry courses showed that AMS was a suitable candidate for modification. Based on expert panel discussions and cognitive interviews, AMS-Chemistry was developed. AMS-Chemistry was administered to university students in a general chemistry course as pre/post-test. Internal structure validity evidence was also collected. Results showed that students were more extrinsically motivated toward chemistry on average, and there was an overall motivational difference favoring males with a medium effect size. Correlation studies revealed that intrinsic motivation subscales were positively associated with student academic achievement at the end of the semester. Results also showed that students who persisted in class attendance scored significant differently on the set of motivation subscales. This study suggests that AMS-Chemistry is easy to administer and can be used to better understand students’ motivation status and how it might change across the curriculum. Faculty interested in promoting student intrinsic motivation may also use AMS-Chemistry to evaluate the impact of their efforts.

In Study 2, AMS-Chemistry was used to examine student motivation and determine how motivation is related to academic achievement at different points in time in organic chemistry courses. This study was conducted in two organic chemistry courses where one course was primarily lecture-based and the other implemented flipped classroom and peer-lead team learning (Flip-PLTL) pedagogies. Descriptive statistics showed that students in both courses were more extrinsically motivated and their motivation moved in negative directions across the semester. Factorial multivariate analysis of covariance revealed a main effect of pedagogical approach. Students in the Flip-PLTL environment were significantly less lack of motivation toward chemistry at the end of the semester while controlling for the motivation pre-test scores; however, there was no evidence for sex main effect and interaction effect between sex and pedagogical approach. Correlation results revealed variable relationships between motivation subscales and academic achievement at different time points. In general, intrinsic motivation subscales were significantly and positively correlated with student academic achievement; Amotivation was negatively correlated with academic achievement. The findings in this study showed the importance of Flip-PLTL pedagogies in improving student motivation toward chemistry.

In Study 3, students’ perceptions of basic psychological needs and intrinsic motivation were studied using instruments in accordance with SDT in first-year college chemistry courses. The interrelationships among the variables were also investigated. Students’ self-reported scores showed that they had positive perceptions with respect to the motivational variables where Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) was being implemented. Students’ written comments also provided evidence for their positive perceptions. Structural equation modeling results showed that it was viable to use SDT in the POGIL context, since the three basic needs explained a significant amount of variance in intrinsic motivation. The findings could help instructors become more aware of students’ perceptions of the learning environments in active learning settings, and therefore, instructors wishing to target student engagement are encouraged to implement active learning pedagogies, such as POGIL.

The research studies presented in this work contribute to our understanding of motivation as an important factor influencing student persistence in STEM fields in both traditional classroom and different active learning environments at the college level. Each study provided psychometric evidence for the use of instruments based on SDT in college chemistry courses. Chemistry educators can use these assessments to understand the nuances of student motivation. Findings from these assessments can then be used to design strategies to help students learn and/or to be more motivated toward chemistry. Also, this work highlights the importance of looking at the motivation of different groups of students, such as the underrepresented students, because their response trends may be different. Being aware of students’ different needs will help chemistry educators to understand how we can better increase students’ intrinsic motivation in our chemistry courses.