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Does Motivation Matter for Conceptual Change? Developing Effective Qualitative Research Approaches

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.560.1 - 26.560.10



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Paper Authors


Holly M Matusovich Virginia Tech

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Dr. Matusovich is an Assistant Professor and Assistant Department Head for Graduate Programs in Virginia Tech’s Department of Engineering Education. She has her doctorate in Engineering Education and her strengths include qualitative and mixed methods research study design and implementation. She is/was PI/Co-PI on 8 funded research projects including a CAREER grant. She has won several Virginia Tech awards including a Dean’s Award for Outstanding New Faculty. Her research expertise includes using motivation and related frameworks to study student engagement in learning, recruitment and retention in engineering programs and careers, faculty teaching practices and intersections of motivation and learning strategies. Matusovich has authored a book chapter, 10 journal manuscripts and more than 50 conference papers.

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Rachel E McCord University of Tennessee, Knoxville Orcid 16x16

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Rachel McCord is a a Lecturer in the Engineering Fundamentals Division at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She received her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. Her research interests include the impact of metacognitive and self-regulated learning development on engineering student success, particularly in the first year.

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Cheryl Carrico Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Cheryl Carrico is a Postdoctoral Research faculty member for Virginia Tech. Her current research focus relates to STEM career pathways (K-12 through early career) and conceptual understanding of core engineering principles. Prior to her current role, Dr. Carrico spent over 25 years in the aerospace industry conducting and leading R&D, design engineering, and project management for composite aircraft components. Dr. Carrico received her B.S. in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech, Masters of Engineering from North Carolina State University, MBA from King University, and PhD in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. Dr. Carrico is a certified project management professional (PMP) and licensed professional engineer (P.E.).

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Danielle Almetria Smalls Virginia Tech Engineering Department


Philip Reid Brown Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Education

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Philip Brown is a PhD candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virgnia Tech. His research interests include the use of motivation, cognition and learning theories in engineering education research and practice, and better understanding student perspectives in engineering programs.

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Does Motivation Matter for Conceptual Change: Developing Effective Qualitative Research ApproachesDespite considerable research in engineering education, there is still much to uncover with regard to howstudents learn, what they learn, and why they learn it. While there is a wealth of data on cognition,metacognition, and teaching strategies (all examples of the how), and misconceptions, conceptual changeand curriculum development (all examples of the what), the research on motivation (example of the why)still remains understudied by comparison. Epistemologically sound qualitative research approaches tostudy complex learning and motivation interactions are likewise underrepresented in engineeringeducation research. As part of a larger study to understand motivation and conceptual change, ourcurrent research project sits at the intersection of the underrepresented topics of motivation for learningand qualitative modes of research. The purpose of our research was to answer the question: Whatinterview methods reveal motivation for conceptual understanding during engineering problem solvingthink-aloud type sessions? We focused on think-aloud type interview approaches because they arepopular modes for examining students’ conceptual knowledge, yet their utility in simultaneouslydemonstrating motivation is not established.We analyzed two different think-aloud approaches where specific motivation questions were not asked inthe first data set but were asked in the second data set. In the first approach, existing think-aloud problemsolving interviews, in which the participants were NOT specifically asked questions about motivation,were analyzed with an intent of uncovering the “organic” utterances related to motivation emergent instudent self-talk during problem solving. Drawing on our theoretical framework for IntentionalConceptual Change, we used open coding of the data to reveal instances of unprompted motivation-related utterances. In the second approach, we specifically asked motivation questions during interviewsin which participants were asked to think aloud while solving a problem and discuss the learningstrategies in which they engage. Multiple questions drawing on existing motivation constructs (e.g.,interest, efficacy, and values) were asked. The interview questions allowed an a priori coding schemeanalysis of motivation factors.Our findings demonstrated that each think-aloud approach was problematic; in both cases the interviewcontext and dialog are critically important and can directly shape motivation. While problem solvinginterviews offer a window into the mind of the problem solver, we must recall that it is still a socialactivity where the interviewer and interviewee are engaged in a dialog and react to each other. Thus, theyare co-constructing the solution to the problem implicitly if not explicitly. Therefore, we suggest ablended approach where think-aloud protocols are used to capture organic utterances but also includespecific questions regarding motivation in the context of the interview. This research lays a foundationfor future work by helping us determine what questions to ask participants and how to ask them in orderto tease apart their motivational beliefs and learning strategies for specific content-related problemsolving. Recommendations include interviewer training on how to ask follow-up questions to motivation-related utterances and post-task questions about the perceived context of the task.

Matusovich, H. M., & McCord, R. E., & Carrico, C., & Smalls, D. A., & Brown, P. R. (2015, June), Does Motivation Matter for Conceptual Change? Developing Effective Qualitative Research Approaches Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23898

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