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Engineering Design Self-Efficacy and Project-Based Learning: How Does Active Learning Influence Student Attitudes and Beliefs?

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Works in Progress: Learning and Engagement

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Justin Charles Major University of Nevada, Reno Orcid 16x16

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Justin Major is an Undergraduate Research Assistant in Engineering Education at the University of Nevada, Reno in the PRiDE Research Group. He is currently working towards dual Bachelors of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Secondary Math Education and expects to graduate May of 2017. His research interests include students development of self-efficacy and identity in math and engineering, and active learning environments. Justin has a strong history working with community partners and the University of Nevada, Reno in creating programs that provide STEM exposure opportunities for local students. Within the Student Division, Justin currently holds the role of Co-Program Chair.

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Adam Kirn University of Nevada, Reno Orcid 16x16

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Adam Kirn is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses on the interactions between engineering cultures, student motivation, and their learning experiences. His projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers, their problem solving processes, and cultural fit. His education includes a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Bioengineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education from Clemson University.

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The purpose of this work-in-progress research paper is to understand the effect active learning, here project-based learning (PBL), has on engineering students’ development of design self-efficacy.

Without producing engineers with career-ready skills related to engineering design, and who have strong design self-efficacy, innovative solutions to grand engineering challenges will at best be slowed and at worst go undeveloped. Recently, active learning methods have been shown to be significantly more effective than direct instruction and methods such as project-based learning have been shown to increase students’ engineering self-efficacy. Previous work has shown strong positive correlation between self-efficacy and student performance in engineering. If similar results are produced for engineering design self-efficacy and PBL, gains can be made in students’ willingness to learn and conduct design through the use of active learning in engineering. Additionally, results can inform how incorporation of engineering design tasks in often understudied middle years of the engineering curriculum influences students' design self-efficacy and willingness to complete design tasks.

A mixed-methods study is being employed to answer whether implementation of active learning has an effect on student development of design self-efficacy. Engineering students enrolled in an engineering statics course were surveyed (n=74, 22.1% response rate) about their design self-efficacy at the beginning of the semester. To understand how students design self-efficacy develops over time, the same survey will be re-administered at the conclusion of the semester. For qualitative data collection, students will write journal entries regarding their participation in out-of-classroom active learning projects. Questions asked within the protocol include students’ perceptions of their confidence, motivation, ability to succeed, and anxiety in designing now and also in the future. Additional students will be interviewed at the end of the semester to explore the explicit connections between PBL and design self-efficacy changes. The study will continue the following semester using the same procedure in a course centered on active learning to understand how longitudinal exposure to active learning environments in engineering influences design self-efficacy.

An exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was conducted but proved inconclusive in relation to the newer population. Theoretical factoring of the data based on results established in the literature was used due to the inconclusive results of the EFA. To support the use of theoretical factoring, inter-factor correlation was preformed to determine how these factors were related to one another. Matching previous results, the correlation matrix showed positive correlation between confidence and motivation (r=0.48), confidence and success (r=0.84), and motivation and success (r=0.51). Additionally, there was a negative correlation between anxiety and confidence, motivation, and success (r= -0.25,-0.30,-0.31, respectively). Future administration of the survey should show changes in student design self-efficacy. Journal entry protocols build on survey questions to provide insight on how PBL scaffolds (or does not scaffold) development of design self-efficacy. Through increased understanding of the interconnections between student motivation and pedagogical practices in engineering, researchers and practitioners can better develop engineering environments for the development of career-relevant skills.

Major, J. C., & Kirn, A. (2016, June), Engineering Design Self-Efficacy and Project-Based Learning: How Does Active Learning Influence Student Attitudes and Beliefs? Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26637

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