Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
Averill & Major 2020 What motivates higher education educators to innovate.pdf (1.43 MB)

What motivates higher education educators to innovate? Exploring competence, autonomy, and relatedness–and connections with wellbeing

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-09-22, 08:55 authored by Robin AverillRobin Averill, Jeanette MajorJeanette Major
Background: High quality tertiary teaching is important for maximising the impact of tertiary education for students, employers and society, as well as for institutional reputation and accountability. Varied interpretations exist regarding what counts as ‘innovative’ tertiary teaching. Purpose: This study sought to explore the deeper drivers of motivations of tertiary educators to initiate and implement teaching innovations. Method: Drawing from the data from semi-structured interviews from a wider study into innovative teaching in a tertiary education institution in Aotearoa New Zealand, we analysed the rationale of 13 expert tertiary educators for teaching in novel ways. The framework for analysis was based on Self-Determination Theory: data were analysed in relation to three basic psychological needs known to impact on motivation and wellbeing–competence, autonomy and relatedness. Findings: Our analysis suggests that tertiary educator motivation to innovate in their teaching is related to feelings of all three needs. Findings suggest that innovative pedagogical change was linked to educators’ need for feelings of competence in relation to subject area content, pedagogy and developing student competence. Enhancing autonomy for the educators themselves, or for their students, was also an important factor motivating innovative practice. Developing relatedness between students, between themselves and students, and between students and society were reported as motivations for innovative teaching. Some teaching innovations were motivated by the educator’s desire for greater personal or student wellbeing. Conclusions Educators’ motivations for being innovative in their tertiary pedagogical practice encompassed content, pedagogical, personal and social dimensions. None reported that their innovation was motivated by institutional policy or expectations. The reported challenges to innovative teaching practice, including institutional structures and processes, lack of access to specific technologies, and the time needed to develop and implement changed practice, indicate that educators must be strongly committed to making change in their practice to sustain the effort required.


Preferred citation

Averill, R. M. & Major, J. (2020). What motivates higher education educators to innovate? Exploring competence, autonomy, and relatedness–and connections with wellbeing. Educational Research, 62(2), 146-161.

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Educational Research





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Informa UK Limited

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Online publication date