New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
First year engineering (FYE) programs are gaining popularity across universities in the United States. In addition to providing general engineering knowledge and skills to undergraduate freshmen, FYE programs also provide students with diverse opportunities to help them select the engineering discipline they will further pursue. The 2014 cohort of the FYE program of a large Midwestern university was the sample used for a two-phased study. The aim of the study was to understand how students make informed decisions of which engineering major to pursue and to help FYE administration to improve the resources they provide students. The first phase of the study focused on understanding the sources of information students used to make their decision. A preliminary analysis of student surveys indicated that the most important activity they are performing to select a major is “Self-Led Exploration” (SLE) of engineering disciplines. To understand SLE in detail, we conducted semi-structured interviews, which helped us unpack the meaning of SLE.
This paper focuses on the second part of the study, which aims to qualitatively answer the research question: How do students’ value beliefs influence their decision of which engineering major to pursue? Answers to open ended questions from FYE surveys also served to inform this second study. Moreover, a brief examination of both the interviews and the surveys suggested a possible overlapping between the sources students used to inform their decision and the reasons why they selected a particular major. From that overlap, a secondary research question emerged: What is the relation between students’ value beliefs of the engineering disciplines and the type of sources they use to inform their decision of a major?
For the interviews, we performed purposeful sampling to mirror demographic characteristics of the population of FYE at the university in terms of gender. From this group 12 students volunteered to participate in our study. The interview protocol was pilot tested, the interviews were audio recorded and their average duration was 20 minutes. The audio files were transcribed and for anonymity the student names were converted to pseudonyms. The transcripts were coded by two researchers independently using the constant comparative method. Lincoln and Guba’s approach to the constant comparative method facilitated us in developing themes related to the reasons behind students selections of certain engineering disciplines.
To analyze our transcripts we used Eccle’s expectancy-value theory. This theory states that choices to perform a task are motivated by 2 things: 1) An individual’s belief that they can perform a task, and 2) An individual’s desire to undertake a task. In previous work we found student’s value beliefs were linked to their use of SLE in choosing an engineering discipline to study. We hypothesize that students’ value beliefs, how well a task aligns with their personal values, goals, and needs, influences their career choice and the type of resources they use to inform themselves.
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