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"I Want to be an Engineer, Why Should I Study Biology?" - Using Future Time Perspective to Understand Students' Beliefs about Foundational Courses

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Applied Frameworks

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Katherine G. Nelson Rowan University

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Katie just recently finished her postdoc ASU and is currently working as temporary faculty in the college of engineering at Rowan University. Her research interests include complexity learning, cognition, and motivation.

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Jenefer Husman University of Oregon

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Jenefer Husman received a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, in 1998. She served as an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama from 1998 to 2002, when she moved to Arizona State University. In 2008 she was promoted by ASU to Associate Professor. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Educational Studies Department at the University of Oregon. Dr. Husman served as the Director of Education for the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technology Center - an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center from 2011-2016. Dr. Husman is an assistant editor of the Journal of Engineering Education, and is a member of the editorial board of Learning and Instruction. In 2006 she was awarded the U.S. National Science Foundation CAREER grant award and received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the President of the United States. She has conducted and advised on educational research projects and grants in both the public and private sectors, and served as an external reviewer for doctoral dissertations outside the U.S. She publishes regularly in peer-reviewed journals and books. Dr. Husman was a founding member and first President of the Southwest Consortium for Innovative Psychology in Education and has held both elected and appointed offices in the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Motivation Special Interest Group of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction.

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Katherine C. Cheng Arizona State University

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Katherine Cheng is a doctoral student at the Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. She is interested in understanding the origins of students' academic performance and their well-being. Kat completed her BS and MA in Psychology, and is currently majoring in Family and Human Development. Her research emphasizes a multi-disciplinary perspective, including bringing together constructs from the fields of motivation, human development, and biopsychology. Her research is dedicated to understanding the links between students’ emotions, emotion regulation, attention, and future-oriented motivation with respect to optimal school performance and physiological well-being.

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Judith M. Harackiewicz University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Paul Pintrich Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Foundational courses are crucial first-year technically oriented courses that are required for engineering degree completion, but are typically taught outside of students’ engineering degree major. Students must be exposed to these initial science and mathematics courses to have a proper foundation for subsequent engineering courses. However, foundational courses appear to be incongruent with students’ paths in engineering; research demonstrates that students are more likely to leave engineering in their first and second years, years were they are primarily engaged in these foundational courses. Studies have emerged that demonstrate that engineering students demonstrate little motivation to learn and be successful when taking foundational courses. If students are not motivated to learn, their performance may be lacking and prevent them from moving on in their engineering coursework, or discourage them from pursuing engineering altogether.

In this study we sought to understand students’ motivational beliefs in a freshman level biology course. We framed our work using future time perspective (FTP), course belongingness, and interest. Future time perspective pertains to a set of psychological constructs that allow us to understand (1) how engineering students see the present task as instrumental for their future as engineers – perceived instrumentality (PI), and (2) how engineering students connect the present activities with their future engineering goals – career connectedness (CC). Course belongingness (CB) describes how well a student feels that they belong to a certain course. Interest (I) reflects a student’s interest for a particular course. Engineering students enrolled in a freshman biology course (n=124) were given a survey instrument containing items for PI, CC, course belongingness associated with biology (CB-B) and engineering (CB-E), and I at the completion of their course. Correlations were run to assess any relationships between the different variables (PI, CC, CB-B, CB-E, and I). Strong and positive correlations were found between PI and CB-B (r = 0.57, p < 0.05), PI and I (r = 0.69, p < 0.05), and CC and CB-E (r = 0.70, p < 0.01).

PI were positively and strongly related to I and CB-B, indicating that students that perceived this foundational biology course as instrumental for their future, were interested in the content and felt that they belonged there. CC and CB-E were positively and strongly associated, demonstrating that students who were strongly connected to their engineering careers felt that they belonged in engineering. However, the lack of association between CC, CB-E and PI showed that engineering students that want to be engineers found little instrumentality in the course. PI is an important variable for good strategy use and performance in courses. Traditionally CC and PI are highly related, but in the context of a foundational non-major course, students lack the association between PI and CC, leading to possible problems with student learning and course performance. Additional research is needed to understand what the implications of the lack of association between PI and CC and CB-E are for foundational courses, and more so, how engineering educators can helps students better connect PI, CC, and CB-E to encourage student success.

Nelson, K. G., & Husman, J., & Cheng, K. C., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2017, June), "I Want to be an Engineer, Why Should I Study Biology?" - Using Future Time Perspective to Understand Students' Beliefs about Foundational Courses Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27428

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