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A Discourse Analysis of the Emotional Experiences of Engineering Students in an Upper-level Signal Processing Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Works in Progress: Facilitating Student Success and Inclusion

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Shonda L. Bernadin Florida A&M University/Florida State University

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Dr. Shonda L. Bernadin is an associate professor of Electrical Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Georgia Southern University. Dr. Bernadin received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Florida A&M University, her M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from University of Florida, and her Ph.D. from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Florida State University in 2003. Her research interests include digital signal processing, speech/voice analysis, and engineering education.

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Tracee Williams Mason Florida A&M University

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Tracee N. Williams Mason, M.A. is a communication instructor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University where she teaches public speaking courses. Her diverse research interests include emotional intelligence and student success factors, interpersonal and family communication, and media portrayals of African Americans and race in the United States. Prof. Mason is pursuing a doctorate in communication theory at Florida State University. She can be reached at

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This work in progress describes the emotional experiences of undergraduate engineering students in a Signal Processing course using belief trajectory mapping. Traditionally, Signal Processing is a difficult course for students matriculating in an Electrical and Computer Engineering program due to its rigorous mathematical content and abstract concepts. Based on anecdotal observations, many students are apprehensive about this taking course and, typically, prolong their enrollment in the course until it becomes absolutely necessary for their continued progression. This study seeks to corroborate these observations as objective truths by studying the emotional experiences of students matriculating through a 16-week, semester-long Signal Processing course. The main purpose of the study is to reveal specific beliefs about students’ experiences in a Signal Processing course which may influence their motivation to pursue engineering as a career. In particular, the study seeks to answer the following research questions: (1) What specific beliefs do students have about Signal Processing upon entering the course? and (2) Do their beliefs change positively or negatively throughout the duration of the course?. Other subsequent research questions, such as (3) How much do their beliefs about the course correlate with their academic performance in the course? and (4) Does their belief trajectory contribute to their motivation of pursuing engineering as a career?- This study offers significant implications for understanding the complete emotional experiences of engineering students in this course. This paper describes a preliminary study that focuses on the first two research questions. The study measures student emotions at discrete intervals throughout the semester (beginning, middle and end). Discourse text analysis methods are used to identify thematic beliefs about the course. A belief trajectory map is created and tracked at each time interval using a modified version of the Valence-Arousal Circumplex model (Russell, 1980). The model maps 28 core human emotions to a polar coordinate system, which is then used to develop an affective index score for each belief trajectory. Using the circumplex model, positive and negative trajectories can be used as a measure of the emotional experiences of students. This research contributes to the discovery of knowledge about the emotional experiences of engineering students and whether these experiences influence their pursuit of engineering as a career. In addition, the results of this study can inform other engineering programs in which certain courses may operate as intentional or unintentional bottleneck courses that may prolong students’ matriculation through an engineering program.

Bernadin, S. L., & Mason, T. W. (2016, June), A Discourse Analysis of the Emotional Experiences of Engineering Students in an Upper-level Signal Processing Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26309

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