Demystifying Motivation: Examining Undergraduate Students’ Situational Motivational Responses in Engineering Classrooms

Wednesday, May 09, 2012
7:00 PM
Free and open to the public

We set extremely high goals for our engineering students. We expect today’s graduates to master a broad spectrum of knowledge; demonstrate skills in multidisciplinary teamwork, analysis, communication, economics, and systems thinking; and be innovative and contextually aware global citizens and lifelong learners. Students will not develop these high level capacities without a strong motivation to learn. Since motivations are related to educational outcomes ranging from critical thinking to creativity to self-regulated learning, helping students develop positive motivational orientations is critical for the engagement and success of tomorrow’s engineers. Unfortunately, relatively little is known about the type of motivations that engineering students adopt in classroom settings, and how these motivations change over time in response to different learning activities and contexts. As a result, instructors face an enormous challenge in designing curricula that support the autonomous motivations known to be associated with intrinsic interest, enjoyment, persistence, and learning performance.

This seminar is aimed at demystifying student motivation in the engineering classroom by providing a more nuanced view of motivation that extends beyond the labeling of students as “motivated” or “unmotivated.” Leveraging self-determination and self-regulated learning theory, we examine engineering students’ motivational responses in technical courses that employ both traditional and non-traditional pedagogies. Using variable-based and group- based clustering analyses, we characterize the dynamic situational motivational responses of students in project-based courses, and provide insights into the temporal stability of student motivations in these open-ended learning environments. Using qualitative student interview data, we explain how cognitive, social, and environmental factors may influence students’ motivational orientations and motivational shifts. Finally, we highlight specific course activities and contexts that serve to promote the adoption of intrinsic motivation, and that may help instructors make strategic curriculum design choices to better address the motivational needs of their students.

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Jonathan D. Stolk

Associate Professor
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering