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How Problem-based Learning and Traditional Engineering Design Pedagogies Influence the Motivation of First-year Engineering Students

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Problem-based and Challenge-based Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.702.1 - 25.702.17



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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. Matusovich earned her doctoral degree in engineering education at Purdue University. She also has a B.S. in chemical engineering and an M.S. in materials science, with a concentration in metallurgy. Additionally, 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. Matusovich’s research interests include the role of motivation in learning engineering, construction of engineering identities, and faculty development.

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Marie C. Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is an Associate Professor of engineering education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, and design education. She was awarded a CAREER grant from NSF to study expert teaching practices in capstone design courses nationwide, and is Co-PI on several NSF grants to explore identity and interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering design.

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Brett D. Jones Virginia Tech

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Brett D. Jones, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Educational Psychology program within the School of Education at Virginia Tech. He received his bachelor’s of architectural engineering degree from the Pennsylvania State University (1992). Subsequently, he worked as a consulting engineer at an engineering firm. He obtained his M.A. (1997) and Ph.D. (1999) in educational psychology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has held faculty positions as an educational psychologist at Duke University, the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, and Virginia Tech. He has taught 21 different types of courses related to motivation, cognition, and teaching strategies and he received the university-wide Undergraduate Teaching Award at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (2003-2004). For his research, he received the North Carolina Association for Research in Education’s Distinguished Paper Award (2000) and the Best Paper Award from the American Society for Engineering Education, K-12 Engineering Division (2010). His current research focuses on applying motivation and cognitive theories to instruction. He developed the MUSIC Model of Academic Motivation with the hopes that novice, as well as experienced, instructors would find it useful as a tool for improving their instruction (see

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Philip R. Brown Virginia Tech

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Philip R. Brown is a graduate student in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He has a B.S. and an M.S. in electrical engineering from Union College and Duke University, respectively. His research interests include motivation, identity, retention, instrument development, mixed methods research approaches, and connecting research to practice. He teaches in the first-year engineering program at Virginia Tech, and is active in curriculum development.

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How Problem-Based Learning and Traditional Engineering Design Pedagogies Influence the Motivation of First Year Engineering StudentsProblem-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogical practice suggested as a possible way to promotelearning outcomes, such as the ABET criteria, but it has yet to be examined in terms of itsmotivational impacts on students. Understanding student motivation is critical to attracting andretaining a diverse and qualified future engineering workforce and to creating an environmentthat supports student learning. As PBL is increasingly employed across engineering curricula,particularly in design-related courses, it is essential for educators to understand the motivationalimpacts to ensure that this promising pedagogy is deployed effectively.Toward that end, this study examines the motivational effects of PBL and a more traditionalengineering design (TED) course on first-year engineering students. Analyzing interviewscollected as part of a larger study, this paper employs the MUSIC Model of AcademicMotivation (eMpowerment, Usefulness, Success, Interest, and Caring) to address the question:How do two different first-year engineering pedagogies affect student interest in and perceptionof usefulness of an engineering degree and their first year coursework? The analysis focuses onthe Interest and Usefulness components of the model because, as the value components, previousresearch has shown that both components influence persistence and career goal development.Although the overall study design employs mixed methods (observations, interviews, andsurveys) this analysis focuses on student interviews at two sites. The PBL course offered at StateUniversity 1 (U1) included students in a single major. The TED course offered at StateUniversity 2 (U2) included students from all engineering majors. Our participants include tenmen and nine women from U1 and four men and six women from U2, all interviewed at the endof their second semester in the first year of engineering studies. The semi-structured interviewswere 30-60 minutes in length and were audio recorded, transcribed, and then analyzed usingMAXQDA coding software. Each interview was coded individually before looking across allinterviews for themes and patterns. The MUSIC model provided the primary coding scheme,with additional codes developed inductively through the analysis.The findings show clear differences in how students perceive the skills necessary for engineeringand how they learn those skills. Data show differences in entry characteristics; that is, U1participants have chosen a specific engineering major whereas most U2 participants have not, butalso show clear differences in how PBL and TED are experienced, specifically in terms of theengineering-related skills that students found useful and interesting. Students in the PBL classcited learning teamwork, communication, and research – all skills that they considered directlyuseful to their desired career. Students in the TED class, in contrast, cited learning specifictechnical abilities and skills, which they saw as having a nebulous application to their career.While differences in academic context, both on the university and classroom setting level, areresponsible for some of these results, the difference in instructional method appears to haveplayed a key part in how students reacted to their first year coursework, developed ideas aboutengineering work, and considered persisting in earning an engineering degree.

Matusovich, H. M., & Paretti, M. C., & Jones, B. D., & Brown, P. R. (2012, June), How Problem-based Learning and Traditional Engineering Design Pedagogies Influence the Motivation of First-year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21459

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