Designing Business School Courses

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Journal of Management
Education
http://jme.sagepub.com

Designing Business School Courses To Promote Student
Motivation: An Application of the Job Characteristics Model
Sukumar C. Debnath, Sudhir Tandon and Lucille V. Pointer
Journal of Management Education 2007; 31; 812 originally published online
Aug 21, 2007;
DOI: 10.1177/1052562906290914
The online version of this article can be found at:
http://jme.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/31/6/812

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DESIGNING BUSINESS SCHOOL
COURSES TO PROMOTE
STUDENT MOTIVATION:
AN APPLICATION OF THE JOB
CHARACTERISTICS MODEL

Sukumar C. Debnath
Sudhir Tandon
Prairie View A&M University
Lucille V. Pointer
University of Houston-Downtown
Student motivation within the classrooms is a widely recognized problem and will
remain so in the foreseeable future. Literature suggests that students’ motivation
for learning and performance can be enhanced by creating an appropriate classroom environment, which is again determined by the design of various structural
characteristics of a course, such as type of tasks, autonomy of students, and evaluation. On the basis of the framework of Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristics
Model (JCM) and support from educational research, this conceptual article
identifies the structural characteristics instrumental to an effective course design
and presents related instructional strategies for maximizing student motivation in
business school classrooms. Various issues related to the proposed application of
the JCM framework in classrooms, including its relevance to the larger landscape
of business education, are also discussed.
Keywords: management education; business school course design; student
motivation; Job Characteristics Model; instructional strategies;
classroom environment; learning

Student motivation within the classrooms is a widely recognized problem and has been the focus of applied research for many years (Newby,
1991). Such a problem is rather common and persistent in higher education
(Pintrich, 1994), and business school classrooms are not an exception.
JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT EDUCATION, Vol. 31 No. 6, December 2007 812-831
DOI: 10.1177/1052562906290914
© 2007 Organizational Behavior Teaching Society

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Numerous studies (e.g., Allen, Witt, & Wheeless, 2006; Ames & Archer,
1988; Elliot & Church, 1997; Durden & Ellis, 2003; Ellis, 2004; Harackiewicz,
Barron, & Elliot, 1998; Pintrich & De Groot, 1990) have investigated the
underlying causes of poor student motivation as well as practices that may
help improve motivation and performance in the classrooms. However, so far,
our knowledge about creating and sustaining motivation in learning lags far
behind our knowledge about facilitating learning for students who are already
motivated (Hancock, 1995). Not surprisingly, both motivating students for
learning (Hancock, 2002) and enhancing their academic performance (Hidi
& Harackiewicz, 2000) remain the most important but unresolved goals for
educators in higher education. Literature suggests that students’ motivation
for learning and academic performance can be enhanced by creating an
appropriate classroom environment (e.g., Ames, 1992; Pintrich, 1994; Stipek,
1996), which is again determined by the design of various structural characteristics of a course, such as type of tasks, autonomy of students, evaluation,
and recognition (Ames, 1992; Maslovaty & Kuzi, 2002). Fortunately, most
college professors have the flexibility to design these structural characteristics and select teaching strategies that can enhance the motivational potential
of the classroom environment.
In identifying the major structural characteristics of course design and
defining related instructional strategies, a fresh perspective and valuable
insights can be extracted from Hackman and Oldham’s (1976, 1980) Job
Characteristics Model (JCM). Traditionally, the JCM has been the dominant framework for defining task characteristics and understanding their
relationships to motivation, performance, and satisfaction in work settings
(Robbins, 1998). However, this theory also appears to be highly relevant to
classroom settings and has potential for providing insights into the classroom structures or designs necessary for enhancing student motivation.
Therefore, the purposes of this conceptual article are to (a) explore the usefulness of the JCM for business school professors in identifying and designing various structural elements of classroom environment conducive to
motivation and (b) suggest instructional strategies related to these structural
elements that can help maximize motivation in classrooms.
We begin with a brief overview of the JCM and the rationale for selecting this management theory as a potential tool for understanding student
motivation and devising strategies for motivating students in classrooms.
We then review educational research to explore the relevance and utility of
the major JCM components in enhancing motivation in classroom settings.
On the basis of existing research findings, we also present instructional
strategies related to these classroom structures for generating and enhancing motivation for learning in classrooms. We conclude with a discussion
of various issues relevant to the proposed application of the JCM framework in classroom settings.
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The Job Characteristics Model
A THEORETICAL OVERVIEW OF THE JCM

The JCM is primarily based on an intrinsic process motivation theory,
which focuses on the behavior or job itself (Leonard, Beauvais, & Scholl,
1999). It has the following four major components: (a) core job characteristics, (b) critical psychological states (CPS), (c) personal and work outcomes, and (d) growth-need strength (GNS).
First, any job can be described effectively in terms of five core job
dimensions or characteristics. These are skill variety, the breadth of skills
and talent used to perform a variety of activities; task identity, the opportunity to complete an entire or identifiable piece of work that has a beginning
and an end with tangible outcomes; task significance, the perception of the
value of one’s work to others or some broader future goals; autonomy, the
depth of work-related discretion and freedom allowed by the job; and feedback, the amount of direct and clear information about work performance.
Second, the presence of these job characteristics and their magnitudes are
thought to trigger three CPS in a jobholder. The first three characteristics—
skill variety, task identity, and task significance—combine to prompt the CPS
of experienced meaningfulness of work, which is the belief regarding the
importance, value, or worth of the job. The fourth characteristic, autonomy,
prompts the CPS of experienced responsibility, which refers to the feelings of
personal responsibility for the work outcomes. The fifth characteristic, feedback, contributes to the CPS of knowledge of actual results based on how
well it provides an understanding of performance effectiveness.
Third, higher levels of these five core job dimensions are hypothesized
to lead to stronger experiences of the three CPS, which in turn lead to
increased personal and work outcomes, such as internal work motivation,
job satisfaction, performance, and reduced absenteeism and turnover.
Fourth, these relationships are postulated to be relatively more effective for
individuals with high GNS—the strength of an individual’s need for personal growth and development—as compared to those with low GNS.
The JCM has stimulated numerous published empirical studies as well
as some alternative theoretical formulations. Taken together, the studies—
involving a variety of industries—and their reviews generally provide support for the basic JCM, that is, the linkages among job characteristics,
psychological states, and work outcomes (Glick, Jenkins, & Gupta, 1986;
Hogan & Martell, 1987; Johns, Xie, & Fang, 1992; Lee-Ross, 1998, 2002;
Loher, Noe, Moeller, & Fitzgerald, 1985). Although research involving the
theory has significantly tapered off, the utility of the theory is indicated by
the continued interest among researchers. Lately, the JCM has been used
to explain the theoretical relationship between the job characteristics and

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various motivational outcomes in the context of lean production (Treville &
Antonakis, 2006). So far, studies on the JCM have neither refuted the basic
framework of the theory (Griffin, 1991) nor warranted exclusion of the CPS
from the model (Johns et al., 1992). However, empirical support for the
moderating effects of GNS has been inconsistent, weak, or negative (Bottger
& Chew, 1986; Graen, Scandura, & Graen, 1986; Hogan & Martell, 1987;
Johns et al., 1992). This has led some researchers (e.g., Bottger & Chew,
1986) to propose elimination of the GNS from the JCM as a moderator.
Next, to explore the JCM’s utility in understanding student motivation,
we focus on the first three components of the JCM only; we exclude the
GNS from further consideration because of its weak empirical support.
THE RATIONALE FOR USING THE JOB CHARACTERISTICS MODEL

The JCM is relevant and has the potential to enhance our understanding
of student motivation, and as shown later, it can also help us formulate
teaching strategies for motivating students in classrooms for two reasons.
First, the JCM appears to resonate well (e.g., in terms of structural characteristics) with several major models of student academic motivation, such
as Ames’s (1992) model of student motivation, Pintrich’s (1994) integrated
model of student academic motivation in college classrooms, and Stipek’s
(1996) model of instructional practices for student motivation. The major
structural elements of a classroom environment—such as task, authority,
and evaluation—as determined by the teacher and identified in various academic achievement motivation models (e.g., Ames, 1992; Stipek, 1996) are
similar to the core job characteristics of the JCM. Most important, the JCM
provides a single framework to unify various structural elements (usually
studied separately) for a comprehensive view and also shows a dynamic
cause-and-effect relationship between the structural elements and the psychological impact (CPS) generated by them. Although these features can be
immensely helpful in understanding and analyzing motivation in general,
the application of a workplace theory in classroom settings may also provide fresh and valuable perspectives regarding student motivation.
Second, the JCM framework applies a complementary perspective
between managerial practices and the psychological process. It shows that
specific managerial practices—such as determining task contents and characteristics, assigning tasks and duties to employees, evaluating performance, giving feedback—influence certain psychological aspects (the
CPS) of employees, which consequently determine employee behavior and
various motivational outcomes. A complementary perspective is found
between the educational and psychological literature as well. Various classroom practices by the teachers—the classroom managers—influence students’
beliefs and attitudes, and the educational literature guides us in identifying

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these practices. They may include designing a course and assigning tasks to
students, providing guidance or training, evaluating performance, setting
rules and the degree of autonomy for students, and administering consequences. The psychological literature (e.g., intrinsic motivation, goal orientations), on the other hand, explains how these beliefs influence students’
behavior and motivation (Skinner & Belmont, 1993). Therefore, the JCM
allows for an incorporation of various educational practices and their associated psychological impacts, as established in the educational literature,
simultaneously in a single framework. Consequently, the JCM appears to
provide a relevant framework that may help us gain insights into the issues
involving student motivation and aid us in developing teaching strategies
for influencing the critical psychological states for positive motivational
consequences.
Next, we review educational research findings to determine if the JCM
components, specifically the five characteristics, contribute to increased
motivation in academic settings. We also extract from the literature and present instructional strategies related to these characteristics that have been
found to enhance motivational potential of the classroom environment.

Strategies for Designing Business
School Courses, Based on the JCM and
Educational Research, to Enhance the
Motivational Potential of Classroom Environment
The following discussion is organized in terms of the three CPS—
experienced meaningfulness of work, experienced responsibility, and
knowledge of actual results—and their underlying core characteristics. The
suggested instructional strategies may be used to design courses and define
classroom environment in order to create, to sustain, and to enhance student
motivation.
ENHANCING THE CPS OF EXPERIENCED MEANINGFULNESS

Three characteristics—task variety, task identity, and task significance—
have to be designed appropriately to prompt the CPS of experienced meaningfulness of the course.
Task variety. The term task variety is used in this article to imply skill
variety within the scope of a classroom. The existing literature supports that
variety, diversity, and challenge are some task dimensions that affect perceptions of college students and contribute to their motivation, learning,
satisfaction, and engagement with the course (Ames, 1992; Blumenfeld,

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1992; Lengnick-Hall & Sanders, 1997; Palmer, 2005; Yair, 2000). Students’
perception regarding classroom goal orientation—such as learning or mastery goal, performance or ability goal—is also influenced by the nature and
degree of task variety.
The importance of incorporating task variety in a course design can
hardly be overemphasized. In addition to the motivational impact, task variety can serve at least two other major objectives for business school
students: (a) provide students with a mechanism to learn and enhance a variety of skills, and (b) equip them with the skills essential for becoming successful as managers. Business school courses should be designed to include
tasks and activities that require a range of skills important in practical life,
such as oral and written communication, decision making, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving, research and analytic thinking, and teamwork. A variety of methods—for example, games, contests, computers, case
analysis, group assignments, formal presentations, role-playing, and major
written papers—can be used to require students to apply these skills (e.g.,
Lengnick-Hall & Sanders, 1997). Business schools prepare students to
become managers; therefore, courses should be designed to ensure that
students acquire the essential managerial skills identified by Katz (1974)—
namely, conceptual, human, and technical. Students should also become
competent in the heuristics of applying these skills so that they are able to
successfully handle complex managerial assignments. This is important
because the growth and success of many organizations have been hindered
primarily because of a dearth of managers with the necessary skills (Peterson
& Van Fleet, 2004). Specifically, a recent study by Peterson and Peterson
(2004), based on a survey of senior managers, confirmed that successful or
unsuccessful managerial performance can be attributed to either the presence
or absence of these three essential skills among the managers. Although the
literature may reveal newer skill categories, these can be viewed as subsets
of the three major categories of skills defined by Katz, which still continue
to dominate the literature (Peterson & Van Fleet, 2004).
To elaborate on these skills, we begin with conceptual skills. A comprehensive case study in a capstone course, such as the strategic management
course, usually provides a mechanism to hone and enhance students’ conceptual skills—the ability to plan, to process information, to make strategic
decisions, and to apply systems perspective—as well as other skills. Students
are usually required to perform a comprehensive analysis of an entire
company and its environment, to identify problems and their underlying
causes, as well as to develop strategic and operational solutions. A variety
of other methods, such as management simulation games and experiential
exercises, may be used to enhance conceptual skills of students.
Next, because of rapid globalization and diversity in the workforce, human
skills—the ability to work cooperatively with and through other people, to
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communicate effectively, to motivate, to lead, to facilitate, and to handle
conflicts—are even more crucial today for business students than ever before.
As underscored by Porter and McKibbin (1988) in their report of the current
and future state of management education, the corporate world is most concerned with the low level of human skills or “soft skills” among business graduates, and these skills are one of the most important development needs. Porter
and McKibbin’s observations still hold true; more recent study findings have
also attributed managerial failure to a deficiency in human skills (e.g., Camp,
Vielhaber, & Simonetti, 2001; McConnell, 2004). Prompted by similar
research findings, some researchers (e.g., Shuayto, 2001) have suggested that
business schools add substantial focus on the soft skills.
Fortunately, business school courses generally present ample scope to
incorporate various tasks or activities to provide students the mechanisms to
learn, to apply, and to enhance human skills. A course design that includes
team projects, such as comprehensive case analyses or research assignments,
may facilitate the application and enhancement of human skills, among other
things. Known as the “moral responsibility (cooperative) motivational system,” group assignments can feature a cooperative goal structure where a goal
is shared by a group of students and requires resource management skills
(Ames & Ames, 1984). Resource management makes it necessary for
students to apply a variety of skills, including pooling and sharing resources,
allocating responsibilities, and coordinating efforts in order to achieve group
goals. Various other tasks or activities may be designed to promote human
skills among the students, such as experiential exercises, contests, simulation
games, role play, and team-based formal presentations and written projects.
Technical skills, on the other hand, involve the mastery and application
of the methods, techniques, specialized knowledge, and analytic skills related
to specific functional areas, such as management, marketing, accounting, or
finance. To illustrate, research projects requiring students to perform a literature search, to collect and analyze data, to use statistical methods, and to
write a paper following a particular style guide may facilitate students’
learning and an application of several technical skills. The following tasks
or activities, to name a few, as well as most of those mentioned under the
other two skills, may be incorporated in a course design for enhancing
students’ technical skills: learning and application of course concepts, techniques, and methods; functional analysis of a company; class discussions;
debate on controversial topics; application of computer software; and use
of multimedia and Internet. Depending on the nature and comprehensiveness of tasks or activities, a particular task may involve all three skills or be
limited primarily to one particular skill only.
Task identity. Studies (e.g., Archer & Schevak, 1998; House, 2002;
Lengnick-Hall & Sanders, 1997) involving college students have reported a
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positive relationship between assignments having task identity and students’
motivation, performance, and learning. Task identity may be facilitated by
giving students major tasks or assignments—such as independent research
projects, group projects, major written papers, formal presentations on a
major assignment, and comprehensive case analyses. Students should experience a sense of accomplishment by completing major assignments or
achieving tangible outcomes, whether individually or as a group. On the
contrary, small or fragmented assignments, such as many short quizzes or
minicases, distributed over the semester may not amount to signify the existence of task identity, even though they may contribute to task variety.
Examples of assignments that may provide task identity include (a) writing
a business plan or marketing plan for a new product; (b) a comprehensive
case analysis, typically used in a capstone course, involving all facets of a
corporation and requiring formulation of strategic and operational decisions;
(c) profiling an industry structure; (d) a semester-long management simulation game, in which students either individually or as a group assume
responsibility for a company’s competitiveness and performance in the marketplace; and (e) a small research project, such as assessing the quality of
communication between the faculty and the students, where students
develop a research design, collect and analyze data, derive conclusions, and
write a formal report. The scale of these assignments can be tailored to a
course while retaining the task identity feature in the course design.
Task significance. Task significance or task value—as used in the classroom context—means the pride associated with success (Atkinson, 1957),
intrinsic or interest value, and the importance (utility value) of a task related
to some future goals (Eccles, 1983). Many prominent theories of achievement motivation are based on the assumption that task values affect or
mediate achievement behavior (Stipek, 1996). The findings from several
studies (e.g., Brophy, 1987; Pintrich & De Groot, 1990; Reeve, Jang,
Hardre, & Omura, 2002; Simons, DeWitte, & Lens, 2004) also indicate that
students are likely to engage in more effective effort management and
learning if they perceive that tasks assigned are important, interesting, and
relevant to their goals. Therefore, while designing a course, tasks and
assignments selected should offer value to students; otherwise, their interest, engagement in academic tasks, and satisfaction may be diminished
(Chung & McLarney, 2000; Stipek, 1996).
Any method used—such as lecture, case analysis, simulation, or other
activities—should let the students clearly know that the knowledge and
skills acquired are worthwhile and have utility value with reference to their
present and future goals, such as jobs, self-employment, and graduate education (O’Neil & Hopkins, 2002). For example, students may be directed to
associate the information being learned with their future goals, so that they
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can see the value of learning to their career goals (Hynd, Holschuh, & Nist,
2000). Similarly, they may be required to apply the knowledge or skills
acquired to explain current business, economic, or other relevant events. As
an additional example, graduate students in a course may be required to
produce a publishable-quality term paper targeted for a journal or a professional meeting. This may instill a greater sense of task significance, particularly among those whose goals are to pursue a profession where scholarly
activities are essential. The importance of the skills taught may be further
reinforced with the help of corporate visitors, mock interviews, or other
practical or simulated settings. Corporations spend billions of dollars each
year to train the newly hired college graduates because of their deficiency
in basic skills, including communication (reading, writing) and analytic
skills. Therefore, a perception of task significance may be augmented if a
course is designed to teach necessary skills and emphasizes the relevance
or benefits of these skills, as well as the dangers of lacking them under the
current and future scenarios.
If designed properly, task significance may also address the criticisms
by corporate executives—as reflected in the Porter and McKibbin report
(1988)—that business graduates lack knowledge regarding how the business
world operates in practice as well as in theory. For example, a course may
use various methods—such as experiential exercises, case studies, business
simulation games—to require that students apply classroom learning to corporate or real-world contexts. To take it one step further, task significance
may be incorporated in a course design by providing a touch of reality. For
instance, students may be required to develop projects or cases for external
competition or grants, to work on business plans or marketing plans for local
businesses, to manage portfolios funded by the business school or university,
or to generate solutions for corporations’ real problems with the top executives evaluating and comparing them with the actual solutions.
Once students are convinced that the knowledge and skills gained from
the course can contribute meaningfully to their immediate and long-term
goals, they will be more motivated to learn in the classrooms (Yair, 2000).
Moreover, a course having task significance may also improve teaching
effectiveness because relevancy and value of a course for university students
seem to be the most important predictors of teacher effectiveness (e.g., Young
& Shaw, 1999).
ENHANCING THE CPS OF EXPERIENCED RESPONSIBILITY

Autonomy. Many studies and their reviews (e.g., Ames, 1992; Boekaerts
& Minnaert, 2006; Deci & Ryan, 1996; Ryan & Deci 2000; Skinner &
Belmont, 1993; Strong, Davis, & Hawks, 2004) have confirmed that autonomy can promote intrinsic motivation, interest, engagement in learning, and
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perceived competence among college students. On the contrary, when students
perceive that they are being controlled or left with little autonomy, they may
perform poorly or experience reduced intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan,
1996; Perry & Penner, 1990). Teachers’ support of student autonomy is
viewed by many theorists as the hallmark of good teaching (Ames, 1992).
Therefore, autonomy-enhancing behavior as opposed to autonomy-suppressing
behavior should be incorporated in the classroom design.
As the literature (e.g., Assor, Kaplan, & Roth, 2002; Deci & Ryan, 1996;
Goudas & Biddle, 1995; Palmer, 2005) suggests, a variety of methods can
be used in classrooms to enhance student autonomy. One dominant
approach is to provide students with a range of choices, such as optional
study material or several tasks to choose from, so that they can select tasks
consistent with their goals and interests. Autonomy can also be fostered by
giving students agency and control in the learning process, such as by
allowing students to teach and grade each other, or by providing encouragement for self-initiation and independent thinking. Moreover, acknowledging students’ perspectives and frame of reference, allowing criticisms
by the students, and providing a satisfactory explanation regarding why
students should participate in an assigned activity are additional suggested
means to promote perceptions of autonomy among students. Research (e.g.,
Deci & Ryan, 1996) also indicates that a teacher’s interpersonal style that
minimizes the use of controlling events and controlling language is likely
to contribute to autonomy and enhance motivation.
For example, students’ autonomy may be influenced by the way rewards
are administered. Using rewards to control students’ behavior—such as
announcing that “you have to pay attention to get the reward”—can reduce
their sense of autonomy. However, using rewards to communicate information
about competence or mastery can enhance intrinsic motivation. In addition to
applying these autonomy-enhancing behaviors, it is suggested that teachers
avoid autonomy-suppressing behaviors, such as suppressing criticisms and
independent opinions given by students, unnecessarily intruding while students
are involved in an ongoing process, or forcing meaningless and uninteresting
assignments and activities (Assor et al., 2002).
In designing a business course, the magnitude of autonomy can also be
an important consideration. A course design may include autonomy at the
macro level, where students actively participate in the overall course design,
and at the micro level, which provides students an opportunity to select specific activities or tasks. At a macro level, students in a business course can
be involved in setting the course goals as well as the processes to achieve
them, such as assignments or teaching methods, within certain parameters
set by the instructors. Such a procedure has shown to generate an extremely
positive experience for both the students and the instructors (Durlabhji &
Fusilier, 1999). As demonstrated by these researchers, a baseline course
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design may be presented to students during the first meeting that outlines
minimum parameters for the course. These parameters may include the
requirements deemed essential for the course by its instructor, such as a
conceptual- and application-level understanding of course concepts, valid
mechanisms to assess students’ understanding, percentage of grades to be
controlled by the instructor and the students (if desired), group activities,
real-world applications, in-class presentation, and written assignments.
Students may be given the choice of using the course design with no
change, modifying it, or developing a new one as long as the minimum
parameters are maintained.
At a micro level, students may be allowed to choose specific tasks and
activities, as well as the methods associated with them. For example, a professor may (a) allow students to decide on the number of assignments or
exams, the format of assignments or exams (essay or multiple-choice or a
combination of the two), the venue of exams (in-class or take-home), and
the due date for assignments or exams; (b) provide a list of research or project topics to choose from, such as book report, comprehensive case study,
case development and write-up, or other comparable assignments; (c) give
students an option to either make a class presentation or submit a written
paper on the completed project or research; and (d) allow students to select
between individual or group assignments. As a variation, students may be
presented several course packages to choose from at the start of the semester, each package containing a different combination of tasks, activities, and
methods.
Another important consideration is that the degree of autonomy should
be matched with the course level and maturity of the students; in other
words, it makes sense to provide more structure and less autonomy to a
freshman-level class compared with a senior-level class. As some leadership
theories (e.g., Hersey & Blanchard’s [1982] Situational Leadership Theory)
suggest, the degree of autonomy should be increased as the followers’ taskrelated maturity increases.
ENHANCING THE CPS OF KNOWLEDGE OF ACTUAL RESULTS

Evaluation and feedback. Evaluation and feedback, as structural characteristics, are intertwined and should be considered together for practical
purposes. These salient classroom factors, when appropriately designed and
implemented, can influence students’ engagement, effort, and persistence
regarding academic activities (e.g., Ames, 1992; Ames & Ames, 1984). It
should be noted that research findings as well as the motivation-enhancing
guidelines in the education literature are based on studies that primarily
used evaluation and feedback conducted by the instructors and/or peers.
As a strategy, evaluation should be private and designed to communicate
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substantive information to students about their competencies, such as
providing written comments to specify strengths and weaknesses related to
an assignment. It should also offer specific guidance related to future efforts
that can lead to improvements (Ames, 1992; Stipek, 1996). This strategy
would help promote students’ sense of self-worth and motivation. On the contrary, evaluations designed to emphasize social (public) comparisons, including
announcements of highest and lowest scores, public evaluation, and displays
of selected research papers, should be avoided. This is becasue students who
compare themselves unfavorably as a result of social comparisons may question their ability, avoid challenging tasks, and experience diminished intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Elliott & Dweck, 1988).
Research findings suggest that timely and frequent feedback is likely to
increase students’ engagement and desire for challenging tasks if it is
designed to communicate developing competence, to allow mistakes as a
part of learning but not manipulation, and to emphasize learning and
effort—for instance, “you have been making progress” or “you are working
hard” (e.g., Hagen & Weinstein, 1995; Stipek, 1996). In providing feedback, however, the use of global comments—such as “very good” or “very
weak”—and normatively distributed grades without substantive evaluation
should be avoided because such practices may diminish student interest and
engagement (Butler, 1987). Another important and integral aspect of feedback is causal attribution. Researchers (Stipek, 1996; Weiner, 1979) suggest
that we attribute students’ causes of success to (a) effort (e.g., “your hard
work paid off”) and (b) ability (e.g., “you are good at it”). The causes of
failure should be attributed to inadequate effort and inappropriate study
strategies if we are to promote initiative, effort, and persistence among
students. Additional strategies to enhance motivation may include administering positive or negative feedback in a noncritical, autonomy-supportive
way (Deci & Ryan, 1996) and using rewards as a means to communicate or
symbolize students’ accomplishments and progress (Bandura, 1986).
The preceding discussion focused on the teachers as the source of evaluation and feedback. Tasks designed to provide quick feedback to students
regarding their progress as well as feedback from peers, such as on a class
presentation, may also contribute to motivation. College courses vary in
terms of the content and activities, making some courses easier than others
to design so that students receive frequent feedback. Usually, assignments
requiring computer applications—such as business simulation games, statistical analysis, certain tasks in Management Information Systems (MIS)
courses, on-line activities—are likely to facilitate quick and frequent feedback
to students regarding their progress. Experience suggests that the semesterlong management simulation games, typically used in capstone courses, are
capable of generating intense student engagement. The game design usually requires that the groups in charge of hypothetical corporations compete
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in a simulated marketplace and receive unbiased feedback, almost immediately, regarding the outcomes of their weekly strategic and operational decisions. Task-based feedback can also be facilitated by giving individual and
group assignments to require that students search computer databases or
use the Internet to find articles or material related to a research or other
skill-enhancing projects. The feedback is quick, and students immediately
know if they are making progress in terms of being able to follow correct
search procedures or find relevant materials.
Apart from the technology-based feedback, a course may be designed in
which the instructor and the peers provide specific, substantive, and quick
feedback on individual and group presentations, which can be based on an
end-of-presentation survey—open or confidential. Face-to-face feedback
from peers may also be facilitated when multiple groups get involved in an
open class discussion regarding a case or topic, or selected students lead
class discussions or solve problems on the board. A design that allows feedback from peers, such as small group activities where members can act as
coaches to one another, is likely to stimulate students’ thinking and generate a highly positive learning experience for those involved (O’Neil &
Hopkins, 2002). Although it is recognized that the nature of a specific
course could limit the design scope and flexibility, more often than not
mechanisms may be devised, based on the course instructor’s own experience and technological advances, to maximize the benefits offered by taskbased and peer-based feedback.
Table 1 summarizes the techniques, activities, and examples related to
the five structural elements of classroom design as presented in the aforementioned discussions.

Discussion and Conclusion
The JCM provides a theoretical basis as well as a framework for business school teachers to enhance student motivation by creating an appropriate classroom environment through effective course design. Our review
of research findings indicates that the five structural elements of the JCM
are relevant in classroom settings. When appropriately designed and incorporated in a course, these structural elements and the supporting instructional strategies, presented in this article, have the potential to influence
students’ critical psychological states (CPS) and motivate them for learning and
performance. The instructors’ own innovations, experience, and the wealth
of available resources—cases, exercises, simulation games, and teaching
ideas—can be organized along these structural elements to trigger a strong
impact on the students’ CPS and enhance motivation.
In addition, the JCM framework can also be used by business faculty as
a diagnostic tool to identify the structural element(s) causing motivational
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TABLE 1

Designing Business School Courses Based on the Structural
Elements: Techniques, Activities, and Examples
to Promote Student Motivation
Task variety
Design tasks or activities to require a variety of skills, such as oral and written communication, decision making, leadership, critical and analytic thinking, problem solving,
research, resource management, and teamwork.
Design may include comprehensive/short case analyses, functional analyses of a company,
group assignments, formal presentations, written papers, management simulation or other
games, experiential exercises, role-playing, class discussions, debate on controversial topics, application of course concepts, software, multimedia, and Internet.
Task identity
Design courses to include major tasks or assignments, which would provide students a
sense of achievement based on tangible outcomes.
Design may include development of business or marketing plans for new products; comprehensive case analyses; a written paper on structural analysis of an industry; a semester-long
management game, with student groups in charge of companies competing in a simulated marketplace; formal presentations on major assignments; a research project, where students
develop a research plan, collect and analyze data, derive conclusions, and write a formal report.
Task significance
Design tasks as well as communicate to convince students that the knowledge and skills being
acquired are important in the context of real-life situations and their present and future goals.
Design may require students to apply course-related concepts, knowledge, or skills to
explain current business, economic, or other relevant events; associate the information
being learned with their future goals so that they can see the value of learning; develop a
publishable quality term paper in a graduate class targeted for a journal or a professional
meeting; apply classroom learning to corporate or real-world contexts through the use of
experiential exercises or other methods; be more informed about the value of knowledge
and skills learned with the help of corporate visitors, mock interviews, or other practical or
simulated settings; develop projects or cases for external competition or grants; develop a
business or marketing plan for local businesses; manage a portfolio funded by the business
school or university; generate and recommend solutions for an existing corporation’s real
problems, with the top executives evaluating and comparing them with actual solutions.
Autonomy
Give students agency, control, and choice in the learning process at the macro and/or micro
level.
Design may include involving students in designing a course within the parameters set by
the instructors at the start of a semester or presenting several course packages to choose
from; providing students a choice regarding tasks, activities, and the methods associated
with them (such as an opportunity to select between presentation and written paper;
choose a research topic; or choose the format and due time for exams, assignments, or
research projects); allowing students to teach and grade each other; providing encouragement for self-initiation and independent thinking; acknowledging students’ perspectives
and allowing criticisms by them; minimizing the use of controlling events and controlling
language; using rewards to communicate information about students’ competence rather
than to co trol their behavior; avoiding autonomy-suppressingbbehaviors—such as
(continued)
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JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT EDUCATION / December 2007

TABLE 1

(continued)

suppressing criticisms and independent opinions given by students, or unnecessarily intruding while students are still involved in an ongoing process; giving students freedom to
choose their own team members or vote a nonperforming team member out of the group.
Evaluation and feedback
Design evaluation and feedback to be private, timely, frequent, and substantive; specify
strengths and weaknesses; emphasize learning and effort; and offer specific guidance
related to future efforts.
Design may include avoiding evaluations designed to emphasize social comparisons—such
as an announcement of highest or lowest scores—and global comments—such as very good
or very weak; attributing students’ causes of success to effort and ability, and causes of failure to lower level of effort and inappropriate study strategies; using rewards to symbolize
students’ accomplishments; giving assignments that require computer or Internet applications for quick feedback; allowing immediate feedback on individual and group presentations from peers or instructor; encouraging open class discussions between groups
regarding a case or topic; inviting students to lead problem-solving tasks.

problems among students. In diagnosing problems, for example, students
may be involved in analyzing the course they are taking along the structural
elements. Various approaches—such as open class discussions, questionnaires customized for the course, or an adapted and simplified version of
Hackman and Oldham’s (1980) Job Diagnostics Survey—can be used to
obtain student input necessary to evaluate the structural characteristics. The
objective should be to identify any structural element(s) and the accompanying design deficiencies contributing to such problems, and to revamp the
element(s) to improve the situation.
The article has not addressed the GNS component of the theory because
of weak or negative research support. However, the GNS primarily involves
the issue of individual differences. Although an entire article may be devoted
to this issue, as a brief note, it must be stated that many studies have found
individual differences to affect students’ academic motivation and performance (for a review, see Snow, Corno, & Jackson, 1996). Examples of frequently studied dimensions of individual differences of students include
abilities, self-concept, locus of control, achievement expectancy, goal orientations, skills (e.g., conceptual, self-regulation), age, gender, and selfefficacy. Students’ behavior and motivation may depend on the nature, the
appropriateness, and the degree to which these individual difference factors
are present in them as well as the extent to which instructional changes
are made to address individual differences. For example, studies involving
college students demonstrated that (a) motivation is maximized when
instructional methods applied to students with low conceptual levels are
highly structured, or vice versa (Hancock, 2002), and (b) some students are
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motivated by the discipline itself, whereas others are motivated by the
acquisition of more general skills and experiences (Jacobs & Newstead,
2000). Researchers suggest that educators take into consideration individual student characteristics in the design and delivery of course materials
(Buttner, 2002; Chung & McLarney, 2000; Van Fleet, 1995). Therefore, as
the chief architect of a course, it may be worthwhile for the business school
professors to take up the challenge given the expectations and the potential
rewards for such an endeavor. Many of the instructional strategies related to
certain structural elements (e.g., autonomy) discussed earlier may be helpful in dealing with this issue.
Finally, although this article focuses on the issue of stimulating student
motivation and engagement within the classroom, the strategies related to
structural elements have implications in the context of the broader landscape of business education. Since the Porter and McKibbin report of 1988,
criticisms and concerns have been mounting that business schools in this
country have lost their way, and as a result, business education has become
less relevant to the corporate world (e.g., Bennis & O’Toole, 2005;
Mintzberg, 2004; Pfeffer & Fong, 2002). Some scholars have called for a
reengineering of the business school curricula, among other things, to more
effectively serve to develop managers and business leaders. Even though
management education is in need of profound reform, chances of such
reform seem limited (Pfeffer & Fong, 2002). In this regard, many of the
instructional strategies presented in the article show promise for addressing
some of these concerns. For example, Mintzberg (2004) noted that the
classroom focus needs to shift from teaching to learning. Teaching is
instructor driven and controlled, but learning is student centered, requiring
it to be responsive and customized. The instructional strategies related to
autonomy, presented in Table 1, may facilitate this shift from a teaching to
a learning orientation.
Next, Bennis and O’Toole (2005) emphatically stated that management
education must integrate knowledge and business practices in order to
regain relevance as professional education for the business world. To facilitate such integration, they suggested establishing investment funds for
students to manage, giving students opportunities to run businesses, and
structuring internships. Similarly, McCarthy, Tucker, and Dean (2002)
noted that service learning—which is student centered and connects universities to their communities by engaging students in community-based
projects—can link classroom theory and business world practices. The
strategies supporting task significance, discussed above, incorporate these
as well as other mechanisms and have potential to enhance the relevance of
business education.
On the issue of learning, Vaill (1996) observed that we all operate and learn
in permanent white water (PWW) conditions—environments characterized
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JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT EDUCATION / December 2007

by surprising, novel, messy, costly, and unpreventable events. Two of the
most important elements necessary for successful managerial leadership
learning in PWW are (a) self-directed learning, where the learner has substantial control over the purpose, the form, the content, and the pace of
learning, and (b) expressive learning (learning through the process of
expression). The latter may be facilitated through methods such as case
studies, in-class exercises, living cases where the case characters join the
class, internships, computer simulations, group projects, self-chosen and
self-directed projects or businesses (Vaill, 1996). Based on the structural
design presented in this article, the former is accommodated through autonomy and the latter through task variety, task significance, and autonomy.
In conclusion, the JCM provides an integrative framework that can be
used by the business school faculty to design courses based on the five
structural characteristics discussed in this article. Such an approach is
expected to promote a classroom environment conducive to motivation and
enhance students’ academic performance and learning. The literature-based
strategies presented in this article, the rich repertoire of instructional
resources, as well as professors’ own innovations and ideas related to these
structural elements should enable us to accomplish the challenging but
achievable goal of maximizing student motivation and learning that is relevant to the business world.

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