The Effects of Instructional Approach and Social Support on College Algebra Students’ Motivation and Achievement: Classroom Climate Matters

  • Lisa C. DuffinEmail author
  • Hannah B. Keith
  • Melissa I. Rudloff
  • Jennifer D. Cribbs


College algebra has been noted as a critical course in post-secondary institutions because it serves as a gateway for major selection and college completion. Combinatorial topics like repeatable permutations are often overlooked in K-12 and undergraduate curricula. Likewise, students’ achievement and motivation are affected by the type of classroom climate created in the undergraduate mathematics classroom. Inquiry-based mathematical education (IBME) is a viable instructional approach because of its focus on community meaning-making of the mathematical content. However, lecture-style approaches still dominate post-secondary mathematics classrooms even though they have been criticized for their focus on procedural knowledge and disinviting environment. Therefore, the purpose of this quasi-experimental study was to test the effects of instructional approach (i.e., lecture-style vs. IBME) and social support (i.e., absence or presence) on undergraduate student motivation and achievement of combinatorial mathematics. Findings indicated that intentional social support-building – regardless of pedagogical method – had the strongest effects on students’ perceived autonomy-support, competence and achievement. Although no differing pedagogical effects were discovered (most likely due to the one-time implementation of the lesson formats), the findings provide evidence for the necessity of community-building efforts -- an aspect of education that is often overlooked in the undergraduate mathematics classroom.


Autonomy-support College algebra Social support Self-determination theory 



This research was supported in part by a Faculty-Undergraduate Student Engagement (FUSE) grant from Western Kentucky University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWestern Kentucky UniversityBowling GreenUSA
  2. 2.Oklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA

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