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Motivation, Self-efficacy, and Student Engagement in Intermediate Mechanical Engineering Courses

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Student Motivation, Identity, and Resilience

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Matthew J. Ford Cornell University Orcid 16x16

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Matthew Ford is currently a Postdoctoral Teaching Specialist working with the Cornell Active Learning Initiative. His background is in solid mechanics.

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Hadas Ritz Cornell University Orcid 16x16

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Hadas Ritz is a senior lecturer in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and a Faculty Teaching Fellow at the James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute (MTEI) at Cornell University, where she received her PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 2008. Since then she has taught required and elective courses covering a wide range of topics in the undergraduate Mechanical Engineering curriculum. In her work with MTEI she co-leads teaching workshops for new faculty and assists with other teaching excellence initiatives. Her main teaching interests include solid mechanics and engineering mathematics.

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Elizabeth M. Fisher Cornell University

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Elizabeth M. Fisher is an Associate Professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell. She received her PhD from U.C. Berkeley.

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Motivation is a critical component of student learning. Student motivation in the context of academic performance is composed of and influenced by several constructs such as intrinsic goals (learning for learning's sake), extrinsic goals (performance for the sake of a grade, career advancement, or other external validation), self-efficacy (confidence in one's ability to succeed with sufficient work), and value (belief that class activities are worthwhile). Much of the literature on motivation in engineering has focused on persistence beyond introductory courses, career choice, and differences between engineering majors. However, our interviews with mechanical engineering students have revealed that students may form motivational beliefs and identities related to a specific subfield within their major (e.g. "I see myself as a mechatronics person, but not a fluids person") and therefore we expect to find differences in responses between course contexts for the same student.

We measured motivation and attitudes towards learning in a cohort of students simultaneously enrolled in three upper-division mechanical engineering courses. We adapted portions of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) into two surveys: an online survey asking students to reflect on all of their mechanical engineering courses ("cohort context"), and a paper survey delivered during class in each of the three courses ("course context"). The cohort-context survey included questions related to intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. The course-context surveys included questions related to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, study habits, task value, and peer learning. We also recorded measures of student engagement with course content including lecture attendance (proxied by a classroom polling system) and engagement with an online course discussion board.

Our unique study design allows us to examine the relationships between motivation, self-efficacy, engagement, and academic performance by comparing the same individual in different contexts rather than relying on group statistics. Extrinsic motivation was strongly correlated between courses. Intrinsic motivation, by contrast, was only weakly to moderately correlated between courses. Task value was not correlated between courses despite similar course formats and alignment with major requirements. Most surprisingly, self-efficacy was not correlated between courses, despite strong correlation of grades and exam scores. This curriculum-level lens provides valuable insights to guide the design of broad department-level educational initiatives.

Ford, M. J., & Ritz, H., & Fisher, E. M. (2020, June), Motivation, Self-efficacy, and Student Engagement in Intermediate Mechanical Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34985

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