June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
Educational Research and Methods
26.48.1 - 26.48.17
A Grand Challenge-based Framework for Contextual Learning in Engineering: Impact on Student Outcomes and MotivationExposure to meaningful, societally relevant applications can increase student motivation andimprove learning outcomes. Here, we describe assessment results that evaluate a pedagogicalframework based on the NAE Grand Challenges, in which specific engineering concepts areembedded in a societal problem (e.g., “reverse-engineering the brain”) that requires students todefine problems and apply course content to those problems. Assessment data were acquiredfrom 957 undergraduate engineering students, including students participating in the interventionin an introductory class (N = 564) and advanced classes (N = 56) and control students inintroductory (N = 273) and advanced classes (N = 64). Using a multivariate analysis of variance,we tested the hypotheses that the Engineering Grand Challenge Framework (EGCF) influencedstudents’ self-assessments of specific student outcomes (ABET Criterion 3), particularly thoserelated to understanding engineering in a societal/contemporary context. We also evaluatedstudent motivation using well-validated scales drawn from the psychological literature and astructural equation model linking motivation to course outcomes.The initial multivariate analysis revealed a significant effect of intervention upon studentoutcome responses considered as a group [F(11, 943) = 13.302, p < .001], and a significantinteraction with class level [F(11, 943) = 3.240, p < .001]. Significant item-specific interactionswere observed for ABET criteria associated with societal context (ABET h), life-long learning(ABET i), and knowledge of contemporary issues (ABET j; all ps ≤ 0.01); in each case, theinteraction revealed a greater effect of the EGCF on upper-level students’ self-assessments onthese criteria. Analysis of student motivation via structural equation modeling revealed apotential role for motivation in shaping course outcomes: for advanced students, the EGCF wasassociated with significant increases in situational interest (a measure of motivation) that in turnpredicted higher course grades.We conclude that EGCF – and, by extension, frameworks that connect engineering content tosocietal issues – holds promise for shaping student engagement with technical content in amanner directly relevant for national goals for engineering education (i.e., ABET criteria).Moreover, educational research can identify the circumstances in which a particular frameworkmay be most effective (e.g., upper-level courses) and thus guide the allocation of instructorpriorities and resources.
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