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Relating Project Tasks in Design Courses to the Development of Engineering Self-efficacy

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Self-efficacy and Emotion: ERM Roundtable

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1328.1 - 26.1328.16



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Paper Authors


Laura Hirshfield University of Michigan

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Laura Hirshfield is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan in the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering (CRLT-e). 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 self-efficacy and teamwork in project-based learning.

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Debbie Chachra Olin College of Engineering


Cynthia J. Finelli University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Cynthia Finelli, Director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering and research associate professor of engineering education at University of Michigan (U-M), earned B.S.E.E., M.S.E.E., and Ph.D. degrees from U-M in 1988, 1989, and 1993, respectively. 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.

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Jeremy M. Goodman Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Relating project tasks and team roles in design courses to the development of engineering self-efficacyProject-based learning, now widely used in engineering education, simulates a “real world”professional engineering environment, promotes the development of technical and professionalskills, and has been found to increase student determination, persistence and engineering self-efficacy. Self-efficacy, the belief in one’s ability to succeed, is important for students to challengethemselves and persist in the field. Project-based learning improves engineering self-efficacy bygiving students opportunities to complete “mastery experiences.” However, there is evidence thatteam-based engineering design projects do not necessarily lead to increases in self-efficacy for allstudents. This suggests that the development of engineering self-efficacy in team-based projectcourses depends both on how students interact with their teammates and also which tasks, ormastery experiences, they undertake. Understanding these dynamics and the students’ individualmastery experiences may lead to more effective and meaningful project-based learningexperiences that promote the development of engineering self-efficacy.This work explores the relationships between self-efficacy, student demographics andcharacteristics, and the individual project experiences of each student. It has been shown that thelevels of, and changes in, engineering self-efficacy vary for students of different gender, but wehypothesize that other demographic factors and the types of tasks that students assume in teamprojects may also relate to their engineering self-efficacy. Which activities on the project areassociated with changes in engineering self-efficacy? How do students’ initial levels of self-efficacy relate to the tasks they undertake: will less confident students shy away from technically-difficult tasks or will they select tasks that interest them? Are there trends among students withparticular demographic backgrounds or personality traits in terms of their self-efficacy or whichtasks they undertake?This pilot work focuses on a subset of students enrolled in first-year team-based engineeringdesign courses. We used a mixed-methods approach to analysis. Pre- and post-course surveyswere utilized to collect student demographic data, assess student personalities, and measurestudent engineering self-confidence and self-efficacy. Students also kept a weekly activity log totrack time spent on different tasks for the project, such as project management, ideation,communication, computer-aided design, and fabrication. In the post-course interviews, studentswere asked about their project design and performance, how they and their team functioned, andtheir own learning experience. This approach to data collection and analysis allows for an in-depth study into the relationships between self-efficacy, project-based learning experiences andthe students working on such projects. Preliminary findings suggest that student personality anddemographics, especially gender, relate to which project tasks the students undertake and to howthey view their role on the project team.

Hirshfield, L., & Chachra, D., & Finelli, C. J., & Goodman, J. M. (2015, June), Relating Project Tasks in Design Courses to the Development of Engineering Self-efficacy Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24665

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