Foundational courses are crucial first-year technically oriented courses that are required for engineering degree completion, but are typically taught outside of students’ engineering degree major. Students must be exposed to these initial science and mathematics courses to have a proper foundation for subsequent engineering courses. However, foundational courses appear to be incongruent with students’ paths in engineering; research demonstrates that students are more likely to leave engineering in their first and second years, years were they are primarily engaged in these foundational courses. Studies have emerged that demonstrate that engineering students demonstrate little motivation to learn and be successful when taking foundational courses. If students are not motivated to learn, their performance may be lacking and prevent them from moving on in their engineering coursework, or discourage them from pursuing engineering altogether.
In this study we sought to understand students’ motivational beliefs in a freshman level biology course. We framed our work using future time perspective (FTP), course belongingness, and interest. Future time perspective pertains to a set of psychological constructs that allow us to understand (1) how engineering students see the present task as instrumental for their future as engineers – perceived instrumentality (PI), and (2) how engineering students connect the present activities with their future engineering goals – career connectedness (CC). Course belongingness (CB) describes how well a student feels that they belong to a certain course. Interest (I) reflects a student’s interest for a particular course. Engineering students enrolled in a freshman biology course (n=124) were given a survey instrument containing items for PI, CC, course belongingness associated with biology (CB-B) and engineering (CB-E), and I at the completion of their course. Correlations were run to assess any relationships between the different variables (PI, CC, CB-B, CB-E, and I). Strong and positive correlations were found between PI and CB-B (r = 0.57, p < 0.05), PI and I (r = 0.69, p < 0.05), and CC and CB-E (r = 0.70, p < 0.01).
PI were positively and strongly related to I and CB-B, indicating that students that perceived this foundational biology course as instrumental for their future, were interested in the content and felt that they belonged there. CC and CB-E were positively and strongly associated, demonstrating that students who were strongly connected to their engineering careers felt that they belonged in engineering. However, the lack of association between CC, CB-E and PI showed that engineering students that want to be engineers found little instrumentality in the course. PI is an important variable for good strategy use and performance in courses. Traditionally CC and PI are highly related, but in the context of a foundational non-major course, students lack the association between PI and CC, leading to possible problems with student learning and course performance. Additional research is needed to understand what the implications of the lack of association between PI and CC and CB-E are for foundational courses, and more so, how engineering educators can helps students better connect PI, CC, and CB-E to encourage student success.
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