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CAREER: Students’ Perceptions of Problem Solving Driven by Motivations Across Time Scales

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.330.1 - 26.330.5



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Paper Authors


Lisa Benson Clemson University

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Lisa Benson is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with a joint appointment in Bioengineering. Her research focuses on the interactions between student motivation and their learning experiences. Her projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers and scientists, and their problem solving processes. Other projects in the Benson group include effects of student-centered active learning, self-regulated learning, and incorporating engineering into secondary science and mathematics classrooms. Her education includes a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

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Adam Kirn University of Nevada, Reno Orcid 16x16

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Adam Kirn is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses on the interactions between engineering cultures, student motivation, and their learning experiences. His projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers, their problem solving processes, and cultural fit. His education includes a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Bioengineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education from Clemson University.

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Catherine D. McGough Clemson University

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Catherine McGough is currently a graduate research assistant in Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University. She obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University in 2014. Her research interests are in undergraduate engineering student motivations and undergraduate engineering problem solving skill development and strategies.

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Courtney June Faber Clemson University

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Courtney Faber is a graduate student in the Department of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She holds a B.S. in Bioengineering from Clemson University and a M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Cornell University.

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CAREER: Students’ Perceptions of Problem Solving Driven by Motivations Across Time ScalesThis research seeks to help educators understand factors that contribute to engineering students’motivation and the relationship between those factors and their problem solving processes.Understanding these relationships will address the challenge of preparing students for a future ofcomplex problem solving in the face of rapid technological change and globalization. Thisproject addresses these research questions: What motivational attributes that characterizeengineering students are relevant to their problem-solving skills and knowledge transfer? Howdo these relationships differ between engineering disciplines?The first phase of our project involved a quantitative study of student motivation using a surveydeveloped by our research team, Motivation and Attitudes in Engineering (MAE). The surveywas based on the Future Time Perspective theory, focusing on how students view long-termgoals and how these goals affect motivations, perceptions and actions toward present tasks.Additional items related to students’ goals and perceptions about engineering as a whole werealso included. Results from a cohort of first year engineering students at our institution (n= 494)describe subtle but important differences between characteristics of student motivations indifferent majors. Interdisciplinary majors reported more struggles in their introductory courses,valued their introductory courses more, felt that they were working harder, and expected bettergrades in their introductory courses when compared to students in traditional majors. Differencesin students’ reasons for choosing their majors were observed: interdisciplinary students value thebenefits of a major with possible scholarship money and the opportunity to benefit society, whiletraditional majors think engineers do interesting work and enjoy designing and building things.The second, qualitative phase of the study provides a more detailed analysis of the relationshipbetween students’ future time perspectives (FTP) and knowledge transfer when solving an open-ended engineering problem. Instead of first year students, second year students were selected forinterviews because they had more experience in their majors. Interviews (n=9) explored theirFTP characteristics (perceptions of the present, the future, and the interaction between the two).Interviews also explored students’ perceptions of engineering problems and their approaches tosolving them. Directed content analysis was applied, and data revealed distinct types of FTPcharacteristics. In general, students with well-developed future perceptions and who seeconnections between their future and present seek relevance and structure in problems theysolve. Students with vague or broad future perceptions seek to create, explore, and help others.Relationships between student motivation towards their future careers and the actions they takein the present can be used by educators to increase interest in engineering and prepare students tobecome effective engineers. We are in the process of further developing our quantitativeassessment of engineering student motivation factors that are relevant to their learning. Thisassessment would allow educators to document outcomes of innovative approaches that presentstudents with open-ended problems like those they will encounter in the future. Future workincludes continuing data collection for completion of a longitudinal study of changes in studentmotivation and problem solving practices over time for the final phase of the project.

Benson, L., & Kirn, A., & McGough, C. D., & Faber, C. J. (2015, June), CAREER: Students’ Perceptions of Problem Solving Driven by Motivations Across Time Scales Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23669

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