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Creating Scalable Reform in Engineering Education Through Low-Cost Intrinsic Motivation Course Conversions of Engineering Courses

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

NSF Grantees' Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.347.1 - 23.347.12



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Paper Authors


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

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Professor Geoffrey L. Herman is a visiting assistant professor with the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois and conducted postdoctoral research in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He now serves as the Intrinsic Motivation Course Conversion project lead with the iFoundry and on the steering committee of the College of Engineering's Strategic Instructional Initiatives Program.

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Kyle F Trenshaw University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16


Michael C. Loui University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Michael C. Loui is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and University Distinguished Teacher-Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His interests include computational complexity theory, professional ethics, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. He serves as editor of the Journal of Engineering Education and as a member of the editorial boards of College Teaching and Accountability in Research. He is a Carnegie Scholar and an IEEE Fellow. Professor Loui was associate dean of the Graduate College at Illinois from 1996 to 2000. He directed the theory of computing program at the National Science Foundation from 1990 to 1991. He earned the Ph.D. at M.I.T. in 1980.

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Kerri Ann Green University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


David E. Goldberg ThreeJoy Associates, Inc. and the University of Illinois

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Dr. David "Dave" Goldberg is president and founder of ThreeJoy Associates, Inc. and is a consultant, trainer, and coach to students, faculty, and administrators in higher education. Prior to founding ThreeJoy Associates, Dr. Goldberg was the Jerry S. Dobrovolny Distinguished Professor in Entrepreneurial Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was known for his path-breaking research in genetic algorithms and evolutionary computation; for his role in co-founding ShareThis, Inc.; and for his work as co-founder and co-director of the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education, iFoundry. Dr. Goldberg authored The Entrepreneurial Engineer and Genetic Algorithms in Search, Optimization and Machine Learning, among other books. He has been a registered engineer in Pennsylvania and Alabama and holds a B.S. in Engineering, a M.S. in Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and a Certificate in Leadership Coaching from Georgetown University. Together with Mark Somerville of Olin College, he recently co-founded the Big Beacon, a global movement for the transformation of engineering education.

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In this paper, we will present our efforts to create scalable engineering education reformprocess that has a low barrier to adoption by focusing primarily on promoting students’ intrinsicmotivation (IM) to learn. Students who are intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically motivated tolearn are more likely to persist in their learning and perform better. Despite major investments in, andmany promising and proven innovations for, reforming engineering education, many instructors areslow to adopt these innovations because of prohibitive time, money, and training investments. Incontrast, our efforts aim to design the classroom based upon motivational theories such as Self-Determination Theory (SDT), to improve students’ learning by promoting their IM to learn, and toimplement the reform through methods that require minimal or zero additional costs to the faculty. To test this proposed shift in reform paradigm, we have developed pilot programs to implementlow-cost, IM course conversions that minimize instructors’ time investments and mobilize teachingassistants and students as engines for sustainable reform. Based on SDT, these pilot course conversionsaim to promote students’ IM by increasing their sense of autonomy, mastery, purpose, and relatedness.A converted course provides a learning environment designed to give students choices and control overtheir learning while graduate teaching assistants (TAs) focus on supporting these choices. Through thislearning environment, we aim to rouse students' intrinsic motivation to learn, guiding theirdevelopment as life-long learners and empowering them to become proponents of future courseconversions. These pilot course conversions focus on large lecture courses, which typically are difficult tochange because of the scale. For our first pilot course conversion, we chose a traditionallecture/discussion course with two lectures per week taught by the faculty member and a set ofdiscussion sections that met once per week, each taught by a graduate teaching assistant (TA). In ourinitial pilot, we changed two of the discussion sections so that they focused on promoting students’ IMto learn by training and empowering the TAs to change the pedagogy and climate of the course. Webelieve that this strategic change can be effective and sustainable, because it minimizes the cost to thefaculty, it can be easily scaled within the common lecture/discussion format at many large institutions,and it mobilizes students to be agents of change. We have since scaled the course conversion toencompass all students in a course with over 200 students. In this paper, we will explain how we scaledthe initial pilot to give all students choice and control over their learning, while asking the faculty to onlycontinue teaching their lectures as they normally would. We will describe how undergraduate studentsare helping to reform the course. We have evaluated this course conversion with concept inventories, motivation surveys, focusgroups, and exit interviews. We will present part of this evaluation to demonstrate the effectiveness ofthe conversion.

Herman, G. L., & Trenshaw, K. F., & Loui, M. C., & Green, K. A., & Goldberg, D. E. (2013, June), Creating Scalable Reform in Engineering Education Through Low-Cost Intrinsic Motivation Course Conversions of Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19361

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