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Satisfaction: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Engineering Writing Coursework

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Design, Assessment, and Redesign of Writing Instruction for Engineers

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Stephanie Pulford University of California, Davis Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Stephanie Pulford is the Associate Director for Instructional Research & Development of UC Davis' Center for Educational Effectiveness. Dr. Pulford’s professional background in engineering includes a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering as well as industry experience as an aircraft engineer. Her research and professional interests include faculty development, innovations in engineering communication education, engineering student identity and learning motivation, narrative structure in technical communication, and the improvisatory skills of educators.

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Jiahui Tan University of California, Davis


Michael Raymond Gonzalez University of California, Davis

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Michael works as a research assistant at UC Davis’s Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE), focusing on projects involving engineering students’ motivations around writing. To support this work, Michael applies and utilizes the skills he learned through his time as an English tutor, and his BA coursework in English, with an emphasis in literature, criticism, and theory. In addition to the work he does at CEE, Michael’s passion for education, pedagogy and the success of students has lead him to conduct his own research on Freshmen, Sophomores and First-Generation students’ motivation towards receiving feedback on writing assignments.

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Amanda Modell University of California, Davis

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Amanda Modell is a graduate student researcher at the Center for Educational Effectiveness at UC Davis, where she supports research on engineering writing education. In addition to research, Amanda has worked in graduate student professional development as a Teaching Assistant Consultant and Teaching Assistant Consultant Coordinator, where contemplative, inclusive, and feminist pedagogies informed her work. She has also contributed to curriculum development for graduate student instructors and pedagogy resources for faculty and graduate students. As a Cultural Studies PhD candidate, Amanda’s dissertation considers how musical ability becomes understood as hereditary through sciences such as eugenics, genetics, and physical anthropology.

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Students’ learning motivation in their engineering writing classes is typically regarded as low—by researchers, educators, and students themselves. Often, an educator’s first point of inquiry regarding students’ motivation is the degree to which the course material and structure is intrinsically motivating to a student (meaning the learning activities themselves are interesting, and thus motivating); and the degree to which the class has been extrinsically motivating to a student (meaning the student is appropriately motivated by grades, status, or some reward that is external to the student and not directly related to the class content itself). Often the first strategies an instructor chooses to motivate a class involve intrinsic motivation or extrinsic motivation: making the course more interesting, and imposing harsher grades for poor performance.

Intrinsic/extrinsic strategies for motivation are aligned with most cognitive theories of learning motivation[1]. However, at present, educators’ designs to motivate intrinsically and/or extrinsically often rely on broad assumptions about their students, as well as unexamined intuitions about the collective and distinct effects of these two kinds of motivations. Designs for intrinsic and extrinsic learning motivation can be much improved by a better understanding of students’ existing intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in writing classes, how students’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivations interact, and how these motivations correlate with student success in their writing courses.

In this paper, we report the results of mixed-methods research on student learning motivation, toward understanding and unpacking roles and interactions of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation of students in engineering writing courses. We first present the results of the intrinsic and extrinsic orientation components of a Motivated Learning Strategies Questionnaire (MLSQ) that was administered to approximately 400 students across 10 engineering disciplines who were enrolled in one of six engineering writing courses at two large public universities. These students were surveyed on their attitudes and motivations regarding their engineering writing classes; and as a control, they answered the same survey items about engineering classes that they were concurrently enrolled in which had no graded writing component. We examine intrinsic and extrinsic motivational constructs separately, but also analyze them as interleavened constructs that can correlate nonlinearly with student scholastic performance[2].

The results of this survey suggest that students’ extrinsic and extrinsic motivations were, for the most part, conserved across writing and non-writing coursework. However, students reported a lower motivation in their writing courses on items that probed students’ intrinsic and extrinsic feelings of satisfaction following class achievement. In order to better understand this gap in course content interest, we triangulate the value data from the students’ surveys against qualitative discussions of student interest, experiences, and class expectations that were conveyed to us through open-ended written survey items and semi-structured interviews. We conclude by providing practical suggestions for educators that are suggested by our data.

[1] M. D. Svinicki, Learning and Motivation in the Postsecondary Classroom. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc., 2004. [2] Y.-G. Lin, W. J. McKeachie, and Y. C. Kim, “College student intrinsic and/or extrinsic motivation and learning,” Learn. Individ. Differ., vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 251–258, Jan. 2001.

Pulford, S., & Tan, J., & Gonzalez, M. R., & Modell, A. (2018, June), Satisfaction: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Engineering Writing Coursework Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30949

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