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Giving Students Choice in their Capstone Experience

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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

Design in Engineering Education Division: Capstone Design Projects

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Kaela M. Martin Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott

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Kaela Martin is an Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott Campus. She graduated from Purdue University with a PhD in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and is interested in increasing classroom engagement and student learning.

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Richard T. Mangum Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University


Dina M. Battaglia Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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Dr. Battaglia is the Director for the Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence for the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Prescott campus in northern Arizona. She earned both her M.S. and Ph.D. in social psychology from Texas Christian University and has over 16 years of collegiate teaching experience.

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Senior design or capstone students are often faced with a large open-ended project with no clear “best” solution. Keeping students motivated to complete the project is an ongoing challenge. Self-determination theory states that intrinsic motivation has three innate needs that are linked to competence, relatedness, and autonomy (or choice). Our goal is to see how choice or perceived choice affects the outcome of students in capstone. Giving students choice in the classroom promotes intrinsic motivation and is considered a good practice in teaching (Lepper and Hodell, Hofer). We want to see if that practice extends into the capstone classroom where students often have more choice compared to a traditional classroom.

At a small southwestern university, the senior design course is a two-semester sequence which is co-taught by an engineering professor and a technical communication professor across the aerospace and mechanical engineering departments. To measure whether choice affects student motivation, students enrolled in the first-semester class were given a survey on perceived choice in their capstone class along with other questions on demographics, self-esteem, conscientiousness, student-instructor rapport, engineering identity, and group dynamics. The survey was given to students in six sections of mechanical and aerospace engineering. The surveyed mechanical engineering classes included capstone classes focused on robotics, energy, and propulsion while the aerospace engineering courses focused on aeronautics and astronautics. A total of six sections were surveyed each with a different engineering professor and three different technical communication professors.

In addition to the survey, the syllabus for each engineering instructor was collected to determine what choices students were explicitly given, as a matter of course policy, in each class. The survey results were then compared between sections to see how different amounts of choice changed the motivation of students. Furthermore, the results were considered across sections to see if performance changed based on other constructs such as group dynamics and engineering identity.

Lepper, M. R., and Hodell, M. (1989). Intrinsic motivation in the classroom. In C. Ames and R. Ames (eds.), Research on Motivation in Education (Vol. 3, pp. 73-105). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Hofer, B. (2014). Motivation in the College Classroom. In M.D. Svinicki and W. J. McKeachie (eds.), McKeachie’s Teaching Tips (14th ed., pp. 139 –149). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Martin, K. M., & Mangum, R. T., & Battaglia, D. M. (2019, June), Giving Students Choice in their Capstone Experience Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32874

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