This research paper reports on a study that assessed the self-efficacy of undergraduate and graduate students relating to success in the field of engineering. The key selection criteria for participants in this study was engagement in research experiences at their academic institution. The study also investigated the self-efficacy development of graduate student mentors relating to mentoring undergraduates. Interview data was collected, transcribed, and coded. Results of the coding process are analyzed and shared.
The authors define self-efficacy as a psychological measure of the confidence an individual has toward their abilities in a specific activity. It is a generative ability that can be developed in an individual through experiences such as mastery experiences and vicarious experiences. Mastery experiences pertain to activities or tasks in which the individual is personally engaged that can help them develop expertise in a particular field, whereas vicarious experiences are experiences the individual has witnessed that can provide insight. These experiences can have either positive or negative effects on the self-efficacy of an individual. A high level of self-efficacy can then be a driving force within the individual to persevere through challenges, while a low level of self-efficacy may hinder them instead.
One form of engineering mastery experience that students can engage in is a research project. This type of experience is considered a mastery experience due to the very personal and hands-on nature of research. These experiences provide opportunities for students to engage in multiple stages of a project and to apply knowledge they have gained in a realistic setting and provide an authentic mechanism where they may observe the direct outcomes of their efforts. Research experiences also require students to search out new knowledge in order to solve and understand the problems they are given. This provides a hands-on approach to learning material, and therefore presents a very powerful mastery experience for students in which they can develop self-efficacy.
This paper presents a qualitative analysis of the experience of student researchers with regard to self-efficacy development. Specifically, we look at a construct of self-efficacy based around student research experiences and their impacts on confidence to work as an engineering professional. A phenomenological methodology guides the selection of participants and the interview process. The participants of this study are undergraduate and graduate engineering students at a Utah State University. To track self-efficacy development, the research team conducted semi-structured interviews with ten engineering students involved in authentic research projects. Interviews were transcribed and coded in order to augment a code map developed and presented by the authors in a previous publication. This paper will discuss the themes and important ideas determined from the coding and analysis process. These themes will be interpreted to identify key self-efficacy constructs in experiential engineering education. Future research projects will look to develop these themes into a preliminary self-efficacy instrument to quantitatively assess self-efficacy development in the context of undergraduate research.
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