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One Size Does Not Fit All: Impact Of Varied Freshman Design Experiences On Engineering Self Efficacy

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Student Attitudes and Perceptions

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.933.1 - 14.933.16



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Paper Authors


Barbara Masi MIT

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Dr. Barbara Masi is the Director of Education in the MIT School of Engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

One size does not fit all: Impact of varied freshman design experiences on engineering self-efficacy


This paper presents results of a two year pilot program in freshman design. The program’s goal was to create a variety of project-based learning, or PBL, freshman experiences in design and complex problem solving as a means of energizing a fundamentals-focused math and science freshman curriculum. A second goal was to develop students’ self-efficacy in a range of abilities associated with engineering including design, problem solving, innovation, communication, teamwork, application of fundamental engineering and math concepts, teamwork, and being able to consider social impacts in technology in design. A third goal was to examine impact of different types of subjects by gender. The final goal was to discern if any gains in self-efficacy were sustained over time.

An engineering self efficacy survey tool was developed for this study, with an expanded set of engineering self efficacy measures, that permit a more nuanced portrait of the impact of different types of engineering curricular experiences on student self efficacy. While preliminary, student responses to the survey showed that hands on, rigorous, engineering design experiences leading to original design prototyping led to greater impact on men students’ self efficacy than other types of design subjects. Student responses also showed that, while women students were energized by participation in PBL subjects, with more choosing engineering as a major compared to non-PBL women, the impact of women’s self efficacy was only in design-innovation, compared to PBL men whose self efficacy was impacted in nearly all areas.

Perhaps most interesting of all were the changes in student self efficacy by mid- sophomore year for all students whether they participated in freshman design subjects or not. By mid-sophomore year, student self efficacy decreased from end of freshman year levels for all students, regardless of gender, for all ability measures.

By taking a longitudinal approach to the study, and implementing the survey tool over 3 periods (pre freshman, post freshman, and mid sophomore year) with the same student groups, the results also illustrate that gains in self efficacy, after an engaging freshman experience, are not permanent, nor do gains only increase over time. Rather, the value of self efficacy measures of engineering students, if implemented over several periods, is that they can reveal the roller coaster ride of students’ engineering self confidence in response to positive and negative curricular experiences.


In developing a variety of freshman project based learning (PBL) design experience, the goal was to energize a lecture-based freshman year of math and science subjects. Also, by permitting students to choose from a range of design subjects rather than only one general

Masi, B. (2009, June), One Size Does Not Fit All: Impact Of Varied Freshman Design Experiences On Engineering Self Efficacy Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5785

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