Students’ learning motivation in their engineering writing classes is typically regarded as low—by researchers, educators, and students themselves. Often, an educator’s first point of inquiry regarding students’ motivation is the degree to which the course material and structure is intrinsically motivating to a student (meaning the learning activities themselves are interesting, and thus motivating); and the degree to which the class has been extrinsically motivating to a student (meaning the student is appropriately motivated by grades, status, or some reward that is external to the student and not directly related to the class content itself). Often the first strategies an instructor chooses to motivate a class involve intrinsic motivation or extrinsic motivation: making the course more interesting, and imposing harsher grades for poor performance.
Intrinsic/extrinsic strategies for motivation are aligned with most cognitive theories of learning motivation. However, at present, educators’ designs to motivate intrinsically and/or extrinsically often rely on broad assumptions about their students, as well as unexamined intuitions about the collective and distinct effects of these two kinds of motivations. Designs for intrinsic and extrinsic learning motivation can be much improved by a better understanding of students’ existing intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in writing classes, how students’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivations interact, and how these motivations correlate with student success in their writing courses.
In this paper, we report the results of mixed-methods research on student learning motivation, toward understanding and unpacking roles and interactions of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation of students in engineering writing courses. We first present the results of the intrinsic and extrinsic orientation components of a Motivated Learning Strategies Questionnaire (MLSQ) that was administered to approximately 400 students across 10 engineering disciplines who were enrolled in one of six engineering writing courses at two large public universities. 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. We examine intrinsic and extrinsic motivational constructs separately, but also analyze them as interleavened constructs that can correlate nonlinearly with student scholastic performance.
The results of this survey suggest that students’ extrinsic and extrinsic motivations were, for the most part, conserved across writing and non-writing coursework. However, students reported a lower motivation in their writing courses on items that probed students’ intrinsic and extrinsic feelings of satisfaction following class achievement. In order to better understand this gap in course content interest, we triangulate the value data from the students’ surveys 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 suggested by our data.
 M. D. Svinicki, Learning and Motivation in the Postsecondary Classroom. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc., 2004.
 Y.-G. Lin, W. J. McKeachie, and Y. C. Kim, “College student intrinsic and/or extrinsic motivation and learning,” Learn. Individ. Differ., vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 251–258, Jan. 2001.
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