Supporting Students through Role Redefinition: A Self-Determination Theory Perspective


  • Tierney Wisniewski The University of British Columbia
  • Chelanna White Kwantlen Polytechnic University
  • Connell Green Kwantlen Polytechnic University
  • Abbey Fiona Elder Kwantlen Polytechnic University
  • Sana Sohel Kwantlen Polytechnic University
  • Nancy E. Perry The University of British Columbia
  • Jennifer D. Shapka The University of British Columbia



self-determination theory, autonomy support, radical collegiality, transformative learning, student roles, agentic engagement, defiance, critical pedagogy


Self-determination theory (SDT) is a well-established theory of motivation that posits that we grow optimally to the degree to which we are afforded autonomy support, the collective term for the provision of opportunities to satisfy our needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Although Ryan and Niemiec (2009) suggest that self-determination theory can be “critical and liberating,†I trouble their assertion, and propose that redefining the student role is an essential form of autonomy support if we wish to follow through on these possibilities. To that end, I undertook a narrative inquiry into five students’ experiences in a set of non-traditional university courses. Once these students redefined their roles, they engaged more agentically in other courses by expressing themselves more, taking more risks, and even standing up to miseducative instructors on their own and their peers’ behalves. They came to perceive themselves as agents of change in their institutions and in other arenas, following through on the critical and liberating potential of SDT that Ryan and Niemiec had envisioned. This study has broad implications for how we engage with students and structure our institutions, as well as how we conduct SDT research, if we wish to capitalise on this potential.


Metrics Loading ...




How to Cite

Wisniewski, Tierney, Chelanna White, Connell Green, Abbey Fiona Elder, Sana Sohel, Nancy E. Perry, and Jennifer D. Shapka. 2018. “Supporting Students through Role Redefinition: A Self-Determination Theory Perspective”. Education As Change 22 (1):23 pages.



Received 2017-12-29
Accepted 2018-06-25
Published 2018-07-20