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Motivation is a Two-Way Street: Pedagogies Employing Discussion in Addition to Lecture Display More Positive Student Motivational Response

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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 4B: Assessing Student Motivation and Student Success

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Alexander E. Dillon Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Education Researcher based in Asheville NC

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Jonathan D. Stolk Southern Methodist University

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Jonathan D. Stolk currently serves as the Executive Director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, the TI Distiniguished Chair in Engineering Education, and a Professor in Simmons School of Eduation and Human Development at Southern Methodist University. Stolk strives to design and facilitate extraordinary learning experiences. As a start-up faculty member at Olin College (2001-2015), Stolk created numerous project-based and interdisciplinary courses and programs that invite students to take control of their learning, grapple with complex systems, engage with each other and the world in new ways, and emerge as confident, agile, self-directed learners. Stolk’s research aims to understand how students experience different classroom settings, particularly with regard to how individuals express situational motivations and develop their own beliefs about learning. A core aspect of his professional work involves translating research to practice, by equipping instructors with design tools and conceptual frameworks that enable them to understand their classrooms in new ways, and to gain confidence in trying new approaches and deploying course prototypes. Stolk consults with a wide range of academic institutions on the design of unconventional curricula, and he offers hands-on workshops to faculty around the world.

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Yevgeniya V. Zastavker Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Yevgeniya V. Zastavker, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Physics at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. She earned her B.S. degree in Physics from Yale University in 1995 and her Ph. D. degree in Biological Physics from MIT in 2001. Dr. Zastavker's research interests lie in the field of STEM education with specific emphasis on innovative pedagogical and curricular practices at the intersection with the issues of gender and diversity. Dr. Zastavker is currently working with Dr. Stolk on an NSF-supported project to understand students’ motivational attitudes in a variety of educational environments with the goal of improving learning opportunities for students and equipping faculty with the knowledge and skills necessary to create such opportunities. One of the founding faculty at Olin College, Dr. Zastavker has been engaged in development and implementation of project-based experiences in fields ranging from science to engineering and design to social sciences (e.g., Critical Reflective Writing; Teaching and Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering, etc.) All of these activities share a common goal of creating curricular and pedagogical structures as well as academic cultures that facilitate students' interests, motivation, and desire to persist in engineering. Through this work, outreach, and involvement in the community, Dr. Zastavker continues to focus on the issues of women and minorities in science/engineering.

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Michael D. Gross Wake Forest University

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Dr. Michael D. Gross is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and a member of the Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability at Wake Forest.

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This research paper describes preliminary findings of the relationship between the prevalence of lecture versus discussion in course activities, and students’ situational motivational levels collected within that class.

Minimizing student attrition throughout STEM introductory curricula remains a much-sought goal, and can be viewed as a question of student motivation. Research from the psychological domain has established that certain types of motivation correlate with increased enjoyment and value, which unsurprisingly correlates with academic persistence, while other types of motivation may increase short-term performance but ultimately correlate with frustration and decreased persistence. However the question remains: how can instructors facilitate the types of motivations associated with positive outcomes?

Rooted in self-determination theory (SDT) and drawing off of a of weekly-sampled motivation dataset comprising 5810 responses from 27 different courses, this analysis compared four distinct types of motivation, as defined in SDT, to the incidence of two of the most commonly cited in-class activities: lecture and discussion. We found that courses that incorporated more discussion were highly positively correlated with intrinsic motivation, which has been linked to enjoyment and persistence, and highly negatively correlated with extrinsic motivation, which has been linked to stress and attrition. Surprisingly, there was no statistically significant correlation with identified regulation, which is a generally positive engagement in activities for their value, usefulness, or importance, but is still instrumental in nature: students connect the activity with meaningful outcomes but they do not necessarily connect the activity to a deeper sense of self (joy, satisfaction, passion). It is intriguing to consider if this indicates discussion is an opportunity for students to make connections directly between the course content and themselves.

The principles of self-determination theory suggest that discussion activities, as compared to lecture alone, may achieve this effect by better addressing students’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. For example, an open discussion of different learning strategies and challenges may help boost some students’ sense of competence as learners. Discussion that is guided by student choices and is sensitive to individual paths may help support learners’ sense of autonomy. Finally, student-student and student-instructor dialogue may instill a sense of relatedness, or connection to others, provided the discussion context is perceived as facilitative of such a personal connection. However, the specific catalysts which link discussion with intrinsic motivation likely vary for different individuals and course contexts.

While motivation is a very complex phenomenon, this analysis suggests that simply increasing the use of what is already a commonly cited activity may be a meaningful way to cultivate a personally resonant sense of motivation. Our findings raise interesting questions about how the content of the discussion, particularly in introductory STEM courses, might be intentionally shaped to maximize that impact.

Dillon, A. E., & Stolk, J. D., & Zastavker, Y. V., & Gross, M. D. (2016, June), Motivation is a Two-Way Street: Pedagogies Employing Discussion in Addition to Lecture Display More Positive Student Motivational Response Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25758

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