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Driving Changes in Affect, Behavior, and Cognition in a First-year MATLAB Programming Course

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

First-year Programs: Computation in the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Bethany Luke Valparaiso University

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Bethany Luke teaches in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering at Valparaiso University.

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Ruth E. H. Wertz Valparaiso University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Wertz is an Assistant Professor of General Engineering at Valparaiso University, located in Valparaiso Indiana. She has earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Trine University, a M.S. in Civil Engineering from Purdue University, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education also from Purdue University. Dr. Wertz is a registered Professional Engineer with over 5 years of industry experience in Geotechnical Engineering. In addition Dr. Wertz has over 10 years classroom teaching experience across multiple face-to-face and distance formats. Her research interests include curriculum design, active learning pedagogies, and online engineering education.

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This manuscript describes a curriculum overhaul for a required freshman programming course in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering at a small private midwestern university. While programming skills are essential for success in this field, many students showed negative attitudes toward programming and frustration with the programming course. In particular, the course evaluations from spring of 2019 suggested that substantial change to the course was necessary. Following research-based methods, discussed in the paper, several changes were implemented in spring 2020. To qualitatively assess student attitudes before and after the course revisions, the course evaluations from both the 2019 and 2020 semesters were evaluated based on their sentiment (e.g., positive/negative affect, affirmation of effective classroom practices, constructive critique to improve classroom practices, and positive/negative critique of course content). The most interesting finding from this analysis was the stark contrast between primarily affective statements in 2019 and primarily constructive statements in 2020. To assess the connection between student attitudes and course grades, a validated questionnaire was administered to the students who took the programming course in spring of 2019 and 2020. These scores and student grades in the course were analyzed using multiple linear regression, which showed that two dimensions of student attitude (affect and cognition) were significant predictors of final grade in the course. Finally, exam scores suggested that students were able to meet the course objectives in the new course format. Together, these findings suggest that student attitudes toward programming correlated with course performance in a freshman programming course, and the curriculum changes to that course helped improve student attitudes, which may ultimately help them succeed in their subsequent engineering coursework.

Luke, B., & Wertz, R. E. H. (2021, July), Driving Changes in Affect, Behavior, and Cognition in a First-year MATLAB Programming Course Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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