Asee peer logo

Designing the Design Experience - Identifying Factors of Student Motivation in Project-Based Learning and Project-Based Service-Learning

Download Paper |


2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Best of DEED

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.382.1 - 23.382.14



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Lauren A Cooper University of Colorado Boulder

visit author page

Lauren is a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder and an Assistant Teaching Professor at the Colorado School of Mines. Her research in engineering education is focused on understanding the impacts of project-based learning and project-based service-learning on student motivation.

visit author page


Daria A Kotys-Schwartz University of Colorado Boulder

visit author page

Daria Kotys-Schwartz is the Design Center Colorado Co-Director and an Instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. She received B.S. and M.S degrees in mechanical engineering 
from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. Dr. Kotys-Schwartz has focused her research in engineering student learning, retention, and student identity development within the context of engineering design. She is currently investigating the impact of a four-year hands-on design curriculum in engineering, a holistic approach to student retention, the effects of service learning in engineering education, and informal learning in engineering.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Designing the Design Experience: Identifying Factors of Student Motivation in Project-Based Learning and Project-Based Service- LearningWe know from motivation theory that motivation in students is positively correlated withengagement, feelings of success, interest, and value. We know less about the types ofinstructional strategies that enhance student motivation. Grounded in motivation theory, thisresearch evaluates how the context of project-based service-learning (PBSL) affects aspects ofstudent motivation in a required undergraduate mechanical engineering course - ComponentDesign. Our research aims to answer: 1) How does the context of service in project-basedlearning affect student motivation? 2) What factors are most influential on students’ motivationto persist in project-based learning experiences?Component Design is a required project-based course that introduces junior mechanicalengineers to fundamental machine design concepts. In spring 2011, the control groupparticipated in a conventional project-based learning (PBL) experience – to build an aestheticallypleasing vehicle that could be powered by a cordless electric drill. In spring 2012, the treatmentgroup participated in a PBSL experience - fabricating adapted tricycles for children in thecommunity with physical disabilities.Identical pre-course and post-course surveys were administered to both cohorts to gather dataabout students' baseline levels and changes in interest and value for the course and the project,confidence in technical and non-technical skills, feelings of success, and indicators ofengagement. Additionally, focus groups were held with students from both cohorts directlyfollowing each semester. The process of assessing gains and changes for student interest, value,etc. was completed using Wilcoxon rank-sum hypothesis tests. Random forest analysis was usedto determine the factors that were most influential on students’ motivation.We found that both the PBL and PBSL contexts sustained student motivation for the course andthe project. Students in both cohorts began the course with relatively high values of interest,value, and expectancies for success. Students in both cohorts ended the course with relativelyhigh values (and in some cases significant gains) of interest, value, and feelings of success in thecourse and the project. Students from both cohorts also reported relatively high indicators ofcourse and project engagement.The results of the random forest analysis indicated that for students in the PBL control group themost significant predictor of motivation was their confidence in non-technical skills while forstudents in the PBSL control group, the most significant predictor was initial value of the courseand the project. Initial course and project interest, skill confidence, prior knowledge of coursetopics, and prior experience in design projects were also among the most important predictors ofmotivation in both project contexts. Gender was not found to be a significant predictor of anymotivation indicators.The results are consistent with motivation theory, which posits that supportive conditions(interest, value, expectancy for success, feelings of competence, etc.) must be present to sustainstudents’ motivation. Additionally, the actual context of a PBL experience (conventional,service-based, or other) may not be as important as a thoughtfully designed PBL experience -one that is interesting and valuable to students, provides opportunities to develop skills, and thatallows students to utilize prior experience and knowledge.  

Cooper, L. A., & Kotys-Schwartz, D. A. (2013, June), Designing the Design Experience - Identifying Factors of Student Motivation in Project-Based Learning and Project-Based Service-Learning Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19396

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015