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Exploring the Relationship Between Course Structures and Student Motivation in Introductory College Calculus

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Mathematics Division Technical Session 1

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Paper Authors


Paran Rebekah Norton Clemson University

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Paran Norton is a doctoral research assistant in the Engineering and Science Education department at Clemson University. She received her B.S. degree in Mathematics from the University of North Georgia in 2013 and her M.S. degree in Mathematical Sciences from Clemson University in 2015. She has taught introductory mathematics courses at Clemson University. Her primary research focuses on improving student success in introductory college calculus courses, and her research interests include students' mathematics identity development, active learning environments in mathematics classes, and increasing student motivation in mathematics.

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Karen A. High Clemson University

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Dr. Karen High holds an academic appointment in the Engineering Science and Education department and joint appointments in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering department as well as the Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences department. Prior to this Dr. Karen was at Oklahoma State University where she was a professor for 24 years and served as the Director of Student Services as well as the Women in Engineering Coordinator. She received her B.S. in chemical engineering from University of Michigan in 1985 and she received her M.S. in 1988 and her Ph.D. in 1991 in chemical engineering both from Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Karen’s educational emphasis includes: faculty development critical thinking, enhancing mathematics, engineering entrepreneurship in education, communication skills, K-12 engineering education, and promoting women in engineering. Her technical work and research focuses on sustainable chemical process design, computer aided design, mixed integer nonlinear programing, and multicriteria decision making.

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William Bridges Clemson University

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Dr. Bridges’ primary professional interests involve the statistical aspects of research projects. He has collaborated extensively with colleagues across the University on the design, analysis, and presentation of data from both surveys and experiments. He is a co-author on peer-reviewed publications and a co-PI on funded research projects each year. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate level courses in statistical methods, regression analysis, statistical research design, and data analysis.

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The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) national study of Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus revealed that introductory calculus still occupies a gatekeeper role for STEM majors across the country. Even if students persist through Calculus I, they leave the class with a diminished confidence and enjoyment of mathematics and a decreased desire to continue pursuing further mathematics. Thus, the goal of this research study was to provide a better understanding of the relationship between learning environments and student motivation in introductory college calculus. Results of this work will help guide mathematics faculty and administrators to create environments that are most conducive to fostering students’ motivation, thus supporting their academic achievement in calculus.

The theoretical framework of self-determination theory (SDT) was used to guide this study. SDT is a macro-theory of motivation and has been widely used to study the social factors of an environment under which people thrive. According to SDT, three basic psychological needs are essential to fostering a student’s motivation and engagement: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Competence refers to students feeling confident and effective in the classroom, autonomy means they have a sense of agency and authority, and relatedness incorporates students’ need to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom. Only when students’ basic psychological needs are supported by the classroom structure can they internalize their motivation to learn.

This paper will report a piece of a larger sequential explanatory mixed-methods design that investigated the interaction of course structures, students’ basic psychological needs satisfaction, and motivation. Three different course types of Calculus I were sampled at a large research university, which included traditional methods, hybrid online, and a large-enrollment active learning classroom. The Basic Psychological Needs Scale (BPNS) and the Situational Motivation Scale (SIMS) were administered to students in the three course types (N=323). This quantitative phase involved analyzing survey data from all students in the selected classes to determine if students’ perceptions of their competence, autonomy, and relatedness and motivation types differed between the course structures. Preliminary analysis revealed that students’ perceptions of their competence, autonomy, relatedness and intrinsic motivation significantly differed between the three course types, with the hybrid online class having significantly lower mean scores than the other two course types. Implications for mathematics faculty will be discussed.

Norton, P. R., & High, K. A., & Bridges, W. (2019, June), Exploring the Relationship Between Course Structures and Student Motivation in Introductory College Calculus Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32816

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