Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Wesely, Pamela M.

First Committee Member

Plakans, Lia M.

Second Committee Member

Schrier, Leslie L.

Third Committee Member

Otto, Sue E.

Fourth Committee Member

Liskin-Gasparro, Judith

Fifth Committee Member

Bills, David B.


This study focused on investigating students’ complex L2 motivational systems in an equally complex educational environment. It analyzed students’ motivation while learning Spanish in a Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) course taught in a student-centered technology-enhanced classroom at a university in the Midwest. The innovative curriculum for the course emphasized student interaction, and revolved around the development of a collaborative entrepreneurial wiki project. This study addressed the expanding call for considering motivation as multidimensional, changing and contextualized (Crookes & Schmidt, 2006; Dörnyei, MacIntyre, & Henry, 2015) by steering away from simplistic cause–effect quantitative paradigms. It addressed the topic through the lens of Complex Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST) and utilized two contemporary L2 motivation frameworks for making sense of the data: the L2 Motivational Self System (L2MSS) (Dörnyei, 2005, 2009), and Directed Motivational Currents (DMCs) (Muir & Dörnyei, 2013; Dörnyei, Ibrahim, & Muir 2015). It adopted in-depth qualitative case study methodology to answer the following research questions: 1. How can students' L2 motivations be described while learning Business Spanish through an innovative curriculum? 2. What are the factors affecting students’ L2 motivations throughout the course?

Four students enrolled in this class during the Fall 2015 were randomly selected as the participants for this study. Data were collected throughout the academic semester and included: 1) four in-depth interviews with each student; 2) the work students developed collaboratively on the wiki; 3) course evaluations submitted to the instructor of the course; 4) students’ academic records and 5) classroom observations of the times students worked on the wiki. Findings revealed that the self system interacted with the motivational system of students in this class, and was determinant in guiding their motivational trajectories throughout the semester. The self system was also instrumental in shaping experiences students had related to the elements of the immediate L2 learning context. Moreover, factors stemming from the immediate L2 context that fulfilled students’ self-concordant goals were also instrumental in keeping students engaged with the process of learning; and completing the wiki project became a shared goal for students in each group. These factors led students to experience a group motivational wave — with characteristics of group DMCs — as they became more and more involved with the wiki project for the course. In terms of the work completed, students’ motivations translated into detailed wiki projects that incorporated more content than specified by the project’s guidelines and requirements. Finally, the study also generated insights into areas in which the L2MSS and DMCs could be expanded or refined in order to better account for students’ complex motivational trajectories.

Public Abstract

This exploratory study focused on investigating students’ second language motivation in a Business Spanish course that incorporated technology and a long-term collaborative project to help students develop skills that are necessary for today’s workforce. It aimed to investigate how students’ L2 motivation developed throughout the course in view of the interaction of factors affecting that development. It also looked at how students’ motivations affected their coursework. Once seen as a static trait of the learner, contemporary scholars have advocated for considering motivation as complex, changing and contextualized. This study adopted in-depth qualitative case study methodology to investigate the issues above from a more holistic perspective. Data collected over an academic semester included: four in-depth interviews with each student; the work students developed collaboratively for their projects; course evaluations submitted to the instructor of the course; students’ academic records and classroom observations of the times students worked on the project. Results from this study revealed that images of who students wanted to become in the future guided their L2 motivation in the course. These images were also important for shaping students’ perceptions about elements of the course. Findings further revealed that completing the group project for the course became a shared goal for students, which also resulted in intense positive engagement with the course. Finally, this study showed that students’ high motivational levels led them to develop the project beyond the requirements specified by the teacher.


Business Spanish, Complexity, Directed Motivational Currents, L2 Motivation, Possible Selves, Project-Based Learning


xiv, 246 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 214-229).


Copyright © 2017 Mariana Ruggiero Colombo

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