An Appreciative Inquiry Approach to Enhance Assignment Completion: Focusing on Locus of Control

Brain with glasses

Appreciative inquiry (AI) has been effective in guiding changes in organizational and human systems through engaging stakeholders to create a transformed, shared vision of potential and future growth opportunities (Hammond, 2013). “The power of the unconditional positive questioning is a framework to engage individuals to enhance their environments” (Ludema, Cooperrider, & Barrett, 2001, p. 189).

The results from our study provide an understanding between students’ locus of control and preferred instructional strategies to enhance assignment completion.  Furthermore, the results suggest by incorporating AI in undergraduate teaching and learning, it can enhance a student’s locus of control in their academic performance, motivation, and assignment completion.

Locus of Control

Locus of control is a psychological construct in which people believe they either have or do not have control over the outcome of events/fates in their lives (Rotter, 1954), and may play a role in understanding the relationship between motivation, performance, satisfaction, and incentives (Morzaria, 2019). College students’ perception of their academic locus of control can impact the amount of effort, motivation, and satisfaction they derive from completing their assignments, especially in regards to managing their time, coping with personal, academic, and family demands, and/or unpredictable stress during a pandemic. Students with a higher degree of internal locus of control are more likely to take charge of their lives, are happier, less stressed (Ramezani & Gholtash, 2015), demonstrate increased academic achievement (Dollinger, 2000), and increased successes (Findley & Cooper, 1983), even if they are simultaneously juggling many responsibilities.

Oftentimes, students with a strong internal locus of control take responsibility for their academic success by finding and using resources, consulting with peers, seeking faculty for supplemental instruction to clarify concepts, spending more hours studying, taking responsibility for their academic failures and learning from them (Manichander, 2014; Findley & Cooper, 1983), and completing assignments on time.  Heinstrom, J. & Sormunen, E. (2016) discovered students who have choices regarding instructional methods, interventions, and/or resources took greater responsibility for their academic achievement.

Many factors motivate students to achieve at higher levels, ranging from intrinsic and extrinsic motives, understanding their locus of control, and knowledge of how to achieve their career aspirations in curricular and co-curricular activities.  Faculty embedding AI strategies throughout the semester during advising, honor’s societies, professional clubs, and beyond can continuously foster this development.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

The basic tenet of applying AI to academic learning is to help students generate awareness of their core values and strengths through appreciative dialogues, initially between the student and their professor. AI utilizes reflection, introspection, and collaboration to identify and apply strengths. According to Cooperrider and Srivasta (1987), AI is a process for facilitating positive change. The 4D cyclical design is commonly used in AI, consisting of: 1. Discovery by creating awareness of values; 2. Dream by envisioning what is possible; 3. Design by creating conversations to provoke ideals; and 4. Destiny by co-constructing future initiatives. AI can be applied in various populations and settings.

Research questions and methodology

Two hundred and nine undergraduate students enrolled in psychology and education courses at a private Midwestern university and completed an assignment completion questionnaire approximately eight weeks into their courses during the 2019-2020 academic year. The questionnaire consisted of demographic, locus of control, assignment completion, and instructional method questions. The instructional method questions focused on whether or not the items enhanced their learning and if these interventions supported the successful completion of their assignments.

The purpose of this study was to use an AI approach to empower students to take control of their own destinies. The researchers investigated students’ previous experiences related to locus of control and preferred faculty interventions. Having this understanding was instrumental to create and implement AI to further engage students.

Research Questions

  1. To what extent was there a relationship between locus of control and assignment completion (on time, late, or not at all)? 
  2. What instructional interventions were most helpful?


There was a statistically significant difference between the average loci of control, consisting of a combination of internal and external factors related to assignment completion, and it was determined that some students had greater levels of external control. There were no significant differences between the groups related to internal locus of control. Students were more likely to perceive that their submission of assignments was impacted by external factors. According to our analysis, students with 60 credits or more had statistically greater average of academic external locus of control and outcomes than their peers with fewer credits. Similarly, students age 24 or older had a greater average external locus of control.

Students were asked to identify what instructional intervention(s) were most helpful to them. As noted in Table 1, the majority of students indicated the following were beneficial: test review (77.03%), previous assignment examples (74.64%), flexible due dates (74.64%), assignment options (74.16%), and option to submit a draft for feedback (66.02%), demonstrating the use of the Learning Management System (43.06%) and classmates provided feedback (30.62%). 

Instructional Method/ResourceNumber     Percentage
Test Review 161 77.03%
Previous Assignment Examples15674.64%
Provides Flexible Assignment Due Dates15674.64%
Option to Choose an Assignment and/or Topic15574.16%
Submit a First Draft for Feedback13866.02%
Demonstrates Uses of Blackboard9043.06%
Classmate Provides Feedback on Assignment6430.62%
Table 1 2019-2020 Academic Year

   Source: Fall 2019-Spring 2020 Assignment Completion Survey Data


It’s our belief that faculty can help increase students’ internal and external locus of control using Appreciative Inquiry. In the discovery phase, the inquiry focuses on asking students questions to reflect on their personal experiences to identify core values and its relationship to locus of control. Some questions include: What are your strengths? How did you use your strengths to accomplish your academic goals? What did you like best about your accomplishments? What are your learning goals, and were you able to achieve them? Was there anything that you could have changed?

In the dream phase, the dialogue continues, having students imagine the ideal situation and its relationship to their academic performance. Some questions include: How can you use your strengths to accomplish your career aspirations? When have your previously mastered a task, developed a skill, and/or overcame an academic hurdle? What was this like for you?  How do you use this experience to stay motivated and grow? How will completing this assignment/course help you achieve your future goals?

In the design phase, students start to develop a personal approach that aligns with their values and strengths. Conversations with supportive collaborators, such as advisors and faculty, are instrumental. Some questions include: How viable was your plan to accomplish your assignment goals? What motivates you to submit your assignment on time? How do you reward yourself to stay motivated? What instructor interventions were the most helpful? What support do your family/friends/peers provide to help you stay focused?

In the destiny phase, students further construct initiative and implement their vision/actions, and use academic support resources, to move themselves toward positive change by submitting their assignments on time and/or incorporating advice. Some questions include: Are there differences in what you planned and what you are doing? What is your destiny? What strengths were further developed? In what ways has your locus of control transformed or changed your ideals?  Have some of the short-term goals been reached?


Obtaining a better understanding of students’ perceptions related to their locus of control and classroom experiences can augment the degree to which students expect an outcome of their behavior will be contingent on chance, or fate, and/or is under the instructor’s control (external) or as a direct result of their effort, investment and, ability (internal). Knowing that there was a statistically significant difference between the average loci of control, it was determined that specific populations of students had greater levels of external control, which was necessary to cultivate a learning environment to promote a growth mindset in which students are intrinsically motivated to enhance their academic performance and increase their locus of control.  Fortunately, there are ways to cultivate this notion by implementing an Appreciative Inquiry approach.

Associate professor Sudak-Allison joined the department of psychology/human services at Grand View University in the fall of 2014 and became department chair in fall 2017. Sudak-Allison developed and implemented a clinical mental health graduate program at Grandview University. She teaches a variety of courses including introduction to human services, social psychology, abnormal psychology, counseling theories, ind/group counseling skills, and internship. She is also a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed mental health counselor, and is trained in EMDR.  Her research focuses are varied and include the following areas of interest: the impact of childhood trauma, divorce mediation, integrating behavioral health into primary care offices, strength-based learning, increasing student’s sense of employment worth, and using appreciative inquiry in student growth. 

Dr. Kristine Owens, assistant professor, joined the department of psychology and human services at Grand View University in the fall of 2017. Owens teaches a variety of courses including psychology of exceptional children, abnormal psychology, program evaluation, personality theories, and introduction to human services. In addition to teaching, she has over ten years of experience working with individuals with disabilities primarily certifying and implementing academic accommodations at the post-secondary level. Her current research focus is areas of positive psychology related to student strengths and achievement.

Andrew Q. Owens is a research assistant at Grand View University. He recently earned a bachelor’s degree in statistics and actuarial science.


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