Overview of Research

Purpose: My research focuses on underrepresented students in STEM and online learners because of what they have in common: a struggle with belonging, or social integration, in their classrooms. The studies I conduct show not only that these are important predictors of motivation and performance, but also what we can do to improve our students’ experiences, and how evidence-based practices can be scaled up.

Theoretical Framework: My work on motivation is grounded in the Eccles et al. (1983) Expectancy-Value theory, but also draws substantially from theories that emphasize the importance of social interactions and social integration. These include Self-Determination Theory (1985), Stage-Environment Fit Theory (1989), Social Goals Theory (1999), and Tinto's Model of College Student Departure (1993).

Projects: As a member of the NSF-funded grant Investigating Virtual Learning Environments at UCI, I investigate online students’ experiences of support, belonging, and anonymity in their courses. I am also partnering with UCI’s Biology program to implement and evaluate a learning community program that has successfully raised the motivation, performance, and persistence of underprepared students. At SDSU, I am examining the broader impacts of motivational interventions by investigating why faculty reject opportunities to adopt them, despite evidence that they improve motivation and diversity in STEM. Currently, I am also working on an NSF-RAPID project to understand how the COVID-19 transition has changed college students' social networks, motivational experiences, and achievement

From Research to Practice: Partnerships within our own university communities have been instrumental to the success of these projects, with regards to both findings and immediate applications to improving students' experiences. Especially in the realm of online education, new partnerships are allowing us to rapidly put our findings in the hands of instructors who are transitioning to online teaching.​


Ongoing Projects


Mark Warschauer, Teomara Rutherford, Di Xu, Fernando Rodriguez

Studying a wide variety of online courses, we use survey, interview, and click-data to examine:

1) Why students select into online courses

2) How online courses impact students' motivation and sense of belonging

3) What click data tells us about student motivation

4) Interventions targeting online students' motivation

Di Xu, Sabrina Solanki, Brian Sato

The Enhanced Academic Success Experience (EASE) was designed to support Biology freshman entering with subpar academic records. We use regression-discontinuity and growth-curve modeling to investigate the impact of EASE on:
1) Persistence within Biology major
2) Sense of belonging in Biology (short video presentation available)
3) Heterogeneous effects among at-risk subgroups

Dustin Thoman, Jessi L. Smith, Jacquelynne Eccles, Anna-Lena Dicke, Nayssan Safavian, Yannan Gao

Motivational interventions have been shown to increase students' value for and persistence in gateway STEM courses. These projects examines whether these effects hold in an especially diverse college populations. We investigate:

1) Effectiveness of the intervention among URM and first-generation college-going students

2) Effectiveness of the intervention within online gateway courses

3) What click-data reveals about behavioral processes that mediate the effect of the intervention on course performance

We also examine STEM faculty as gatekeepers to broadly implementing these interventions, researching: 

1) Reasons STEM faculty resist interventions that promote motivation and diversity

2) How interventions should be promoted to optimize faculty implementation

Mindset Interventions in Diverse College Contexts

Di Xu, Sabrina Solanki, Brian Sato, Greg Duncan, Paul Hanselman, Jacquelynne Eccles

The college transition is difficult for most students, but those from underrepresented backgrounds are often more likely interpret these challenges as evidence that they don't belong. Framing interventions focusing on growth mindset and sense of belonging have been shown to help students with these issues. With large populations of URM and first-generation students, UC Irvine is an important site for assessing:
1) Whether these effects replicate in a racially diverse college community
2) Contextual features that would lead interventions to be ineffective or redundant

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Motivational Profiles of Adolescent Students

Jacquelynne Eccles, Osman Umarji, Hye Rin Lee

We use pattern centered approaches such as hierarchical clustering and Latent Profile Analysis to identify subgroups of students with unique compositions of motivation. We are finding individual differences in:

1) How students weigh ability feedback from parents, teachers, and peers (and how this impacts self-concept of ability)

2) Students' self-concept of ability for math and English (and how this impacts college major selection)

3) The co-occurrence of students' expectancies and values for math, English, and science (and the implications for expectancy-value research)

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