Asee peer logo

Investigating Task Choice in First-Year Engineering Team Projects

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 7: Experiential Learning

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Alexandria Steiner University of Michigan

visit author page

Alexandria Steiner is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is studying chemical engineering. Her current research is focused on investigating the relationship between teamwork and self-efficacy in first-year engineering students. After completing her undergraduate degree she plans on pursuing her Ph.D. in chemical engineering.

visit author page


Laura Hirshfield University of Michigan

visit author page

Laura Hirshfield is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Michigan. She received her B.S. from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. from Purdue University, both in chemical engineering. She then transitioned into the engineering education field by completing a post-doctoral appointment at Oregon State University investigating technology-aided conceptual learning. She is currently doing research on team dynamics and students' changes in engineering self-efficacy in project-based learning.

visit author page


Cynthia J. Finelli University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Dr. Cynthia Finelli is Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Faculty Director for Engineering Education Research at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering (CRLT-Engin) at University of Michigan (U-M). She earned B.S.E.E., M.S.E.E., and Ph.D. degrees from U-M in 1988, 1989, and 1993, respectively. She founded CRLT-Engin and served as its Director for 12 years. Prior to joining U-M in 2003, she was the Richard L. Terrell Professor of Excellence in Teaching, founding director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and associate professor of electrical engineering at Kettering University. In her current role, she coordinates faculty and TA professional development in the College of Engineering, conducts rigorous engineering education research, and promotes the growth of engineering education both locally at UM and nationally. Dr. Finelli's current research interests include evaluating methods to improve teaching, studying faculty motivation to change classroom practices, and exploring ethical decision-making in engineering students. She also has established a national presence in engineering education; she is a fellow in the American Society of Engineering Education, is an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education, and past chair of the Educational Research and Methods Division of ASEE.

visit author page


Debbie Chachra Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

visit author page

Debbie Chachra is an Associate Professor of Materials Science at the Franklin W. Olin college of Engineering. Her education-related research interests include self-efficacy, design, intrinsic motivation, and gender. She speaks and consults on curricular design, student-centered learning, and gender and technology.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This research paper investigates the relationship between the tasks that students take on in team projects and changes in their engineering confidence and self-efficacy during project-based learning experiences. Project-based learning has become a widely used pedagogy in engineering programs at many universities. Courses that involve a hands-on project give engineering students a “real world” experience and allow them to work in a setting that mimics a professional engineering environment: students typically work in small groups to design, build, and test while developing teamwork and communication skills. Hands-on project-based learning also provides students with opportunities to participate in solving realistic engineering problems, thereby allowing students to engage in a variety of different “mastery experiences” over the course of the semester. Beyond instilling a deeper content knowledge and aiding in the development of necessary skills, mastery experiences are one of the main contributors to self-efficacy, an individual’s belief about his/her capabilities to perform a task. Engineering confidence and self-efficacy both have important roles in a student’s ability to succeed in an engineering program, as they affect student’s decisions, motivation, retention, and career choices. However, it has been found that some students experience a negative or lack of change in engineering confidence and self-efficacy in team projects. We hypothesize that these differences may be because individuals complete different mastery experiences in team projects. The individual students’ characteristics, prior experiences, or learning goals may have a significant influence over the activities that a student chooses to take on. In this work, we investigate the different mastery experiences that students’ complete in a project and the reasons why they choose those tasks. Specifically, we are exploring the relationships between a student’s learning goals, team role, gender, time spent on various project tasks, and any subsequent changes in their engineering confidence or self-efficacy.

This study focuses on students enrolled in first-year project-based engineering courses at a large public university in the Midwestern United States. A mixed-methods approach was used for data collection and analysis. Pre- and post-course surveys were administered to collect information about student demographics and personalities and to measure the students’ engineering confidence and self-efficacy. Students were also asked to record the amount of time they spent each week on different tasks (e.g., project management, using CAD software, communication, and working on written reports) in an Activity Log. Post-course interviews were conducted to allow students to reflect about their team experiences during the semester.

Our results show that many students reported taking on certain roles because of time constraints or because they already were comfortable in that role. This could be a result of most students having performance-based learning goals and being more concerned with getting good grades in the course instead of learning new engineering-related skills. However, many students wished that they had played different roles on their teams during the semester. It seems that they recognize taking on roles with which that they are already familiar will not increase their engineering skills and abilities during the year.

Steiner, A., & Hirshfield, L., & Finelli, C. J., & Chachra, D. (2016, June), Investigating Task Choice in First-Year Engineering Team Projects Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25481

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: © 2016 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