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Understanding How Freshmen Engineering Students Think They Learn

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1221.1 - 8.1221.9



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Paper Authors

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Leonhard Bernold

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Joni Spurlin

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Cathy Crossland

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Chris Anson

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2793

Understanding How Freshmen Engineering Students Think They Learn

Joni E. Spurlin, Leonhard E. Bernold, Cathy L. Crossland, and Chris M. Anson, Ph.D.

North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC 27695


The work in this project is founded on an ongoing effort sponsored by the National Science Foundation* which has as its goal the establishment of a thorough understanding of “what freshmen do” when it comes to “college study” and how or whether their behavior changes during the first year. This new research effort, lead by the authors at North Carolina State University, is presently surveying 930 freshmen engineering students who started their college career in August 2002. The main data collection tools include: a) Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Attitude Survey, b) Learning and Study Skills Inventory (LASSI), c) Learning Type Measure (LTM), and d) bi-weekly questions developed by the authors which students answered throughout their first semester. The Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Attitude Survey is designed to assess their opinions, feelings, and confidence about engineering and learning engineering. The survey was given again at the end of the first semester to assess any changes. The LASSI and LTM are designed to help students understand and identify the ways they learn. The surveys questions that the students answered throughout the semester were focused on how they were learning, access to faculty and academic services, and changes during the first semester.

One of the key premises of this project is that making them effective learners within the college environment, which is very different to what they are used to, may reduce the 57% attrition rate of freshman engineering students. Studies have shown that failing engineering freshman don’t have lower academic abilities; in fact, some of them have higher IQ’s than the average engineering student.1 Other studies demonstrate that traditional lecture oriented teaching leads to lower performance, negative attitudes towards engineering, and decreased self-confidence of some of the students.2 Hermann 3 concluded that , although employers need innovative engineers with strong communication and open-ended problem-solving skills, the heavily analytical and rote problem-solving orientation of current engineering curricula does not foster those needed skills. In a positive national context for employment in engineering, there is an urgent need for research to examine the institutional, pedagogical, and personal reasons for students to give up their pursuit of a career in engineering. Our study is investigating this phenomenon in ways that can help to inform and reform undergraduate education in engineering.

* Grant funded by National Science Foundation, Division of Engineering Education and Centers, Award # 0212150

“Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education”

Bernold, L., & Spurlin, J., & Crossland, C., & Anson, C. (2003, June), Understanding How Freshmen Engineering Students Think They Learn Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12430

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