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The Influence of Active, Passive, and Mixed Classroom Activities on Student Motivation

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Improving Student Outcomes in Mechanics

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Jennifer E. Holte University of St. Thomas

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Jennifer Holte is on the faculty in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of St. Thomas and serves as the School of Engineering's Community College and Transfer Coordinator. She holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota.

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Ryan J. Endres University of St. Thomas

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Ryan Endres is a student at the University of St. Thomas majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Business Administration. He has had experience interning at Geronimo Energy, Best Buy Corp., Daley Electric and currently is the Philanthropy Chair of the ASME Club at St. Thomas. Ryan intends to graduate in May of 2021.

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Deborah Besser P.E. University of St. Thomas

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Dr. Besser, PE, ENV SP, holds a PhD in education and MS and BS in civil engineering. Currently, she is civil engineering chair and Center for Engineering Education director. Previous experience includes faculty positions in diverse universities where she has taught a variety of coursework including steel, timber, concrete and masonry design, construction, engineering economy, engineering graphics and engineering education. Prior to teaching, Dr. Besser, a licensed engineer, was a design engineer with HNTB-CA, where she worked on seismic retrofits and new design of high profile transportation structures.

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Doug Dunston University of St. Thomas

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Doug Dunston, D.M.A. is KEEN Program Coordinator in the School of Engineering at University of St. Thomas and Professor Emeritus of Humanities at New Mexico Tech. He designs and delivers focused workshops and retreats for faculty and short lectures and modules on listening, improvisation, and systems thinking for students. Dr. Dunston holds degrees in physics (BS, Harvey Mudd College and MA UC-Berkeley) and music (DMA, Claremont Graduate University).

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The primary investigator has developed a variety of active, passive, and mixed classroom activities for the instruction of a machine design course. Active classroom activities are those in which the instructor provides guidance to the students and then allows the students to engage somewhat independently with each other and the instructional materials to discover meaning on their own. Passive classroom activities are more traditional lectures in which the instructor disseminates the information in a structured lecture format while students take notes and ask questions as needed. Mixed classroom activities combine elements of active and passive learning into a single class period. The purpose of this study is to explore to what extent the types of activities employed during the class period affect student motivation.

As a part of the course, in addition to engineering content, all students received instruction on different types of motivation and learning theories. Fourteen times throughout the semester, at the end of the class period, the students completed “Situational Motivation Scale (SIMS)” surveys. SIMS is a validated, self-report scale that measures situational amotivation, external regulation, identified regulation, and intrinsic motivation. A final question was attached to the end of each survey which asked the student to describe the one aspect of the classroom activity that most influenced their attitude toward it. At the end of the semester, students were also invited to participate in a reflective survey. All students enrolled in the class participated in the SIMS surveys. However, survey results were only included in the study for those students who consented.

Twenty-two of the 29 students enrolled chose to participate in the study, providing a total of 260 SIMS survey responses. Using the Self-Determination Index (SDI) as a measure of overall motivation, motivational differences among students appear to be greater than the differences among activities. The study did not identify any one mode of teaching that was more effective in motivating students than others. The students’ motivation appears to be more significantly tied to how much they value the content than to the mode of delivery. While intrinsic motivation often increased with more active use of the class period, amotivation also increased on some of the more active learning days with some students indicating they didn’t see value in the content. Also, while students frequently expressed their preference for hands-on learning in their comments, only two students showed a motivational preference for active learning, and even then, the preferences were not particularly strong. The authors also observed that three of the students seemed to be highly motivated no matter what instructional methods were used.

This initial study on student motivation raises an interesting question which might be explored more deeply in the future through the addition of personal interviews with the students: Is the connection between the students’ perceived value of the content a stronger influence on their motivation than the instructional methods employed?

Holte, J. E., & Endres, R. J., & Besser, D., & Dunston, D. (2020, June), The Influence of Active, Passive, and Mixed Classroom Activities on Student Motivation Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35342

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