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The Influence of Learning Context on Engineering Students’ Perceived Basic Needs and Motivation

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 13: Student Learning and Contexts

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Karolina Doulougeri Eindhoven University of Technology

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Dr. Karolina Doulougeri is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Technological University of Eindhoven. Her research focuses on engineering students' motivation and deep learning strategies, coaching in design based learning and educational redesign of engineering courses. She received her PhD in Organizational Psychology from the University of Macedonia, in Greece. She has worked in several international research projects focusing on students and employees' well- being, professional development and performance. Her work has been published in peer reviewed journals and presented in several international conferences.

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Gunter Bombaerts Eindhoven University of Technology

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Gunter Bombaerts is Assistant Professor for Philosophy and Ethics of Technology at Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands. His research fields include ethics in engineering education (motivation, deep learning, competence measurement), comparative ethics and questions concerning applied ethics in the field of energy ethics, in particular on participation and innovation. He is coordinating the TU/e USE program and is teacher of USE courses (amongst which the USE basic course on History and Ethics of Technology).

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Introduction: Learning context plays an important role in students’ motivation to learn. Intrinsic motivation is important in order to foster students’ deep learning, better performance and overall well- being. According to Self Determination Theory (SDT) of motivation, three basic needs should be satisfied for students to achieve intrinsic motivation: the need for autonomy, the need for competence and the need for relatedness. However, less attention has been given to what influences those basic needs for engineering students in different learning contexts. In this study we used the SDT framework to compare two different learning contexts: project-based courses and mixed courses (lecture based courses with group assignments) to explore whether students experience differences in the satisfaction of basic needs and motivation. We aimed to answer the following research questions: RQ1: What is the difference between students’ perceived satisfaction of basic needs and motivation in mixed and project courses? RQ2: Which factors are considered supportive for students’ satisfaction of basic needs in each learning context? Methods: Two studies were conducted in order to answer the research questions. A survey study was conducted across seven mixed courses and five project courses. Students completed questionnaires on basic needs and motivation at the end of the course. In addition, a qualitative study that focused on five of the courses was conducted, where focus groups with teachers and students were used to identify motivating and demotivating factors for each learning context. Results: The students attending the project courses reported more satisfaction of autonomy, competence and relatedness, but no differences in motivation. The qualitative study revealed that among the most motivating factors for project-based courses were: real-life problems or involvement of real stakeholders, freedom to work in an interesting project, feedback, teamwork and relevance to major studies. However, in project-based courses students reported more uncertainty or lack of guidance that affected negatively their motivation. In addition, even though the project-based courses were more autonomy supportive, some aspects of them were considered quite restricting and thus, unmotivating. The balance between autonomy and structure was a major challenge for teachers especially in project courses. Discussion: Project based courses do not guarantee higher students’ motivation in learning. Even though students enjoy the autonomy of project-based courses, it is important that learning context address students’ expectations and offer the right amount of autonomy and guidance in order to motivate them. SDT is a theoretical framework that Engineering Education can use in order to inform pedagogical interventions to foster motivation and thus improve students’ learning.

Doulougeri, K., & Bombaerts, G. (2019, June), The Influence of Learning Context on Engineering Students’ Perceived Basic Needs and Motivation Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33403

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