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Engineering Students' Perceptions of the Future: Exploratory Instrument Development

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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

Measurement and Instrumentation

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.641.1 - 26.641.14



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Paper Authors


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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Lisa Benson Clemson University

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Lisa Benson is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with a joint appointment in Bioengineering. Her research focuses on the interactions between student motivation and their learning experiences. Her projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers and scientists, and their problem solving processes. Other projects in the Benson group include effects of student-centered active learning, self-regulated learning, and incorporating engineering into secondary science and mathematics classrooms. Her education includes a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

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Engineering Students' Perceptions of the Future: Exploratory Instrument DevelopmentThe purpose of this research paper is to understand how engineeringstudents' long-term motivation as previously described qualitatively by theirperceptions of future goals can be explained quantitatively. Future TimePerspective (FTP) served as the theoretical framing for this work, andprovides a model for how students’ perceptions of the future can guide theiractions in the present. Previously, FTP has been applied in engineering tostudy differences among student majors, retention of engineering students,and how perceptions of the future influence problem solving practice. Tocontinue to expand the application of FTP to engineering education we seekto address the following research question: How do qualitative results aboutengineering students’ FTP generalize to a quantitative survey for a differentstudent population?To assess this research question an exploratory instrument developmentmixed methods study with parallel sampling was conducted. Parallelsampling refers to using two or more similar subgroups for comparison. Thetwo subgroups used in this study have similar demographics with somevariation in minority composition. Both subgroups were within their first twoyears of the engineering degree and thus removed from the strong culturalinfluences of disciplinary homes. Exploratory instrument development seeksto determine how qualitative results generalize quantitatively. Qualitativeparticipants (n=9) were interviewed at a southeastern land-grant institutionabout their perceptions of the future, perceptions of the present, and theinterconnections between the future and present. Quantitative participantscompleted a 55 item Likert-type survey that assessed motivation related totheir goal-orientations, expectancies, future time perspective, andmetacognition at a western land-grant institution (n=360, response rate52.8%) in a freshman engineering course.Previous qualitative work indicated engineering students can becharacterized as having one of three unique motivational profiles asdescribed by FTP: highly defined, conflicting, or loosely defined FTPs. Thetraits of these profiles were used to create new FTP items for the survey.These new items were paired with existing FTP items for deployment, and anexploratory factor analysis (Promax rotation, 0.4 cutoff) was conducted todetermine how the items would factor. Results of the factor analysisindicated eight unique factors, three of which were related to FTP (perceivedinstrumentality, perceptions of future career, and the influence of the futureon the present). A k-means cluster analysis was then performed using thesethree factors from FTP to determine what groupings may exist based onstudents' FTPs. The cluster analysis indicated three unique groupings thatshowed similarity to the three groupings described qualitatively. Despitesimilarities between groupings in quantitative and qualitative analyses, thereare unexpected factor scores for some of the groups indicating the Westernland-grant may possess motivation profiles that are unique from theSoutheastern land-grant.Results of this mixed methods study indicate that previous qualitative resultsare generalizable to a different engineering population. This work brings us astep closer to developing a valid instrument to assess motivation based onFTP for use alongside performance assessments, allowing for betterunderstanding of how the affective domain influences cognitive performancein engineering.

Kirn, A., & Benson, L. (2015, June), Engineering Students' Perceptions of the Future: Exploratory Instrument Development Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23979

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