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Useful but Not Interesting: Illuminating Student Task Values Surrounding Engineering Writing Classes

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Writing and Communication I

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Stephanie Pulford Auburn University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Stephanie Pulford is the Associate Director of the Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. Previously she coordinated University of Washington Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching's Engineering Writing & Communication Development Program. 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.

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Students’ learning motivation in their engineering writing classes is typically regarded as low—by researchers, educators, and students themselves. This low motivation is often attributed to students’ lack of value for writing in general or engineering writing classes in particular. However, the claim that engineering students don’t value writing has not been explored in great detail through research. In this paper, we report the results of mixed-methods research on student learning motivation, toward understanding and unpacking student values that affect their engagement and success in writing education.

We first present the results of the value components of a Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) that was administered to approximately 300 students across 10 engineering disciplines who were enrolled in one of three engineering writing courses. 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. The results of this survey suggest that, contrary to common perception of engineering students, these students in aggregate readily identified their writing courses as equally or more useful and important than their non-writing courses. However, these students were significantly less interested in their writing courses’ content than that of their other concurrent engineering classes. In order to better understand this gap in course content interest, we triangulate the value data from the students’ MSLQ 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 supported by our data.

Pulford, S. (2016, June), Useful but Not Interesting: Illuminating Student Task Values Surrounding Engineering Writing Classes Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27117

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