Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

William Morris


Strong mathematics achievement is lacking in the United States, with motivation waning especially among mathematics and online students. Online mathematics students, in particular, struggle with self-regulation and self-efficacy (Kim, 2012; Sun & Rueda, 2012). Ryan and Deci (2017), in their well-established and empirical self-determination theory, contended that satisfying the psychological needs of autonomy (involving self-regulation), competence (involving self-efficacy), and relatedness (involving a sense of belonging) creates a suitable environment for integrated extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to thrive. The purpose of this action research was to create and implement a self-determination theory-based online unit on factoring polynomials for mathematics students at the school in this study to improve students’ motivation levels. The research questions aimed to identify changes in the levels of autonomy, competence, and relatedness of the participants as well as the effect on the factoring polynomials final assessment scores.

This action research study utilized a convergent mixed methods design. The Algebra 2 course provided a purposive sample (n = 50) for this online school in the northeastern United States. The intervention, a factoring polynomials unit built with supports for students’ autonomy, competence, and relatedness needs, replaced a unit in the Algebra 2 course. A pretest-posttest motivation questionnaire, a pretest-posttest content knowledge exam, and six student interviews were used as data collection methods. Quantitative data were analyzed with descriptive and inferential statistics. Inductive analysis was used to analyze the qualitative data and identify emergent themes. The results indicated a significant increase in competence after completing the intervention unit in both the quantitative and qualitative data. While no significant increase in autonomy or relatedness were evident in the quantitative results, the qualitative findings showed some support for improved autonomy and strong support for improved relatedness.

The results revealed that the design components for competence in the intervention unit supported participants’ perceptions of self-efficacy with optimal challenge. Specifically, check buttons with correctness and informative feedback, prior knowledge information with check for understanding questions, and chunking the content with appropriate scaffolding throughout the lessons provided an environment for competence to thrive. Recommendations, implications, and limitations of the study are given.