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Work in Progress: Developing a Quantitative Instrument for Measuring Undergraduate Engineering Students' Future Time Perspectives

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Works in Progress: Learning and Engagement

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Catherine McGough Clemson University

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Catherine McGough is currently a graduate research assistant in Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University. She obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University in 2014. Her research interests are in undergraduate engineering student motivations and undergraduate engineering problem solving skill development and strategies.

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Adam Kirn University of Nevada, Reno Orcid 16x16

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Adam Kirn is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses on the interactions between engineering cultures, student motivation, and their learning experiences. His projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers, their problem solving processes, and cultural fit. His education includes a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Bioengineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education from Clemson University.

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Lisa Benson Clemson University

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Lisa Benson is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with a joint appointment in Bioengineering. Her research focuses on the interactions between student motivation and their learning experiences. Her projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers and scientists, and their problem solving processes. Other projects in the Benson group include effects of student-centered active learning, self-regulated learning, and incorporating engineering into secondary science and mathematics classrooms. Her education includes a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

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The purpose of this work in progress is to design a quantitative measurement that categorizes undergraduate engineering students based on their future time perspectives (FTPs), or their future goals and how those goals affect actions in the present. With calls for increased numbers and diversity of STEM graduates, attracting and retaining these undergraduate students is important and requires focusing on the student as a whole rather than just focusing on developing technical skills. All students are motivated by their unique perceptions of the future—short and long term goals.

Our previous qualitative studies have shown that undergraduate engineering students fit into one of three different characteristic FTPs. The first characteristic group has very well defined futures with one distinct long term goal that influences what tasks they perceive as useful. The second group has two distinct long-term goals which are conflicting; one of these long term goals is realistic and undesired, while the other is an unattainable ideal. These students also connect their future to present tasks, but in more limited ways. The third group has not narrowed down their futures in terms of distinct goals; they have no specific plans beyond graduation, which allows them to view a wide variety of tasks as useful. Based on key characteristics of the three FTP categories identified in our previous qualitative studies, we have constructed a survey. The items were adapted from pre-existing surveys, FTP literature, and quotes from participants in the qualitative study. We established content validity by having experts review items. The result is a thirty item survey, in a seven point anchored and numbered Likert scale, with six factors (five items each) that constitute key themes identified in our qualitative data.

This study tests the validity and reliability of this survey by answering the research question: How accurately can students be described in terms of their FTP characteristics using a quantitative measure? To assess whether the instrument actually measures the phenomena of interest, focus groups (n=15 participants) will be conducted to test the face validity of the instrument. Undergraduate engineering students will be asked to read the items on the instrument and discuss their interpretation; their comments will be compared to the intended meaning of the item. External validity will be demonstrated through replicating the original qualitative studies with participants who complete the quantitative measure (n=8), and the results will be compared. Next the survey will be distributed to undergraduate engineering students on a small scale (n=300) to test for internal validity through an exploratory factor analysis to ensure the consistency of results across items. The measure will be re-distributed two weeks later to the same population (test-retest) to test for the stability of items over time.

This study will result in a validated instrument to quantitatively measure undergraduate engineering students’ FTP that can be used by practitioners and researchers to more deeply understand the motivation of their students, and to further understand how students’ motivations are affecting their actions in the present, specifically in engineering courses.

McGough, C., & Kirn, A., & Benson, L. (2016, June), Work in Progress: Developing a Quantitative Instrument for Measuring Undergraduate Engineering Students' Future Time Perspectives Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27220

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