Collaborative Research: Research Initiation Grant: Influence of Motivation on Learning Outcomes in an Introductory Materials Engineering Course

  • Usher, Ellen (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


The long-term goal of this RIGEE proposal is to increase understanding of engineering undergraduate students' motivation and achievement in a large engineering service course and to determine if specific pedagogical interventions can increase student motivation and success. In large "service" courses, students in various engineering disciplines collaborate to understand unifying themes found in all engineering areas. However, the prior exposure to the service course that any given student has had varies, as does the direct applicability the service topic to each student's engineering discipline. Such courses can also be characterized as having a dense material load and limited opportunities for interpersonal engagement (class sizes over fifty students). Students at increased risk of dropping out (i.e., historically underrepresented groups) may be particularly vulnerable to the academic and psychological experience in such introductory courses. Using insights from social cognitive theory, the PIs will work to identify and improve mechanisms of student learning and motivation in a sophomore level service course (Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering) that is an ABET requirement for Industrial Engineering, Industrial Engineering, BioEngineering, Mechanical, and Materials Engineering students. This work will have a direct influence not only on subsequent classes taught at the PI and Co-PI's institutions, but also at other institutions where engineering service courses are taught. The proposed work is led by an engineering faculty member experienced with the content and delivery of large service classes and an educational psychologist whose work has focused on identifying the sources of students' academic motivation and demonstrating the link between motivation and achievement. Neither has had engineering education funding from NSF and it is hoped that this grant will allow them to develop preliminary data and experience for future NSF grants. Collaborating to identify the mechanisms by which undergraduate students become more motivated to achieve and persist in large courses will provide useful information to both engineers and social psychologists. This research project will offer evidence that psychosocial factors (e.g., self-beliefs, task value, interest, exposure to social models) that have not been traditionally measured in engineering classrooms can help predict successful engineering outcomes (e.g., achievement in foundational coursework, intentions to persist). In Year 1,the PIs will examine the relationship between students' (N ~ 300) motivation (i.e., self-efficacy, achievement goals, task value) and success (i.e., grades, intentions, continued enrollment) in the context of a sophomore-level engineering service course, Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering, which is a routinely-taught prerequisite for higher-level courses in numerous engineering programs across the nation. In Year 2, they will randomly assign students to an experimental condition targeting the areas of motivation (contingent on results from first year) to see whether these interventions prove helpful in altering students' motivation. A control group will also be monitored for statistical comparison. Intellectual Merit: The motivation and the impact of pedagogical approaches in engineering "service" courses on student motivation and achievement has yet to be addressed. However, education researchers have demonstrated a strong correlation between student motivation and performance across numerous domains. Research results are expected to be most useful in improving pedagogical practice in engineering courses by demonstrating which interventions best enhance student motivation and success in engineering. Such findings also have the potential to broaden the social cognitive theoretical tenets on which they are based by extending previous research into the context of service learning engineering courses. Although this study focuses on materials science engineering, the PIs expect that they will demonstrate how insights from educational psychology can be used to enhance achievement outcomes in similar courses in other engineering disciplines. Broader Impacts: Broader impacts include demonstrable insights into how educational psychology can be used to enhance achievement outcomes in similar courses in other engineering disciplines. Although this study focuses on materials science engineering, research results will provide engineering faculty novel pedagogical tools that are expected to increase student motivation, performance, and persistence in engineering. Identified interventions are also expected to be more likely to benefit historically underrepresented groups (e.g., women, students of color) by reducing psychological and social barriers related to lower performance and attrition in engineering programs. Results will be disseminated via academic conference presentations, publications in interdisciplinary professional and academic journals, and online materials that reach both engineering and education audiences.
Effective start/end date9/1/122/28/15


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