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Self-Directed Learning Contention: Faculty and Student Views

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

FPD IX: Research on First-Year Programs and Students, Part II

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1282.1 - 22.1282.12



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Paper Authors


Casey Canfield Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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A recent systems engineering graduate from Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Class of 2010.

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Brittany Strachota Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Brittany Strachota is a member of the Class of 2013, studying engineering at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

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Yevgeniya V. Zastavker Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Yevgeniya V. Zastavker is an Associate Professor of Physics at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Her research interests lie at the intersection of project-based learning and gender studies with specific emphasis on the curricula and pedagogies implemented in the first-year engineering programs.

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Self-Directed Learning Contention: Faculty and Student ViewsSelf-directed learning (SDL) is a pedagogical technique, commonly practiced within theframework of project-based learning (PjBL), which was found to be useful in the development ofskills necessary for engineering careers, including open-ended problem-solving, life-longlearning, and others (Prince, 2004). In addition to encouraging student creativity, SDL is citedfor enhancing student motivation and engagement in learning (Stefanou et al., 2004).Implemented in a variety of ways, SDL is primarily characterized by developing studentautonomy. According to Stefanou et al.’s framework, student autonomy can be promoted atthree different levels: organizational, procedural, and cognitive. These three levels includevarying degree of student choice: organizational autonomy takes into account the environment(e.g., due dates), procedural autonomy incorporates form (e.g., deliverable form), and cognitiveautonomy involves content (e.g., designing projects) (Stefanou et al., 2004). Temporally, anengineering program may introduce full student autonomy from the day students enter theclassrooms, slowly introduce more experiences during the student’s first year, or simultaneouslyintroduce a range of low- and high-level SDL experiences. This range allows for a wideinterpretation of the role and value of SDL and student autonomy by both students and faculty.This study explores the perspectives of faculty and students in a small private engineering schoolthat implements a first-year curriculum modeled around a PjBL environment with a range ofSDL experiences. The first-year courses span a range of autonomy structures, from totalinstructor control to high levels of organizational and procedural student autonomy. A semi-structured, open-ended formal protocol was employed in in-depth interviews with both 12students and 9 faculty members. Classroom observations were performed and field reports wereanalyzed for triangulation purposes with the data from the student and faculty interviews. Usingmethods of grounded theory, three research questions were addressed: (a) how do thepedagogical practices in the first-year mathematics, physics, and engineering classes fit intoStefanou’s autonomy framework? (b) how does the level of student autonomy impact student’sparticipation, interest, and perception of performance in these classrooms? and (c) how dostudent and faculty perspectives on student autonomy affect the classroom environment?Our preliminary results indicate contention between students’ desire for SDL experiences,faculty’s perception of students’ level of preparedness, and autonomy practiced in the classroomand lab. Although students indicated desires for high student autonomy, few seemed to have asophisticated understanding of what it is. None of the faculty implemented cognitive studentautonomy and several felt that first-year students were not ready for high levels of studentautonomy. In the classroom, students generally tended to be more motivated and engaged inprojects with higher student autonomy. Majority of interviewees noted that students seemed toprefer some level of structure rather than full autonomy. This work has implications on thedesign of first-year engineering curricula regarding the development of student autonomy. Futuredirections of study may include investigation of the impact of SDL and student autonomybeyond the first year, and its effectiveness in preparing students for future academic andprofessional careers.References:• Prince, Michael. “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research”, J. Engr. Education, 93(3), 223-231 (2004).• Stefanou, Candice R., Perencevich, Kathleen C., DiCintio, Matthew and Julianne C. Turner. “Supporting Autonomy in the Classroom: Ways Teachers Encourage Student Decision Making and Ownership”, Educational Psychologist, 39(2), 97 — 110 (2004). 

Canfield, C., & Strachota, B., & Zastavker, Y. V. (2011, June), Self-Directed Learning Contention: Faculty and Student Views Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18712

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