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From Research to Practice: Practical Tips for Quick Student Conversations

Presented by Katie Dufault, Director of the Academic Success Center – February 17, 2020

What are some common student situations or responses you see in your role?

Questions are one of the most powerful tools we have in developing change. So identify those that are relevant for you in your conversations with students, and then recognize how your work, or work that your colleagues are doing, connects back to Steps to Leaps.

Most conversations need to happen over several meetings. We don't just hear something once and then magically change our lives. Students are the same.

Steps to Leaps

  • Provides students with tools, resources, and support to build resiliency and tenacity for all aspects of their lives and establish lifelong habits to help them realize their personal definitions of success.
  • Every Purdue student has enormous capacity and talent and, through engaging in the pillar topics and modules, can grow even more.
  • All admitted students have the capacity to be successful in Purdue and beyond.
  • Skills fostered in college can be built upon throughout a student’s lifetime.
  • It is a community effort.

Academic Emotions
(Pekrun, Goetz, & Titz, 2002)

Academic Emotions Overview

  • Emotional experiences related to academic activities (in-class instruction, studying, taking exams, etc.) and outcomes
  • Students reported experiencing all major human emotions except for disgust
  • Unexpected outcomes
    • Meta-Emotions
    • Dualistic Nature of Boredom

Four Clusters of Academic Emotions

  • Positive Activating Emotions—Enjoyment, Hope, Pride
  • Positive Deactivating Emotions—Relief, Relaxation after Success, Contentment
  • Negative Activating Emotions—Anxiety, Shame, Anger
  • Negative Deactivating Emotions—Boredom, Hopelessness 

Anxiety and shame are huge motivating drivers for many, and we want to help students avoid these two dangerous emotions.

Pekrun and his group noticed that a lot of the research done on academic emotions focused on anxiety. More specifically, test anxiety. They looked at academic emotions, defined as being similar to academic motivation or academic self-efficacy. Academic emotions are those experienced in an academic setting—in class, out of class (such as studying) and taking exams. They developed a questionnaire to evaluate academic emotions and looked at outcomes. They found that students experience all major human emotions in an academic setting, except for one—disgust. That's a good thing, as that is a negative emotion.

The most frequently cited academic emotion in the research was anxiety. However, overall, positive academic emotions were brought up just as frequently as negative academic emotions. They felt that anxiety had been over researched, or had been covered a lot in research. Hopelessness is the most detrimental emotional feeling that students can have towards their academic performance.

Unexpected Outcomes
There were some unexpected outcomes. The first were meta-emotions—students' feelings about feelings. An example was, a student who talked about feeling nervous for a test, and then said, "And it makes me mad that I'm nervous." So that student realized some of the irrational thinking behind the anxiety and that was a motivator for them. Where in other students, anxiety caused a freezing effect. Meta-emotions are powerful and it is important to help students process, not just what they're feeling, but how those feelings make them feel. 

They found that if students weren't interested, if the work wasn't challenging or stimulating enough, they got bored. However, they also found the opposite. If a student was overwhelmed by the material, if it was too challenging, they exhibited self-preservation— they avoided the material.

Academic Emotions in STEM
(Pelch, 2018)

High Student Anxiety vs. Normal Student Anxiety

Peltz recently did a study looking at academic emotion specifically in STEM. He found that there is a difference between high student anxiety and normal student anxiety. He talks about the importance of normalizing the situation—we all feel a little nervous in some situations. Some anxiety means that you care; it helps move you to optimal performance. Ruminating anxiety is what we want to avoid.

Normal anxiety was typically task oriented, while high anxiety negatively impacted persistence and the student's ability to perform. It was also part of how they self-predicted consequences for themselves. Becoming worried and anxious about an exam, predicting failure, and then seeing that through. 

Anxiety Related to Growth Mindset

Normal anxiety correlated in this study with what they call challenge mindset, or growth mindset. The ability to see situations as not fixed, that you have some control, helps student's with anxiety.

Self-Deprecating Cycle

In the self-deprecating cycle, there is high anxiety, normally low self-image, low self-worth attached to performance, which impacted their ability to select strong study strategies. These students were using shallow methods of studying. Many times they showed avoidance behaviors rather than help-seeking behaviors that impacted their actual performance, and their perceived performance for the future. These behaviors put them in a downward spiral. This cycle was much more common in female students in STEM than male students.

Males vs. Females in STEM
Male students were more likely to talk about course conditions, such as active learning and group studying. They were significantly more likely to report satisfaction with their academic performance and strategies that were effective, whether it was good study strategies, higher order thinking, or self-regulated learning. Females in this study were much more likely to talk about negative self-image, high student anxiety, personal interactions and feeling somewhat defeated. When we think about gender retention and achievement in STEM, this study has a lot of implications to think about. Although, he mentioned that the result may also be a society issue, of how we conditioned males to not talk about emotions. It may be that female students are more willing to discuss their academic emotions, especially those that seem negative or personal.

Gender Differences and Implications
Regarding gender related to academic emotions, males reported positive emotions even if their tests showed that they had some negative emotions. This outcome was contradictory to previous research on emotional intelligence. Generally, they find female students, especially college age females, have a higher emotional IQ. Despite having high EI, these female students were still very anxious. So researchers were looking into the relationship—does anxiety surpass the impact of the emotional intelligence? Does self-awareness impact their perception of their anxiety?

Strategies Informed by Research

Guide Students’ Reflection on their Meta-Emotions

Guide students on their meta-emotions. Challenge them to think about how they're feeling about their feelings. Support the development of growth mindset. Reframe internal responses: "What does it mean that I did bad on this exam? Well, it means that I didn't do well according to a metric about this content, but that I can still change future tests and how I approach them." Remind them of the power of yet. “I didn't do that or I don't know that yet, but it doesn't mean that I won't be able to.”

Challenges as Opportunities

It's not failing, it's an opportunity to learn. See challenges as opportunities instead of threats, especially threats to self-worth. Help students realize that perfection isn't realistic, so don’t aim for perfect, aim for close, or that next step. Recognize and praise efforts over outcomes. Recognize that an outcome was good, but they still didn't put in the effort. Help them see that success is a process and not just a one-time result; it’s on-going. 

Promote self-regulatory strategies. Help students think about how they plan, monitor and evaluate their study strategies. Many students just do what they've always done, or what they think they should do, but they never take the time to plan out what will work for a specific class. They don't monitor while they're studying, asking “Is this actually working? And they don't evaluate later, by asking themselves “Should I keep doing this next time?” Ask the student, "What's your plan? How are you going to monitor?" And then follow up in person or by email. "How's that implementation going?" Accountability along with a reminder to monitor and evaluate can be very critical.

Questions to Ask Students

  • How do you feel about [course, exam, content]?
  • And how do those feelings make you feel?
  • What would studying look like if you were not feeling [negative emotion]?
  • How have you studied in the past?
  • Do you think that strategy helped you master the content and feel confident going into the exam?
  • Do you think that strategy helped you deeply process the material?
  • Tell me about a time you succeeded in a course.
  • What is in your control? What is the course’s value for you? 

Self-Determination Theory + Passion
(Desi & Ryan, 2000; Ryan & Desi, 2000)

Self-determination theory is about motivation. There are three basic human needs that need to be addressed to determine motivation.

  1. Autonomy—choice or freewill to do a task and have a say in it.
  2. Competence—feeling like you can master a task and that you are effective in your environment, whether that environment is a classroom, a boardroom, wherever the student is.
  3. Relatedness—peace and sense of belonging is important. It could be belonging within a community, how they relate to faculty members, their supervisors, or content itself. 

Two Types of Passion
(Vallerand, 2008, 2012; Vallerand et al., 2003)

Harmonious Passion

  • Autonomous Internalization
  • Congruent with and Part of Identity
  • Choose to Engage and Important (no strings attached)
  • In Harmony with Other Aspects of Life
  • Person Controls Activity
  • Aids in Adjustment
  • Promotes Subjective Well-Being
  • Helps Persistence up to Point of Negative Impact
  • Psychological Protection in Failure

Harmonious passion is connected to positive emotions, both during and after the activity. Concentration and that sense of flow, losing self-consciousness while doing the activity, being able to perform to a high level. Harmonious passion aids in psychological adjustment, especially if you hit a road bump. When we think about college, there's lots of road bumps, so that's important. Promotes subjective well-being. Helps persistence, often to a negative point.

People with harmonious passions are able to realize when something is no longer a good option for them, and are typically more flexible in pursuing their passion. When they do fail, studies have shown they have a psychological protection from failure. It doesn't hit them quite the same as if they exhibited an obsessive passion.

Obsessive Passion

  • Controlled Internalization
  • Intrapersonal and/or Interpersonal Pressure
  • Strings Attached –feelings of social acceptance, self-esteem, addicting excitement response
  • Overbearing Part of Identity
  • Conflicts with Other Aspects of Life
  • Activity Controls Person
  • Impedes Adjustments, Cues Defensiveness
  • Undermines Well-Being, Leads to Ill-Being
  • Helps Persistence, including Nonproductive Persistence
  • Leads to Burnout
  • Self-worth may be derived from activity
  • Failure is Defines Self = Psychological Distress

Tricky to Recognize the Difference
From an observation perspective, harmonious and obsessive passions can look similar. It can be hard to determine if a student has an obsession passion versus a healthy harmonious passion. It can look the same; it's more about that internal drive and motivation. It's not necessarily the quantity of engagement, but the quality of the engagement that makes the difference. 


Obsessive passion is highly correlated with feelings of shame during the activity about which a student is passionate and when they aren't able to engage in the activity, resulting in significantly more overall negative emotions, both in the cognitive and affective range. If they are unable to engage in their obsessive passion, it can crush their day.

Strategies Informed by Research

  • Look for ways to incorporate Autonomy (choice), Competency (mastery), and Relatedness (belonging) to your work with students to promote autonomous motivation–courses, trainings, leadership positions, conversations, programs, requirements
  • Guide students’ reflections on their passion and motivation

Roadtrip Nation Tool
Center for Career Opportunities (CCO) offers Roadtrip Nation, a tool that provides students opportunities to explore careers and majors. A student’s values and what they want may not be connected to their passion. Roadtrip Nation can help them make that good fit with their harmonious passion. 

Questions to Ask

  • Does your major/goal reflect the qualities you like most about yourself?
  • Is your academic goal integrated into your life?
  • Does your goal conflict with other areas of your life or goals you would like to pursue?
  • Why is this goal important to you?
  • How would you know if you need to take a break? What would that look like for you?
  • What do you like best about ....?
  • What drives you to this major/goal?
  • What outcome do you want with this degree?
  • Tell me more about [choosing your major, your goal, how you would ideally spend your time, etc.]?       

Goal Orientation and Framing
(Coats et al, 1996; Elliot, 1999; Senko & Dawson, 2017)(Brodish & Devine, 2009; Bruno et al., 2019; Deemer et al., 2014)


  • Multiple Goal Perspectives is Optimal
  • Goal-Framing is Integral
    • Replacement of Avoidance with Approach Goals
    • Increases Self-Evaluation + Psychological Well-Being
  • Impact of Performance-Avoidance
  • Students from Low Socio-economic Status Backgrounds
  • First Generation Students
  • Stereotype Threat
  • Women in STEM

Have More than One Goal

Research has shown that multiple goals are optimal. Goals can easily be reframed. Instead of avoiding being dropped academically, instead of avoiding this negative consequence, what is it you can look towards? Reframing helps with self-evaluation. If I'm thinking about failure, I'm going to start noticing how I'm failing. If I'm thinking about making a successful goal, I'm going to start noticing my progress towards that. Help students replace an avoidance goal with an approach goal. A simple reframing of a goal has been shown to increase how they self-evaluate that internal dialogue, which impacts well-being.

Performance Avoidance

Performance avoidance is more prevalent for students who come from a low socioeconomic background or have a first generation college attendance status. When successful, these students are most at risk for having the performance avoidance goals. This behavior relates to imposter syndrome—having to prove to yourself or others that you belong here, along with the external pressure to do well. It is shown to be associated with stereotype threat and is something that women in STEM experience significantly more often than their male peers.

Strategies Informed by Research

  • Guide students in reframing their goals
  • DAPPS approach
  • Brainstorming Potential Goals
    • Joining Student’s Side vs. Opposing
    • All Potential Options or Strategies
  • Utilize Scaling Questions

Questions to Ask

  • On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate...

... your current study strategies?

... your progress toward your goal this [week/month]?

... the [feasibility, likelihood, etc.] of your goal?

  • What is working/going well that it is a [#] instead of a [#-1 or -2]?
  • What would help you move from a [#] to a [#+1]?
  • What do you want to achieve rather than avoid?
  • Is that a goal you have set for yourself or did someone set it for you?
  • What would success look like this semester/month/week?