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Chocolate Challenge: The Motivational Effects of Optional Projects in an Introductory Engineering Class

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

First-year Programs Poster Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.306.1 - 25.306.16



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Paper Authors


John Reap Virginia Tech

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John Reap currently serves Virginia Tech's educational mission as an instructor in the Department of Engineering Education. He primarily teaches introductory engineering courses as part of the freshman year engineering program. Research interests include topics in sustainable design and manufacturing (SDM) life cycle assessment, design for environment, green manufacturing, renewable energy, and system efficiency (energy and material). He specializes in approaching SDM problems from the perspective of holistic biomimicry, which encompasses identification, development, and application of biological principles to engineering problems.

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Holly M. Matusovich Virginia Tech

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Holly Matusovich is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education. Matusovich earned her doctoral degree in engineering education at Purdue University. She also has a B.S. in chemical engineering and an M.S. in materials science with a concentration in metallurgy. Additionally, Matusovich has four years of experience as a consulting Engineer and seven years of industrial experience in a variety of technical roles related to metallurgy and quality systems for an aerospace supplier. Matusovich’s research interests include the role of motivation in learning engineering, construction of engineering identities, and faculty development.

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Rachel A. Louis Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Rachel Louis is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from the Ohio State University where she specialized in construction. Her master's work focused on the concept of sustainable bridge designs using fuzzy logic models. While at Ohio State, she taught for the First-year Engineering program, which lead her to engineering education. Currently at VT, Louis is a Dean’s Teaching Fellow teaching for ENGE 1024, is an ENGE Ambassador, is actively involved in the Graduate Engineering Education Consortium of Students (GEECS), and is serving as the Secretary for the VT ASEE Student Chapter for the 2011-12 school year. Her current research interests focus on Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) motivation to teach and GTA teacher identity development in first-year engineering courses.

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Chocolate Challenge: The Motivational Effects of Optional Projects in an Introductory Engineering ClassIntroductory engineering classes typically aim to challenge the average incoming freshman.However, as a result of superior education, talent or both, some incoming students enterengineering programs prepared for more challenging activities. Introductory courses also delivera particular breadth of material in a fixed format to students with various interests and learningstyles. Unfortunately, either the course’s emphasis or delivery style may differ with students’expectations. The consequences for better prepared students or those with different expectationsmay be dissatisfaction, disengagement, and potentially disillusionment with engineering.Offering a series of optional challenge projects spanning multiple disciplines is proposed as ameans to maintain student engagement and motivation for learning.Specifically, we study the motivational effects of offering optional challenge projects tofreshmen engineering students enrolled in an introductory engineering course. The bi-levelchallenges first invite all students to solve mathematical or applied engineering puzzles with adifficulty level slightly beyond that expected of the average engineering freshman. Winners ofthe first level of each challenge earn recognition, a large chocolate bar (hence the name) and theright to engage in the challenge’s second level. Second level challenges require students toindependently obtain and apply discipline oriented engineering knowledge. Successfulapplication results in a tangible benefit to the student directly related to the type of engineeringactivity undertaken. For instance, one second level challenge requires a student to independentlylearn 3D modeling software and the workings of a rapid prototyping machine to build a partdesigned by the student. The student keeps the fruit of his engineering labors.To assess the impact of these optional challenge projects on student motivation, we used anexperimental design. Students in one lecture section were offered the Chocolate Challengeopportunities while students in the control group were not. All lecture sections were large(100+students each), and although different instructors taught the experimental and control groups, thecommon syllabus and lecture materials used in the courses provided continuity over sections.We implemented a pre/post survey design using the Motivated Strategies for LearningQuestionnaire (MSLQ), a reliable and valid survey instrument designed to assess motivation incollege courses. The MSLQ contains sub-scales for a variety of motivation constructs includinggoal orientations, task values, and self-efficacy. The survey was given on-line at the start of thesemester and again at the end of the semester. Approximately 244 students in the ChocolateChallenge group and 331 students in the comparison group received invitations to participate inan on-line survey with 105 usable responses. The response rate was approximately 18%.Although low, this meets typical response rates for on-line surveys. The post survey includedthe same questions as the pre-survey with additional open-ended questions designed to furtherexplicate impacts of the Chocolate Challenge. Comparing pre and post survey results, findingssuggest that student motivation changes during the semester. Moreover, students specificallymentioned the Chocolate Challenge in their responses.

Reap, J., & Matusovich, H. M., & Louis, R. A. (2012, June), Chocolate Challenge: The Motivational Effects of Optional Projects in an Introductory Engineering Class Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21064

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