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Choose Your Own Adventure: Introducing Student Choice into a First-year Experience Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

First-year Programs: Cornucopia #1

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Stacie Edington University of Michigan

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Stacie Edington is the Director of Honors and Engagement Programs within the University of Michigan, College of Engineering. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Michigan and her Master of Science in Executive Leadership from the University of San Diego. In addition to serving on the instructional team for ”Engineering 110: Design Your Engineering Experience”, she teaches the Engineering Honors Seminar, directs the College of Engineering Honors Program and oversees the Michigan Engineering Common Reading Experience.

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Claudia G. Cameratti-Baeza University of Michigan

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Claudia Cameratti-Baeza earned her B.Sc. at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile) in Educational Psychology in 200. Following that she completed her M.Sc. in Cognitive Development at Universidad Diego Portales (Chile). During the first years of her professional life, Claudia focused her work in teacher education and the creation of different resources to support the learning of teaching at different levels. In 2006 she became the associate director of faculty development at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile School of Engineering, where she led initiative oriented to improve instructional practices in engineering education. In 2011, she went to complete a Ph.D. in teaching and teacher education at the University of Michigan School of Education. During her Ph.D., Claudia enjoyed teaching and instructional design at the Ann Arbor Languages Partnership (A2LP), as well as participating in research groups exploring teacher learning and development. At CRLT, Claudia works with the Foundational Course Initiative (FCI) as Pedagogy & Instructional Design Consultant. In this role, she partners with departmental instructional teams and fellow FCI consultants to support the University’s large introductory courses, create productive teaching and learning experiences, and improve equity across the institution.

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Raven Knudsen Kennesaw State University

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Raven Knudsen interned with the University of Michigan College of Engineering, and now assists with curriculum development and design at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. She is passionate about academic innovation, such as gameful design, and creating a resourceful environment for students of all backgrounds.

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Frank J. Marsik University of Michigan

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Frank Marsik is the Faculty Director of First Year Student Engagement in Undergraduate Education within the University of Michigan, College of Engineering. He received his PhD from the University of Michigan. In addition to serving as the primary instructor for "Engineering 110: Design Your Engineering Experience" (the focus of this manuscript), he also teaches a number of meteorology courses within the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering and is the Director for an NSF-Funded Research Experience for Undergraduates site program.

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This complete, evidence-based practice paper presents an analysis of implementing student choice into assessment and assignment design in a first year experience course.

Traditionally, student assessment in large engineering courses depends upon a systems-level approach, such as exams or written assignments, whereby all students are assessed on the same criteria with limited consideration for individual student needs, approaches to learning, interests or goals. This approach lacks consideration for student motivation, which is an important element of student engagement in the first year experience, leading to the development of a sense of belonging and persistence in the engineering program. Self-determination theory (SDT) approaches motivation from the perspective of three psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These psychological needs, when supported by the social environment, function as motivational assets to facilitate optimal functioning and psychological well-being (Ryan and Deci, 2000). In this framework, autonomy support has been highlighted as a distinct pathway to need satisfaction and to promote optimal functioning (Jang, Kim, and; Reeve, 2016).

In educational contexts, autonomy support involves a cluster of instructional practices that are well-suited for first year experience courses and includes: offering choices; framing the lesson with a set of meaningful goals; explaining pedagogical decisions and rationale behind learning activities; communicating with non-controlling and informational language; offering opportunities for self-direction; acknowledging and accepting expressions of negative affect; and allowing students to work at their own pace (Jang, Reeve, and; Halusic, 2016). In this paper, we will present the introduction of student choice in a first year experience course as a mechanism to increase motivation and support student autonomy in the exploration of major, planning for experiential learning and educational decision-making at [our large R1 institution].

Prior to this initiative, course evaluations for [our course] consistently indicated that many students desired more exposure to careers within the engineering field in order to better understand what it means to be an engineer, while others needed more support leveraging academic resources and integrating into the engineering community successfully. In an effort to improve student engagement and motivation across this range of needs, we introduced student choice into one critical assignment in the course, offering students different exploration pathways to complete the assignment.

Initially, all students met with an engineering faculty member to support exploration and development of their educational plan and the final assignment for the course. Through these student-faculty meetings, students expressed a desire for more exposure to engineering careers in the real world. While the meetings were beneficial, low student participation prior to these meetings becoming a required element of the course, suggests a lack of motivation for this type of engagement. By creating a choice-based assignment we provided a framework for students to engage with the engineering community in an area that specifically interested them, giving students a sense of autonomy in the process. In the new assignment, students are still required to engage with a member of the engineering community to support their learning, but now have the option of meeting with first-year advisors, student organization leaders, experiential learning program advisors, career advisors, engineering faculty or alumni. While engagement within most of these areas was well supported by the established university advising structure, we created a unique opportunity for mentorship between first-year students and alumni through a partnership with the alumni engagement office at our institution.

The paper includes a detailed description of the new assignment design, along with data indicating which types of exploration students elected. In our assessment, we provide a qualitative analysis of student motivation, conducted through submissions to the following questions on the assignment: 1) Why did you choose this activity? (Prior to participation) 2) What do you expect to learn during your investigation? (Prior to participation) 3) Did your participation meet your expectations? 4) Do you see yourself [continuing participation]? 5) How did you benefit from this experience? 6) What did you learn about [engineering at our institution] through this experience? 7) What are three next steps to continue your learning and exploration of [engineering at our institution]?

In addition to this qualitative analysis of student submissions, we provide data collected through in-class student feedback, including a facilitated focus group and a one-minute paper (Angelo and Cross, 1993) related to the transformed assignment.

In this paper we discuss three types of considerations for implementing students choice in a large course: a) instructional and assessment considerations; b) impact of student choice on motivation to participate; and c) benefits and challenges of connecting first-year students with various community members, including alumni. We also discuss future opportunities for student choice in the first year experience

Edington, S., & Cameratti-Baeza, C. G., & Knudsen, R., & Marsik, F. J. (2020, June), Choose Your Own Adventure: Introducing Student Choice into a First-year Experience Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34282

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