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How Instructors and Classroom Climate Contribute to the Motivation of First-Year Engineering Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

FPD II: Increasing Engagement and Motivation of First-Year Students

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.785.1 - 22.785.20



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Paper Authors


Holly M. Matusovich Virginia Tech

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Holly Matusovich is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Dr. Matusovich has a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University. She also has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and an M.S. in Materials Science with a concentration in Metallurgy. Additionally Dr. Matusovich has four years of experience as a consulting engineer and seven years of industrial experience in a variety of technical roles related to metallurgy and quality systems for an aerospace supplier. Dr. Matusovich’s research interests include the role of motivation in learning engineering as well as retention and diversity concerns within engineering education and engineering as a profession.

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Walter Curtis Lee Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Walter Lee is a graduate research assistant and doctoral student in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He has a bachelors degree in Industrial Engineering from Clemson University.

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John Andrew Janeski Virginia Tech

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John Janeski is a Dean's Teaching Fellow and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering with an emphasis on Applied Physics from Virginia Tech. He is interested in studying multidisciplinary research topics that span space physics, electrodynamics, dynamics and control of spacecraft, and engineering education.

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Katherine E. Winters Virginia Tech

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Katherine Winters is a Dean's Teaching Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Her primary research interests center on graduate student motivation. She earned her B.S. and M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Brigham Young University.

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How Instructors and Classroom Climate Contribute to the Motivation of First-Year Engineering Students.In response to calls to implement engineering and design activities across the undergraduatecurriculum, first-year engineering courses are changing. While becoming more engagingthrough the addition of design projects, problem-based learning, and other student-centeredlearning activities, such courses also are becoming more resource intensive by promoting greatercontact with instructors. Through this contact, instructors serve as mentors and role models tostudents and set the tone for the classroom climate. While research shows that having mentors,role models and conducive learning environments are important factors in the retention ofundergraduate engineering students, little research has focused on how this happens. Withincreasing use of student-centered learning and increased contact with students, this is animportant gap to close.This research begins addressing this gap by examining student perceptions of faculty, GTA’s andother salient classroom factors for a first-year engineering course. The research site is a largepublic university in the southeastern region of the United States with a general engineeringprogram for freshmen. All incoming students take the same first-year engineering course, whichis the course we studied. In this two-credit hour course, students met twice per week. The firstmeeting was with a faculty member in a lecture format with approximately 120 to 350 students.The second meeting was in a GTA-led workshop with approximately 30 students. By comparingthe two settings, we can better understand the characteristics of each environment that promotestudents’ engagement in learning.Our study is grounded in self-determination theory, which posits that people act in ways that helpthem meet three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Autonomyis the need to feel control and self-direction. Competence is the need for mastery of a setting.Relatedness is the need to feel connected to a group. Given the context we have described, ourresearch question is: How do students’ perceptions of instructors and learning environmentscontribute to motivation through the development of autonomy, competence and relatedness infirst-year engineering students?To address this question, we used a mixed methods approach. We first surveyed first-yearengineering students at the end of the course using a survey instrument based on existing scalesfor engineering student perceptions of classroom experiences, instructional practices, classroomclimate and indicators of learning outcomes. Based on the survey, we selected interviewparticipants to represent diversity in responses. Our interviews probed for explanatory insightsinto student experiences, particularly with regard to understanding how faculty and GTAscontribute to satisfaction of students’ autonomy, competence and relatedness needs.As an example of our findings, interview analysis shows that students cite feedback as importantwith regard to developing competence beliefs. While feedback from faculty is important,students find the immediate feedback received in the workshop setting more helpful. This isconsistent with the findings from the surveys that students find the workshops more interactive.The full paper describes additional findings and discusses implications for practice.

Matusovich, H. M., & Lee, W. C., & Janeski, J. A., & Winters, K. E. (2011, June), How Instructors and Classroom Climate Contribute to the Motivation of First-Year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18066

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