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Exploring the Disconnect Between Self Determination Theory (SDT) and the Engineering Classroom Environment

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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

24.585.1 - 24.585.14



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Paper Authors


Khaled Sobhan Florida Atlantic University

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Dr. Khaled Sobhan is a Professor of Civil Engineering at Florida Atlantic University. He is the Principal Investigator of a NSF RIGEE grant on student motivation and learning in the classroom environment. He has also led and participated in several Faculty Learning Communities dealing with Inquiry-based and Project-based learning in engineering disciplines. He is the recipient of the award for "Excellence and Innovation in Undergraduate Teaching" and the "Excellence in Graduate Mentoring Award," both from Florida Atlantic University. Dr. Sobhan received his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Northwestern University.

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Edgar An Florida Atlantic University

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Dr Edgar An received his B.S.E.E. degree from the University of Mississippi in 1985, M.S.E.E. degree from the University of New Hampshire in 1988, and PhD degree from the University of New Hampshire in 1991. From 1991 to 1994, he was a post-doc fellow in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the University of Southampton, UK, working on the European Prometheus project. His areas of interest are autonomous underwater vehicles, navigation, control, robotics and automation, modeling and simulation, system architecture, and neuro-fuzzy systems. He joined Department of Ocean Engineering at Florida Atlantic University as an assistant professor in 1995, became an associate Professor in 1999, and became a full professor in 2005. He is currently the director of the Advanced Marine Systems Laboratory, and is in charge of advanced marine vehicle research and development. His publication includes more than ninety journal and conference papers in these research areas. He is a recipient of the 1998 FAU Researcher of the Year award for the Assistant Professor level, 2004 FAU Researcher of the Year award for the Associate Professor level, a finalist for the Distinguished Teacher of the Year 2010−2011, and the TIAA-CREF Faculty Service Award in 2007.

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Ryne A. Sherman

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Nancy Romance Florida Atlantic university Orcid 16x16


Nicolas A. Brown Florida Atlantic University

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Nicolas is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology at Florida Atlantic University. He holds his B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside and an M.S. in Experimental Psychology from Villanova University.

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Exploring the Disconnect between Self Determination Theory and the Engineering Classroom EnvironmentImproving engineering education is a challenging and persistent national issue. Decades ofeducational research efforts have led to the development and dissemination of several pedagogieswhich advocate that a more interactive student-centered (facilitative) approach of teaching islinked to improved learning. However, these strategies continue to have only marginal impacton engineering education because the Faculty has been reluctant in adopting these methods intotheir classroom pedagogy. In fact, the traditional “development and dissemination” modelfollowed by the education research community has been identified as a major barrier in theSTEM reform efforts because they often restrict the autonomy of the Faculty and do not considerthe Faculty “situational factors”. This is ironic because the facilitative approach tends to increasethe student autonomy, which, in turn, promotes intrinsic motivation. The link between autonomyand intrinsic motivation has been well established by Deci and Ryan (1985) in their Self-Determination Theory (SDT), and suggests that three innate psychological needs  autonomy,competence and relatednesswhen satisfied, can promote intrinsic motivation.The current work is an empirical investigation to explore the effectiveness of the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) in the context of undergraduate engineering education. It ishypothesized that there is a disconnect between the principles outlined in SDT and what actuallyoccurs in the classroom environment, thus creating a barrier to advancing intrinsic motivationneeded for student learning. Therefore, we seek answers to the following two researchquestions: (1) What do engineering Faculty know about the SDT model and its association withstudent learning?; and (2) What do engineering Faculty implement in their classrooms that mayfulfill or neglect the student needs identified by SDT?  Accordingly, the primary objectives wereto (1) assess the Faculty knowledge of SDT; (2) develop a measurement framework to assess theclassroom environment as it relates to SDT; and (3) determine the association among Facultyknowledge of SDT, student motivation, learning environment, and student learning. Alongitudinal, quasi-experimental design is employed where both instructors and students in thevarious Engineering Departments are the participants. The research design and measurementframework are developed through a meaningful collaboration between the researchers fromPsychology, Education and Engineering. This takes advantage of current standards andtechniques employed in the field of Social-Cognitive Psychology and the Education Sciences. Todate, a total of 250 undergraduate engineering students and 50 Engineering Faculty at FloridaAtlantic University participated in this study. The Knowledge and expertise gathered in thisresearch are expected to form the pathway for actual implementation and assessment of learningimprovement in various engineering and STEM disciplines.

Sobhan, K., & An, E., & Sherman, R. A., & Romance, N., & Brown, N. A. (2014, June), Exploring the Disconnect Between Self Determination Theory (SDT) and the Engineering Classroom Environment Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20476

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