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Events that Promote Engineering Students' Intrinsic Motivation to Learn

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.551.1 - 24.551.9



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Paper Authors


Kathryn F. Trenshaw University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Kathryn Trenshaw is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University’s Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. She received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Missouri in 2009, her M.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011, and her PhD in Chemical Engineering, also from Illinois, in 2014. Her research interests include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; supporting diversity in STEM fields with an emphasis on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students; and using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to improve students’ communication skills during group work.

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Renata A. Revelo Alonso University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Renata Revelo Alonso is a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is in the Higher Education doctoral program in the department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership. She has Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Electrical Engineering from the same university. Her research interests include diversity, engagement, and identity.

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Katherine Earl Earl University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Katherine Earl is a graduate student in the Department of Education's Counseling Psychology Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign;

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Geoffrey L. Herman University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Geoffrey L. Herman is a visiting assistant professor with the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education. He earned his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a Mavis Future Faculty Fellow and conducted postdoctoral research with Ruth Streveler in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. His research interests include creating systems for sustainable improvement in engineering education, promoting intrinsic motivation in the classroom, conceptual change and development in engineering students, and change in faculty beliefs about teaching and learning. He is a recipient of the 2011 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty Grant. He helps steer the College of Engineering Dean’s Strategic Instructional Initiatives Program and consults with the Academy for Excellence in Engineering Education at the University of Illinois.

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The Importance of Relatedness in Promoting Engineering Students’ Intrinsic Motivation to LearnResearch based on Self Determination Theory (SDT) commonly focuses on autonomy andcompetence as the most important in fostering intrinsic motivation to learn in formal settings.Although relatedness, a third psychological need central to SDT, plays a role in fostering anintrinsic orientation, its importance is often considered tertiary. As part of an evaluation of asophomore engineering course that was redesigned to promote students’ sense of autonomy, thisresearch seeks to describe how students’ motivational orientations toward learning changed andhow the three psychological needs of SDT effected those changes. After experiencing theredesigned course, students were interviewed about their journey through the semester. Duringinterviews, students were asked to describe their experiences in the course and to discuss howthose experiences affected their motivation. Interviews were transcribed and coded to capturestudents' motivational orientation changes during the course and the psychological needs theymentioned as important to their experience. The analysis of students’ descriptionsoverwhelmingly pointed to relatedness as key to their motivational orientation in the course asstudents highlighted interactions with both instructors and peers as transformative. Contrary toexpectations based on the SDT literature, the analysis revealed a lesser importance ofcompetence and autonomy. Students’ statements were coded least frequently as pertaining toautonomy out of the three psychological needs of SDT, even though the course was specificallyredesigned to support autonomy. While autonomy-supportive classroom environments do changestudents’ motivation within the course context, relatedness, rather than autonomy, seemsfundamental to these changes and fostering intrinsic motivation. This paper will explore thepossible interpretations and explanations for this discrepancy surrounding autonomy and providerecommendations for future research and classroom practice.

Trenshaw, K. F., & Revelo Alonso, R. A., & Earl, K., & Herman, G. L. (2014, June), Events that Promote Engineering Students' Intrinsic Motivation to Learn Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20442

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