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Increasing Student Self-Efficacy through Undergraduate Research Experiences: A Qualitative Study

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Postcard Session: Experiential Learning as a High-Impact Student Experience

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education

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Paper Authors


Addison J. Litton Utah State University

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Addison J Litton is an undergraduate student at Utah State University, studying Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. He is doing research in engineering education, under the direction of Dr. Wade Goodridge and his graduate assistant Mr. Benjamin Call.

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Wade H. Goodridge Utah State University

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Wade Goodridge is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Utah State University. He holds dual B.S. degrees in Industrial Technology Education and Civil and Environmental Engineering. His M.S. and Ph.D. are in Civil Engineering. Wade has over 15 years of teaching experience primarily focused at the University level but also including 2+ years of teaching in high schools. Dr. Goodridge’s current research interests include spatial thinking, creativity, effective pedagogy/andragogy in engineering education and professional development for 9-12 grade science faculty designated to teach engineering. His research revolves around developing and validating curricular methods to improve engineering education in informal, traditional, distance, and professional environments. Dr. Goodridge currently teaches courses in “Teaching, Learning, and Assessment in Engineering Education” and “Engineering Mechanics: Statics.” Dr. Goodridge is an engineering councilor for the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and serves on ASEE’s project board. Dr. Goodridge actively consults for projects including the development of an online curriculum style guide for Siemens software instruction, development of engineering activities for blind and visually impaired youth, and the implementation and investigation of a framework of engineering content to incorporate into P-12 engineering education.

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Benjamin James Call Utah State University

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Benjamin Call graduated with his Masters of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (Aerospace Emphasis) in 2006 from Utah State University. After eight years with NAVAIR, he returned to pursue a PhD in Engineering Education while continuing as a professional in modeling and simulation for robotics at Autonomous Solutions, Inc. He is funded by the Presidential Doctoral Research Fellowship. His research interests range from sophomore-level engineering curricula to spatial ability and from undergraduate research to student entrepreneurship.

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Sarah E. Lopez Utah State University

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Sarah Lopez is a graduate student at Utah State University, pursuing a PhD in Engineering Education and a Masters in Electrical Engineering. She graduated from Oklahoma Christian University in 2016 with degrees in Computer Engineering and Math Education. Her research interests include spatial ability, robotics education, and the signal processing of biometric data, such as EEG, in engineering education research.

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This research paper reports on a study that assessed the self-efficacy of undergraduate and graduate students relating to success in the field of engineering. The key selection criteria for participants in this study was engagement in research experiences at their academic institution. The study also investigated the self-efficacy development of graduate student mentors relating to mentoring undergraduates. Interview data was collected, transcribed, and coded. Results of the coding process are analyzed and shared.

The authors define self-efficacy as a psychological measure of the confidence an individual has toward their abilities in a specific activity. It is a generative ability that can be developed in an individual through experiences such as mastery experiences and vicarious experiences. Mastery experiences pertain to activities or tasks in which the individual is personally engaged that can help them develop expertise in a particular field, whereas vicarious experiences are experiences the individual has witnessed that can provide insight. These experiences can have either positive or negative effects on the self-efficacy of an individual. A high level of self-efficacy can then be a driving force within the individual to persevere through challenges, while a low level of self-efficacy may hinder them instead.

One form of engineering mastery experience that students can engage in is a research project. This type of experience is considered a mastery experience due to the very personal and hands-on nature of research. These experiences provide opportunities for students to engage in multiple stages of a project and to apply knowledge they have gained in a realistic setting and provide an authentic mechanism where they may observe the direct outcomes of their efforts. Research experiences also require students to search out new knowledge in order to solve and understand the problems they are given. This provides a hands-on approach to learning material, and therefore presents a very powerful mastery experience for students in which they can develop self-efficacy.

This paper presents a qualitative analysis of the experience of student researchers with regard to self-efficacy development. Specifically, we look at a construct of self-efficacy based around student research experiences and their impacts on confidence to work as an engineering professional. A phenomenological methodology guides the selection of participants and the interview process. The participants of this study are undergraduate and graduate engineering students at a Utah State University. To track self-efficacy development, the research team conducted semi-structured interviews with ten engineering students involved in authentic research projects. Interviews were transcribed and coded in order to augment a code map developed and presented by the authors in a previous publication. This paper will discuss the themes and important ideas determined from the coding and analysis process. These themes will be interpreted to identify key self-efficacy constructs in experiential engineering education. Future research projects will look to develop these themes into a preliminary self-efficacy instrument to quantitatively assess self-efficacy development in the context of undergraduate research.

Litton, A. J., & Goodridge, W. H., & Call, B. J., & Lopez, S. E. (2018, June), Increasing Student Self-Efficacy through Undergraduate Research Experiences: A Qualitative Study Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30653

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015