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Creating Low-cost Intrinsic Motivation Course Conversions in a Large Required Engineering Course

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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

Thinking About the Engineering Curriculum

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.357.1 - 25.357.25



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Paper Authors


Geoffrey L. Herman University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Geoffrey L. Herman earned his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign as a Mavis Future Faculty Fellow. He is currently a Postdoctoral rRsearcher for the Illinois Foundry for Engineering Education. His research interests include conceptual change and development in engineering students, promoting intrinsic motivation in the classroom, blended learning (integrating online teaching tools into the classroom), and intelligent tutoring systems. He is a recipient of the 2011 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty Grant. He has been recognized with the Olesen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Ernest A. Reid Fellowship for engineering education. He has served as a graduate affiliate for the Center for Teaching Excellence. He is currently the Information Chair for the ASEE Student Division and the Immediate Past Chair of the Graduate Engineering Education Consortium for Students.

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Mark H. Somerville Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Mark Somerville is a professor of electrical engineering and physics at Olin College, where he also serves as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Research. Somerville joined the faculty at newly-founded
Olin College in 2001. At Olin, he served on the committee that designed the inaugural curriculum for the institution, and has played leadership roles in strategic planning, as Chair of the Engineering program, and as
Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Curricular Innovation. Somerville's interest in engineering education focuses largely on
facilitating change processes and on the application of collaborative design techniques to curriculum revision; in this capacity he has worked closely with a variety of institutions, both nationally and
internationally. His educational background includes a Ph.D. and master's in electrical engineering from MIT, a master's in physics from Oxford University, and bachelor's degrees in both electrical engineering and
liberal arts from the University of Texas, Austin.

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David E. Goldberg University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Kerri Ann Green University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Promoting Students’ Intrinsic Motivation in the Lecture/Discussion ClassroomDespite major investments in the development of innovative education reform, many instructors are stillslow to adopt these innovations because of unsupportive reward structures and significant timeinvestments for training. Embedded within these innovations, though, has been a growing awareness ofthe importance of students’ motivation and engagement in the learning process. In light of theseimpediments and the importance of students’ motivation, we have designed an experimental coursethat aims to shift the focus of education reform from training and changing faculty to focus onpromoting students’ intrinsic motivation to learn and using their motivation as the engine forsustainable, low-cost reform.This “intrinsic motivation” (IM) course was developed by following principles from self-determinationtheory (SDT) and by minimizing time and energy costs to the faculty. In SDT, IM can be promoted byincreasing a person’s sense of autonomy, mastery, purpose, and relatedness. From the outside, the IMcourse looks like a traditional lecture/discussion course with two lectures per week taught by the facultymember and a discussion section led once per week by a graduate teaching assistant (TA). We havechanged two of the discussion sections so that they focus on promoting students’ intrinsic motivation tolearn. We believe that this strategic change can be effective and sustainable, because it reduces thecost to the faculty, it can be easily scaled within the common lecture/discussion format at many largerresearch institutions, and it mobilizes students to be agents of change.Within these IM discussion sections, students are organized into learning teams (relatedness). Over thecourse of the semester, these learning teams negotiate a series of purpose-based learning agreementswith the TA. Through this series of contracts, these groups are given progressively greater autonomy indeciding what, how, and why they will study. For example, in the first learning agreement of a digitallogic course, the students are given a list of required and elective topics as well as a list of acceptablemastery options from which to choose. In the final learning agreement, the students are told to studyany computer architecture they choose as long as they can demonstrate their mastery of thatarchitecture.To understand how students’ motivation changes in response to instruction, we have administered theSituational Motivation Scale (SIMS) periodically throughout the semester. To describe the dynamics ofthe TA-student interactions, one of the authors has conducted weekly in-class observations of the IMsections. Finally, the students’ learning gains in the different sections are compared with results fromadministrations of the Digital Logic Concept Inventory.Preliminary analysis of this data suggests that students are initially fearful of this new learning paradigm.However, when students begin to grasp the possibilities and goals of this new learning environment,they begin to pursue innovative learning tasks that both challenge them to learn and motivate them tocontinue learning. We present some of these innovative learning tasks and show how students’motivation changes over the course of the semester.

Herman, G. L., & Somerville, M. H., & Goldberg, D. E., & Green, K. A. (2012, June), Creating Low-cost Intrinsic Motivation Course Conversions in a Large Required Engineering Course Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21115

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