Project Management Institute

Building a positive classroom in graduate project management education

University of Maryland, Clark School of Engineering
Project Management Program


We ihave been working since 2003 in the area of applying the most current research in positive psychology to the practice of project management, which has led to the development and delivery of graduate courses in managing project teams, evolving as a project management leader, and independent study projects by graduate students interested in pursuing special topics in this area. This application has also led to the development and delivery of corporate workshops and organizational consulting projects to assess the quality of the workplace, complete a gap analysis, and to design and implement actions to lead to a more positive workplace. This paper is about the intersection of academic courses and corporate consulting as it applies the actual classroom and educational process. This goes beyond teaching positive psychology as applied to project management and leadership, and integrates the very substance of a positive workplace into a positive classroom. We'll describe the key elements of our positive classroom model and link each element to the underlying research. We'll also offer some suggestions for further research and validation of this work outside of our original classroom.

Key Words: Project management education, positive psychology, facilitated learning opportunity, mindful learning, broaden and build.

Positive Psychology Defined

Positive psychology is not new per se within the field of psychology. It incorporates elements from psychology's earliest roots in philosophy with Aristotle's concept of eudemonia and runs through to the most current research on well-being, life satisfaction, happiness, positive and negative emotions, optimism, resilience, hope, self-efficacy, psychological capital, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, employee engagement, purpose, and meaning.

Martin E.P. Seligman in his year as president of the American Psychological Association coined the phrase positive psychology and made its development the rallying point of his leadership (Seligman, 1998, 2002, 2004). At its most basic, positive psychology is the other half of psychology as practiced currently. After World War II, psychologists were faced with a great need to help people who were experiencing mental and emotional illness. The government was particularly interested in this research and therefore funding was provided to research mental and emotional illnesses and how to alleviate them. On the face of it, that is, and was, appropriate. Significant progress was attained in the development of diagnostic tools, treatment protocols, and drug therapies for a large number of these illnesses. This resulted in the relief of untold suffering for those who had been ill. The focus, however, was limited to understanding illness, a deficit in functioning, and helping the sick recover to be not sick.

Here is where positive psychology has a part to play. Positive psychology as opposed to traditional psychology focuses on the not sick and considers how they might flourish. It is a study of what goes well and how to replicate it.

Positive Workplace Described

We begin with the idea that our approach to fully functioning people in the project management workplace rests both on the relief of weaknesses (deficit reduction) and on the optimization of what is good. This suggests that a positive workplace adds to traditional management/leadership approaches: strengths-based management (Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Seligman, 2002, 1998), employee engagement (Harter, Schmidt & Keyes, 2003), psychological capital (Luthans, Avolio, Avey, & Norman, 2007; Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2007; Luthans & Youssef, 2004), motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985). It suggests that really outstanding performance is not attained solely by the reduction or removal of weaknesses. Rather, really outstanding performance is attained by the management of weaknesses and the optimization of the individual capabilities of the individuals and teams within an organization (Harter et al., 2003). This means then that a positive workplace would add a strengths-focus to management and leadership and specifically focus on the conditions necessary to support peak performance from individuals, teams, and organizations overall. This is a significant reframing of the traditional manager/leader role in organizations, including in projects. Traditionally, and we'll draw the contrast very starkly to clarify the point, managers focus on downside risk management. That is, they focus on preventing people from doing things wrong, or if they do things wrong, identifying the deficit in performance and taking appropriate remedial actions. We would like to add a focus on identifying what is going well, where our strengths are and how we use them more to create an environment for peak performance of individuals, teams, and ultimately of the entire organization. The fundamentals of this approach are well described in the work of Kim Cameron (2008, 2006 2003), Jane Dutton (2003) and Robert Quinn (2004, 2000, 1996) of the University of Michigan Positive Organizational Scholarship Program1.

In building positive workplaces, we say that when individuals flourish, organizations thrive. In building positive classrooms, we say that when individuals flourish, learning thrives.

Our Graduate Program Population

Within the Center for Excellence in Project Management at the University of Maryland, the graduate student population is predominately international students, averaging 60-70% of students each semester. The remaining students are U.S. nationals. Approximately half of the students have less than five years of work experience, with nearly 20% having six to 10 years of experience. Nearly one in six has more than 15 years experience (Figure 1). The age distribution of the students (Figure 2) shows that more than 50% are between 26 and 40 years of age, with 10% older than 40. The students all have a technical engineering background with a variety of specialties represented (Figure 3). The geographic dispersion of the students ranges from the Middle East, Africa, Central and South America and Asia Pacific, with very slight representation from Europe.

Figure 1: Years of Work Experience

Years of Work Experience

Figure 2: Age Distribution

Age Distribution

Figure 3: Area of Undergraduate Study

Area of Undergraduate Study

Courses Currently Offered

The Managing Teams course is a required core course for both the master's and doctoral degrees. Evolving as a PM Leader is currently an elective. The students also have an invitation-only opportunity to engage in supervised special projects for credit. Approximately 12-15% of students would be considered for the special projects course. As a result of these courses being offered, a number of graduate students are beginning master thesis and dissertation research in areas related to positive psychology and project management.

Our Initial Considerations in Developing a Positive Classroom

Our personal experience with the university classroom was a bit dated when we began the design and delivery of these courses. Our experience was of the lecture method, minimal discussion in class, midterm and final exams, no team projects, and rather remote and intimidating professors. It was a high-stress experience where the focus was on learning what the professor taught or what was presented in the textbook and being able to pass the exam in the course and the licensing exam after graduation and a few years of practice. Our research and development in positive psychology applications in business settings, however, suggested that just as the workplace could be supportive of peak performance, so, too, could the classroom.

A humbling fact for all educators is that the “half-life” is diminishing rapidly. A few key data selected from the Did You Know 3.0 (Official Video) – 2009 Edition (utube, 2009)

  • The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that one in four people have been in their job less than one year, one in two workers have been with their current employer less than five years, and that today's students will have 10-14 jobs before they turn 38 years of age;
  • The time to attain a market share of 50 million people for the radio was 38 years, for the television 13 years, for the internet only 4 years, for the iphone only 2 years;
  • The amount of technical information is doubling every two years, which means that half of what college freshman in their first year will be outdated by their third year;
  • “We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don't yet exist…in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.”

What this means is that for education to be durable across career positions in a rapidly evolving global environment with increasing project complexity and increasing reliance on project management to develop projects of strategic importance, it must go beyond the current knowledge and teach students to be curious and inquisitive, self-reliant, and self-motivated for continuous learning –and most of all to be able to think things through.

Our desired results were to create a positive classroom with the same characteristics as a positive workplace. In this way, we would model in the classroom what we were teaching the graduate project management students to do in the workplace. Learning could take place both through traditional academic means (lectures, readings, assignments, exams, cases, and discussions) and through less traditional means, the direct modeling of the theory in practice in the classroom.

The research in positive psychology is emergent and will continue to be so. For this reason, it was not sufficient to teach the students what the research currently indicated and to prescribe applications developed to date based on that research and the work of practitioners in the field. One of our course objectives was implicitly to develop a growing and dedicated cadre of new project management practitioners who would develop and sustain an interest in learning more, developing and testing new applications, and approaching this emergent field with curiosity. We didn't want to just impart the current knowledge. We wanted to build a durable and adaptable way of thinking about how to integrate multi-disciplinary research into the human capital management skills of project management.

We've discovered some successful approaches and are looking forward to continuing to work in collaboration with others to further refine these approaches and develop new ones based on new research and more information from the practitioners.

We report here the result of the last four years of development and experimentation.

Key Elements of the Positive Classroom

Our concept of a positive classroom has emerged to include the following:

  • Supportive learning environment with a positive emotional tone
  • Motivated students
  • Conditional learning and open mindset
  • Use of supporting technology
  • Ongoing course and instructor evaluations

We'll discuss each of these elements in turn below. We will describe our working definition of the elements of a positive classroom and to provide a brief recap of the underlying research supporting this element. Lastly, for each element, we'll describe some of the outcomes observed so far.

Supportive Learning Environment with a Positive Emotional Tone

A supportive learning environment in the classroom is one that is established by the instructor beginning even before the commencement of the class. The environment is designed to support fearless inquiry and exploration while demanding the highest level of academic integrity. In the few weeks prior to the initiation of the course each semester in Blackboard2, the instructor begins a dialogue with the class setting expectations for the course. Students are welcomed to the class; questions are welcomed; dialogue about the students’ objectives in taking the course is initiated.

On the first day of class, the instructor greets each student and introduces himself or herself with a handshake. Making it personal is essential to a supportive learning environment. Each student has a name tent to use in class until everyone is known by name. Students are asked to introduce themselves by telling a story about themselves at their best (Best Self Introduction) (Seligman, 2004) after which the class engages in strengths-spotting (Linley, 2008). There are no strangers in this classroom after the first class. Relatedness is one of the key elements of intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985)

Students are introduced to the notion of a facilitated learning opportunity (FLO). FLO has several key elements. The instructor is in the classroom to facilitate learning—not to teach, not to train, and not to educate. This is a participative model for classroom learning. It is a shared activity between and among the instructor and the students. The pre-existing knowledge resident in the graduate students themselves is called out as a specific element of the learning opportunity. The instructor brings subject matter expertise, facilitation, and process and content; and the students do, too. Students are expected to bring new material to the course beyond that offered by the instructor in order to earn top marks.

Positive emotions play a part in our learning environment in the positive classroom. Barbara Fredrickson (Fredrickson, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005; Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan, & Tugade, 2000) is a primary researcher on the value and purpose of emotions in human functioning. A few key findings from her research:

  • On negative emotions --
    • serve the evolutionary purpose of survival
    • create narrow thought action repertoires
    • facilitate avoidance in service to survival (Fredrickson, 2005)
  • On positive emotions – (Fredrickson, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005; Fredrickson et al., 2000)
    • are not the absence or opposite of negative emotions;
    • facilitate approach;
    • support the development of psychological capital for future use in adverse situations
    • expand our thought action repertoires, generating possibilities;
    • help us to broaden and build our psychological, emotional, cognitive and physical capacities.

Fredrickson and Losada in a study of the emotional characteristics of high performance teams (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005) (Losada & Heaphy, 2004). determined that these teams are characterized by three key ratios: positive/negative effect, inquiry/advocacy, and other/self. High performance teams have positive/negative affect ratios 5.6:1.0 (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). Ratios for inquiry/advocacy and other/self are approximately 1.0:1.0 (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). Positive and negative affect ratio measures the type of emotions solicited by the comments among the team members. Interestingly, the research indicates that you can have too much negative emotion within a team and too much positive emotion within the team with the first causing the team to be unable to generate ideas and the latter causing the team to be unable to perform well (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).

Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi, writing in a series of books based on his research on flow and the experience of optimal performance (Csikszentimihalyi, 1990, 1997, 2000, 2003; Csikszentimihalyi & Csikszentimihalyi, 2007), tells us that growth occurs where our skills are and is dynamically balanced with our challenges.

The concept of flow impacts our positive classroom design as well. Csikszentimihalyi's theory suggests that people can stay in the flow channel only if they continuously are able to dynamically match their skills to the challenge presented. If skills exceed challenge, then a student might move into boredom. This means in the positive classroom that challenges are presented as the skills increase. For example, this is reflected in the grading schema. Assignments at the beginning of the course carry lesser weight in the final grade than the later assignments.

Motivated Students

Research on motivation by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan who authored the meta self-determination theory of motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985) indicates that the three key drivers of intrinsic motivation are autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Others have subsequently added purpose and meaning to motivation theory.

Relatedness: We begin the class with a clear focus on establishing the relatedness of everyone in the class:

  • personal welcome to the class
  • best self introductions
  • strengths-spotting
  • name tents and use of names by all

We also require that all students sit with different classmates each class until they've met everyone. This helps strengthen the bonds of relatedness established with the introductions and highly personal touch. Capitalizing, or sharing news of a positive event which increases positive emotion (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004), is a key to enhancing relatedness. The Best Self Introductions are a good example of this. We begin the course with a capitalizing experience. Further, active constructive responding (Gable et al., 2004) supports strengths-spotting (Linley, 2008) in identifying and actively responding to positive events.

Competence: Competence is facilitated by four elements: (1) clear understanding of the requirements, (2) removal of obstacles, (3) clear feedback on performance, and (4) a sense of self-efficacy. Competence is facilitated in the positive classroom by setting clear expectations through the syllabus and other course-organizing documents. Clear understanding of the requirements and clear feedback on performance are offered early and frequently in the course through the weekly “pearl-diving assignments,” wherein students receive written feedback from the instructor on short essay questions (see below) and the opportunity to revise and resubmit the assignment. Feedback is received weekly (Harter et al., 2003), is specific and not personal, and will be positive and negative feedback (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).

We also provide the students with the flexibility to revise the due dates for any assignment as long as the arrangements are made in advance of the due date. This applies to assignments and exams. We believe that this supports competency by removing obstacles for students when life intervenes with unusual surges in workload, a personal illness, or family crisis. It also communicates that we are more interested in the mastery of the material than the attainment of a specific due date.

Bandura (1997) indicates personal mastery, taking on a task a little beyond one's capability, is a way to build competence. We work to build a sense of increasing competence or self-efficacy through our assignment protocol wherein assignments may be revised and resubmitted. Because this process is very high-touch (quite a lot of contact between the student and the instructor), the instructor is able to individually recognize and reward increases in competency as students develop subject-matter expertise. Additionally, by permitting resubmissions of assignments, the focus is on building competence through concerted effort rather than as a result of simple talent deployed. (See the section below on open mindset for more on that.)

Autonomy: Autonomy is a sense of having control or choice. We have embedded autonomy into several elements of our positive classroom. The first is in the mid-term and final exams. Each exam is comprised of both objective and essay questions. In each exam, four to five essay questions are offered to the students to answer; only one is to be completed. In choosing the question they feel most capable of answering, the students are able to exercise autonomy. The second area is in the pearl-diving assignments, which are open-ended, synthesis questions asking the students to consider and apply course material to their workplace. This is an opportunity for autonomy to be exercised: in the selection of the application, in the focus of the analysis, in the generation of the alternatives for consideration, and in the estimation and description of the expected outcomes. We regularly receive reports from students that this assignment generates ideas which they then implement in their workplaces: autonomy supporting motivation and then leading to action.

Our policy of being flexible on due dates, if arrangements are made in advance of the due date, also supports a strong sense of autonomy.

Another way in which we support student autonomy is in the major team case assignment. In this case, students are asked to design a workplace culture which will meet their personal needs as professionals while meeting the needs of a business. They are offered three very different business scenarios. This level of autonomy helps increase the intrinsic motivation of the students on the difficult assignment. Additionally, the case assignment provides room for innovation in the preparation of the case response. As a result, intrinsically motivated students often go well beyond the basic case requirements. For example, one team this semester actually produced a color flyer titled Investing in Innovation as a part of their team submission.

The final element of intrinsic motivation support for the students is to ask about their purpose in the class. This has interesting results. The teams course is required; so, most of the students are there only because they have to pass the course to obtain the degree. This is extrinsic motivation only. As we delve deeper into why they are in the class beyond the extrinsic motivators, we have found some wonderful statements of purpose: I want to learn how to be a great leader on large construction projects in my homeland. I don't want to work in awful workplaces my whole life; I want to be able to make it better for the people who work for me. I want to be the best leader I can be. I want to improve the success rates in the projects I run in developing countries.

With personal purpose top of mind, the intrinsic motivation of the student to engage with the learning is enhanced.

Open Mindset and Conditional Learning

Carol Dweck and Ellen Langer's research on open and closed mindsets and mindful learning, respectively, has also informed how the positive classroom is developed. Writing in Mindset: the New Psychology of Success (Dweck, 2008), Dweck suggests that there are two mindsets from which we can approach life and learning in particular: an open or growth mindset and a closed or fixed mindset.

Table 1. Differences between growth mindset and fixed mindset. Developed from Mindset (Dweck, 2008, p. 12-13)

Growth Mindset (Learners) Fixed Mindset (Nonlearners)
No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can't change very much.
You can always substantially change how intelligent you are. You can learn new things, but you can't really change how intelligent you are.
You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can't really be changed.

Mindsets are the beliefs we hold about the meaning of failure and the value and significance of effort (Dweck, 2008). As beliefs, these are subject to our intentional control. In the fixed mindset, people view failure as an evaluation of their essential capability: each “situation” is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?” (Dweck, 2008, p. 6). This fixed mindset doesn't support learning because to try and fail is to fail absolutely. People in the growth mindset, however, see failure not as a referendum on them as people, but as a learning opportunity. For example, if someone with a growth mindset undertakes to learn a new subject, failure at initial mastery calls for more effort rather than withdrawal from the experience as something they just can't do. The growth mindset supports learning of new ideas, applications, and exploration of new possibilities.

In the positive classroom environment, this shift in mindset to the growth mindset is supported. For example, in the initial class, the instructor explicitly says that he or she may not have all the answers, but that as the course progresses, we will find the answers to our questions from within the class or without and everyone can contribute to that learning. This simple statement gives permission for students to be imperfect in their knowledge of the course material while they are learning it with the explicit goal of getting more knowledgeable over time.

Another key support to the shift in mindset in the classroom is how feedback is provided and how grades are determined on assignments and exams (see Table 2). In the positive classroom, we have separated the learning activities from the evaluative activities. In practice, assignments are submitted for review and feedback from the instructor. The understanding is that all assignments are learning opportunities. The initial assignment, once reviewed, may be revised by the student and resubmitted for grading. This opportunity allows the student to incorporate feedback and to learn from “failure” by engaging in the effort to develop a better submission. Students receive the final grade attained. This grading policy is labor-intensive. However, it creates a learning environment where the growth mindset prevails. Students are less focused on whether they got the A the first time, and more on have they learned the material and what effort is needed to enhance that learning.

Table 2. Grading Schema
Pearl Diving Assignments Re-graded, last submission recorded without penalty
Individual Cases Re-graded, last submission recorded without penalty
Team Cases Re-graded, last submission recorded without penalty
Mid-term Exam Graded as submitted
Final Exam Graded as submitted
Extra Credit Not offered. Assumption is that class work must be done as it occurs; no makeup for poor performance unaddressed during the semester

The traditional grading protocol is used for exams at mid-term and semester end. Exams are evaluative and are intended to measure competence in the subject area. In this way, we are able to support learning while maintain the highest academic standards. We believe that the clear separation of learning activities from evaluative activities help the students shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset and to optimize their work in class.

Ellen Langer writing in The Power of Mindful Learning (Langer, 1997) suggests that we better engage with learning when new information is presented as conditional. This doesn't mean that we are wishy-washy about the information, just that we present as something to consider in the moment, mindfully. We engage with information differently when it is presented conditionally (See also Kegan & Leahy, 2001). This is best understood by example. Questions to students are framed as what might this mean or what might you use this in the project management workplace, rather than specific questions about facts and ideas. For example, when presenting and discussing Gallup's work on employee engagement (Harter et al., (2003), the instructor would not ask what the 12 elements of employee engagement are, but would ask the students to consider this question: What might you do in your project management workplace to enhance employee engagement? This type of question moves quickly beyond the mere facts (what are the 12 elements) to a mindful consideration of how these 12 elements are reflected in their workplace and how they might increase employee engagement. There is no clear, singular right answer. Students are encouraged to engage in the moment with the new information in a way that is relevant to them. We learn better when we have to engage the material.

Langer's work on mindfulness (Langer, 1987) and mindful learning (Langer, 1997) along with Ben Dean's MentorCoach training experience (Dean, 2003-2006) have resulted in a weekly assignment called pearl-diving assignments (PDAs). PDAs are posted weekly after each lecture and are due for feedback and grading the following week. They typically run a page or two. Sample questions for PDA's include the following:

  • From the material presented in Class #2, select one element of the business case which you believe would be beneficial in your workplace -- for example, engagement, strengths-based management, optimism, self-efficacy, or so on. Define the element, discuss how it might be applied in your workplace, and outline what the expected outcome(s) might be.
  • Consider your current or a past workplace. Assess its level of employee engagement. Identify one of the Gallup 12 elements which if improved would enhance the level of engagement. Describe briefly what you might do to improve results on this element and what you'd expect the outcome to be.
  • Consider an ethical question that you have faced yourself. Describe the personal values that guided your decision-making. Were there any conflicts between different values? Explain what your values led you to do. (This may be a present question where you are still working on the resolution.)
  • Consider your current or a past workplace. Discuss how well people communicate with each other there. Identify one strength and one weakness in their communications. Suggest a way to capitalize on the strength and to manage or overcome the weakness.

We find that the students initially are uncomfortable with questions of this type; engineering project managers seem most comfortable with questions which have right and wrong answers. These questions have many potential answers and reflect the real-life ambiguity project managers must deal with daily. We believe that these assignments help the students learn to think about research and concepts and how to creatively apply them in their workplaces. As this course has been offered now for four years, we are finding that the students appreciate the opportunity to explore the material with a growth mindset. Our students have provided the ultimate positive feedback: faculty teaching other project management courses has been asked students to add PDAs to their classes.

Use of Supporting Technology

The effective use of supporting technology assists in establishing the positive classroom. In this program we use Blackboard for course administration, supplemented by Marratech video conferencing for online students. Online sections meet weekly to discuss the current lecture. These discussion groups are limited to 12 to 15 participants to assure that there is a high level of engagement in the discussion group between and among the instructor and the students. All classroom lectures are digitally recorded with multiple camera video capture to include both the instructor, the students and the class presentation.

Additionally, the class is using Blackboard's blog feature to manage the ongoing dialogue between the instructor and the student for all pearl-diving assignments. This supports an asynchronous, but continuous dialogue on the work being submitted by the student. In the most recent offering of the course, we are experimenting with the wiki feature for building a shared glossary of terms for the course and for sharing our best pearls with the entire class as a review for the final exam. Technology continues to be explored to enhance the experience in the positive classroom.

Ongoing Course and Instructor Evaluations


The positive classroom, just like the positive workplace, depends upon timely and clear feedback. In addition to the evaluations required by the university and the civil engineering program, the project management department collects its own course evaluations each semester. See Table 3 below. These evaluations are shared with students at the beginning of each course and are completed at the end of each semester. Instructors receive full feedback from these evaluations after the submission of course grades. In keeping with the notion that learning in the positive classroom is collaboration between and among the students and instructor, the course evaluation has a section in which the students rate themselves on key student performance elements.

Table 3: Key Elements of Course Evaluation
Student Performance Self-Assessment
  • attended all classes
  • raised questions/ concerns immediately with instructor
  • was challenged to think in new ways
  • completed assignments
  • finished all readings
  • read beyond course requirements
Class Information Assessed by Students
  • Well organized, clear objectives
  • Met objectives
  • Assignments helped understanding
  • Feedback supported learning
  • Exams measured learning
  • Textbooks, readings appropriate
  • Added to my knowledge in subject area
  • Met my expectations
  • Would recommend course to others
Instructor Information Assessed by Students
  • Presented clearly and gave good examples and illustrations
  • Stimulated interest in the subject
  • Used class time effectively
  • Challenged me to do my best
  • Encouraged questions and class participation
  • Clearly answered questions
  • Pace of teaching appropriate
  • Available for consultation outside of class

In Conclusion

In a recent lecture on culture in organizations, we began the discussion by asking the students to brainstorm what the culture in the course classroom was. They said: diverse, a melting pot, based on team collaboration, open-minded, creative, educational, lots of hard work expected, open and accepting, dialogue, assertive as opposed to shy, friendly, nonjudgmental, inviting, collegial, innovative, broad, complementary, and having a lower power distance. Since our understanding of an organization is based at least in part on what we hear about it from others, we asked the students what they had heard about the class: too much work, psychology for engineers, writing required, qualitative, abstract, pragmatic, interactive, intensive, good instructors, a grade of B was likely, interesting, large number of sources, very time intensive. We asked the students to reflect on how the instructors set the culture from the beginning: names were used for the first time in their educational experience, video support, introductions of everyone, requiring sitting with a different person each class, use of self-assessments, instructor energy in teaching the class, instructors provided space for you to be who you are in class. They realized that the classroom culture was continuing to be set each meeting and each interaction. We explored the grading schema and how it impacted class culture; the students reflected that it meant that this course required a personal investment, not just doing the work – that is the work is done for youself and has you thinking a lot more. When asked what in this review of how much the culture of the classroom, a positive classroom, and the actions used to establish and develop that culture was pertinent to setting up a project team, the students thought for a few minutes reviewing the lists on the board from their brainstorming. And, they concluded that all of it was. A positive classroom in graduate project management education yields positive workplaces for project managers.

Next Steps

We are deeply interested in continuing to develop a concept and application of positive psychology in the graduate classroom and would be delighted to undertake to collaborate with others both for the further development of the positive classroom and for the measure of outcomes there from.


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1 For further information on the extensive research conducted at the University of Michigan Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship,

2 Blackboard is a commonly used course administration software which supports group communications (email, wikis, blogs, video messaging), document sharing, assignment management, grading and feedback and test administration.

i The team responsible for the development of the positive class in graduate project management education at the University of Maryland includes: John H. Cable, the Director of the Center for Excellence in Project Management; the author of this paper, Jocelyn S. Davis, adjunct professor and course originator; and Kathryn H. Britton, adjunct professor.

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