CAREER: Connecting with the Future: Supporting Identity and Career Development in Post-Secondary Science and Engineering

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This project examines the influence of students’ mental representations of their personal futures and their achievement motivation in engineering, mathematics and science courses.

Setting: 

Large State University in the Southwestern United States.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is both longitudinal and cross-sectional, and is designed to generate evidence that is associative/correlational [quasi-experimental], and causal using statistical modeling. I will be comparing students’ reports of their achievement motivation across major and non-major courses. I will be comparing the trajectories of students who enter the university as “science majors,” "non-science majors,” and “uncommitted.”

This project collects original data using school records/policy documents, and survey research [self-completion questionnaire (paper and pencil, and online)]. The Future Time Perspective Scale (FTPS Husman & Shell, 2007). The FTPS was administered to assess three dimensions of future orientation: connectedness, speed, and distance. The three subscales contain both positively and negatively worded items, and participants responded to a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 indicating “strongly disagree” to 5 indicating “strongly agree.” The connectedness subscale consists of 12 items, such as, “What might happen in the long run should not be a big consideration in making decisions now,” and, “I should be taking steps today to realize future goals.” The speed subscale consists of three items such as, “I need to feel rushed before I can get going.” The distance subscale consists of five items such as, “In general, six months seems like a very short period of time,” and “Half a year seems like a long time to me.”

The Future Time Perspective Scale for Engineers (FTPSE; Husman, Lynch, Hilpert, & Duggan, 2007). The FTPSE was also administered. Measured on the same scale as the FTPS, the FTPSE consists of the FTPS connectedness scale reworded to address students’ future engineering career. For example, the FTPS connectedness item, “What might happen in the long run should not be a big consideration in making decisions now,” was changed to read, “What might happen in the long run in my engineering career should not be a big consideration in making decisions now.” The item, “I should be taking steps today to realize future goals,” was changed to, “I should be taking steps today to realize future engineering goals.”

Perceptions of Instrumentality (PI, Husman, Derryberry, Crowson, & Lomax, 2004). The PI scale was administered to determine perceived instrumentality of a particular college course selected by the participant. The scale contains eight positively- and negatively-worded items, and participants responded to a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 indicating “strongly disagree” to 5 indicating “strongly agree.” Two types of items comprise the PI scale. One type of item evaluates the perceived instrumentality of learning from the course, such as, “I will use the information I learn in the class selected above in other classes I will take in the future.” The second type of item measures perceived instrumentality of the grade earned in the class, such as, “The grade I get in the class selected above will not affect my ability to continue on with my education.”

Time Orientation Scale (TOS). The TOS was used to measure students’ tendencies to focus upon past, present, or future events. The 15 items on the TOS include items that represent past orientation (“I often wish I could return to things as they used to be”), present orientation (I try to live one day at a time”), and future orientation (“I am able to resist temptation when there is work to be done”). Students responded on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from “not true” to “very true.”

Student Perceptions of Classroom Knowledge-building (SPOCK). The SPOCK subscales were administered to assess students' perceptions of their own knowledge building and intentional learning behavior (Shell et al., 2005). The subscales were utilized. The first subscale focused on classroom knowledge-building. This 14-item subscale assessed students’ tendencies to make meaning from and construct their own understanding of classroom material. An example of a knowledge-building item is “As I study the topics in this class, I try to think about how they relate to the topics I am studying in other classes.” The second subscale assessed the extent of teacher directedness. An example of one of the nine items from this subscale is, “In this class, I rely on my instructor or classmates to tell me what to do.” The final SPOCK subscale assessed the level of collaborative learning. An example of one of the five items in the subscale is, “In this class, my classmates and I actively work together to complete assignments.” The students responded on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from “almost always” to “almost never.” The items on the SPOCK are classroom-specific, and participants were asked to focus on one class when completing the SPOCK.

Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire; the self-efficacy subscale. The MSLQ is an instrument used to measure motivation and use of learning strategies by college students (Pintrich & Degroot, 1990). The self-efficacy subscale of the MSLQ was used to assess student’s confidence in their ability to learn course material and do well in the course. Student self-efficacy was assessed on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from “not at all true” to “very true of me,” and assessed students’ confidence in their ability to learn course material.

Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Attitudes Scale (PFEAS). (Besterfield-Sacre, Moreno, Shuman, Atman, 2001). The PFEAS attitudinal subscales we readministered to assess students’ attitudes about engineering. Seven factors as identified by the original authors were hypothesized to underlie the attitudinal items we employed: General impressions; Financial Influences; Contributions to Society; Perceptions of Work; Enjoyment of Math and Science; Engineering as Exact Science; and Family influences.

Besterfield-Sacre, M.E., M. Moreno, L.J. Shuman, & Atman, C. J. (2001). Gender and Ethnicity Differences in Freshmen Engineering Student Attitudes: A Cross-Institutional Study. Journal of Engineering Education, 90(4), 477 - 489.

Husman, J., Lynch, C., Hilpert, J., & Duggan, M. A. (2007, June). Validating measures of future time perspective for engineering students: Steps toward improving engineering education. Paper presented at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, HI.

Husman, J., & Shell, D. F. (2008). Beliefs and perceptions about the future: A measurement of future time perspective. Learning and Individual Differences, 18(2), 166-175.

Shell, D. F., Husman, J., Turner, J. E., Cliffel, D. M., Nath, I., & Sweany, N. (2005). The impact of computer supported collaborative learning communities on high school students' knowledge building, strategic learning, and perceptions of the classroom. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 33(3), 327-349.

Husman, J., Derryberry, W. P., Crowson, H. M., & Lomax, R. (2004). Instrumentality, task value, and intrinsic motivation: Making sense of their independent interdependence. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 29, 63-76.

Factor analysis and correlations were used to examine the validity of the scales for use in our specific population. Structural equation modeling has been used to examine the cross-sectional data. The longitudinal and nested data will be examined through the use of multi-level modeling.

Findings: 

The findings for Phase I: testing and refining of measures has been completed and the findings have been presented/published for the community of engineering educators. Briefly, our findings were that the measures of students future time perspective (FTPS, FTPSE, PI) are valid, reliable measures of the constructs they represent. The PFAES, however, required significant revision; we have completed the revisions and the revised survey may be of use to engineering educators.

The focus of Phase II is understanding the associations between students’ beliefs about the future and their motivation, approach to learning, and achievement. This work has been presented at national and international conferences for educational researchers and engineering educators. We have found that students who are focused on their futures are more likely to use active elaborative learning strategies in the classroom. The use of these strategies are also associated with students’ achievement outcomes. Additionally, we have generally found a positive correlation between students’ use of collaboration strategies and their achievement. In engineering courses, however, we have found that students who are excelling (i.e., receiving a grade of “A” in the course) are less likely to collaborate with their peers than students who do less well in the course (i.e., those receiving a grade of “B”), and students who are struggling are the least likely to collaborate with their peers. We expect that this may be related to students’ epistemological beliefs of students in engineering courses and we are testing that hypothesis in this year of the project.

Phase III of the project, the longitudinal analysis, has not yet been presented or published. However, preliminary analyses indicate that retention is predicted by both their future time perspective and their cumulative grade point average. In other words, it seems that students’ belief in the importance of considering the future when making decisions about the present affect whether they continue in engineering.

Publications & Presentations: 

Husman, J., Lynch, C., Hilpert, J., and Duggan, M. A. (2007, June). Validating measures of future time perspective for engineering students: Steps toward improving engineering education. Paper presented at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Honolulu, HI.

Abstract

Over the past few years, researchers have amassed a substantial body of knowledge regarding how students think about their personal futures. They argue if we want to understand why students choose one career path over another, and why they choose to persevere or abandon that path, we must understand how students conceptualize their futures. This study was conducted to validate two measures of human thinking about the future in a sample of 171 engineering students: the Future Time Perspective Scale (FTPS) and the Perceived Instrumentality Scale (PI). The results of this investigation revealed that scores from the FTPS and PI measurement instruments can be used as evidence for reliable and valid interpretation of engineering students’ future time perspective. Factor and item analyses indicated all of the subscales were internally reliable, and evidence of convergent, discriminant, and predictive validity was found through correlational analyses with other established measures of motivation.

Husman, J., Hilpert, J., Lynch, C., Duggan, M. A., Kim, W., & Chung, W. (2007, August). Connecting With the Future: Measuring Future Time Perspective in Science and Engineering Students. Presented at the 2007 Bi-Annual Meeting of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction, Budapest, Hungary.

Abstract

Some of the most important steps students take toward an Engineering career are choosing the right coursework, experiences, and mentors to get them there. To help students choose career paths in Engineering, and persist in the face of inevitable difficulties and disappointments, we need to understand how they conceptualize their futures. The concepts and processes involved in this conceptualization make up a person’s future time perspective (FTP). To facilitate research in science and engineering contexts, valid measures of FTP need to be established. The goal of the study presented here is to present evidence of predictive and convergent validity of a measure of FTP. Eight hundred four undergraduate students, four hundred seventy-seven of which are engineering majors, were surveyed. Preliminary analysis indicates that two measures of FTP, the Future Time Perspective Scale (FTPS) and the Perceptions of Instrumentality Scale (PI) have moderate to strong reliability and construct validity. Additionally, both measures demonstrate the hypothesized relationships with strategy use and self-efficacy.

Husman, J., Lynch, C., Hilpert, J., Duggan, M. A.., Kim, W., & Chung, W. (2007, August). When learning seems (un)important: Future Time Perspective and post-secondary students’ self-regulatory strategy use. Presented at the 2007 Bi-Annual Meeting of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction, Budapest, Hungary.

Abstract

Research on post secondary students’ Future Time Perspective (FTP) has focused on both its dispositional (Shell & Husman, 2001) and situational (Simons, Dewitte, & Lens, 2000) aspects. This correlation study of 276 university students found that a linear combination of students’ situational and dispositional FTP accounted for 24% to 54% of the variance in their reported use of learning strategies. We also provide evidence that when coursework has obvious connection with students’ future goals, the relationship between FTP and use of learning strategies is stronger than when coursework is less instrumental. According to FTP theory students’ perceptions of instrumentality are a product of their dispositional tendency to find connections between the present and the future and the actual utility of an activity (Husman & Lens, 1999). The research discussed here provides some evidence for the proposed interaction between dispositional and situational aspects of FTP.

Husman, J., Hilpert, J., & Stump, G. (2008, March). Supporting identity and career development in post-secondary science and engineering. In B.W. Packard (Chair), Building cross-institution relationships for studying science identity: Perspectives from recent NSF-CAREER awardees, program officers, and scholar mentors. Symposium conducted at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.

Abstract

Some of the most important steps students take toward a Science and Engineering (S & E) career are choosing the right coursework, experiences, and mentors to get them there. Research conducted at Arizona State University (ASU), has yielded a viable model of students’ FTP (Husman, Lynch, Hilpert & Duggan, 2007). During the 2006-2007 academic years, 107 students from an introductory engineering course and 287 students from a series of core mechanical and aerospace engineering courses were surveyed, along with 191 students from a geo-science course for non-majors. Analysis of data from both engineering populations showed that students with high dispositional FTP tended to espouse high endogenous PI for their engineering courses and, in turn, deployed more knowledge building skills. Examination of non-major students taking a geo-science course revealed that students with strong FTP and low endogenous PI were less likely to engage in active learning strategies. In the non-major population, connectedness functioned as a negative predictor of knowledge building. These findings were important steps in understanding the relationship between dispositional FTP and endogenous PI for students in both major and non-major courses in science and engineering. Taken together, they imply that students’ mental representations of their personal futures do influence their approach to learning in a particular class. The class, however, does have an influence. Our preliminary data suggests that students with strong dispositional FTP are more likely to engage in knowledge building study strategies if the content of a course aligns with their personal model of the future.

Stump, G., Hilpert, J., & Husman, J. (2008, March). Freshman students’ waning beliefs about math and science: Do directive instructors and academic success courses help? Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.

Abstract

Freshman students enrolled in an academic skills course at a large public southwestern university were surveyed at the beginning and end of the fall semester about perceptions of their math and science courses. A dependent samples t-test revealed significant decreases in students’ endogenous perceptions of instrumentality, self-efficacy for learning course material, and self-efficacy for obtaining a satisfactory grade during their first semester in college. Additionally, bivariate correlations between computed change statistics revealed statistically significant positive associations between decrease in students’ self-efficacy, knowledge building strategies, and perceptions of teacher directedness, despite their enrollment in an academic skills-building course. Re-evaluation of content and placement of academic success courses within the freshman college student curriculum is considered.

Stump, G., Hilpert, J., Chung, W. T., & Husman, J. (2008, August) Constructivist learning and engineering: Relationship between student collaboration and grades. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Boston, MA.

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of collaboration and self-efficacy on undergraduate engineering students’ achievement. Collaboration, knowledge building behaviors, self-efficacy, and perceptions of teacher directedness were measured, using previously published scales validated within the context of engineering education, in a sample of 150 Mechanical and Aerospace engineering students at a large southwestern university. The results indicated significant positive correlation between collaborative learning and course grade (r = .29) and self-efficacy and course grade (r = .44). The linear combination of collaboration and self-efficacy accounted for 22% of the variance in course grade. Collaborative learning remained a significant predictor of course grade over and above self-efficacy. Our results indicate that students who engage in collaboration with peers achieved at higher levels than those who did not. Opportunities for collaborative learning in engineering education may be beneficial to student’s active learning and academic achievement within a field where students view individual work and competition as the means to success.

Stump, G., Hilpert, J., Chung, W.T., Kim, W., & Husman, J. (2008, August). Females in mechanical and aerospace engineering: Collaboration, self-efficacy, and achievement. Paper presented at the International Conference on Motivation in Turku, Finland.

Abstract

This study examined differences in between male and female engineering students’ perceptions of self-efficacy, achievement, and amount of peer learning or collaboration. Five hundred twenty two students majoring in engineering participated in our study during the fall 2006, spring 2007, and fall 2007 semesters. Of that sample, eighty-seven males were randomly selected to match the number of female participants in order to compare gender differences. Results provided additional evidence for the improved academic status of women in current engineering courses. Although still underrepresented, our findings suggest that women enrolled in engineering courses are not statistically different from their male counterparts in achievement (course grade) or perceptions of their competence (self-efficacy), but that they do report using significantly more peer learning strategies (collaboration) than their male classmates. Additionally, across genders, students who received ‘B’s’ used far more collaboration or peer learning strategies than students who received ‘A’s’ in the course. Although the higher achieving students are less willing than their peers to collaborate, our data does indicate that most students do, to some extent, work with peers, even in a competitive engineering classroom environment.

Chung, W., Stump, G., Hilpert, J., Husman, J., Kim, W, & Lee, J. (2008, October). Addressing engineering educators’ concerns: Collaborative learning and achievement. Proceedings of the Frontiers In Engineering Conference; Saratoga Springs, NY.

Abstract

Recent calls for engineering education reform have included collaborative learning as a means to prepare students for future careers in engineering. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of collaboration and self-efficacy on undergraduate engineering students’ achievement. The results indicated significant positive correlations between collaborative learning and course grade (r = .29) and self-efficacy and course grade (r = .44). The linear combination of collaboration and self-efficacy accounted for 22% of the variance in course grade. Collaborative learning remained a significant predictor of course grade over and above self-efficacy. The results showed that students engaging in collaboration with peers achieved at higher levels than those who did not. In a field where individual work and competition has traditionally been valued, opportunities for collaboration may be beneficial to students’ academic achievement.

Hilpert, J., Stump, G., Husman, J., & Kim, W. (2008, October). An exploratory factor analysis of the Pittsburgh freshman engineering attitudes survey. Proceedings of the Frontiers in Engineering Conference, Saratoga Springs, NY.

Abstract

The Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Attitudes Survey (PFEAS) has become an important tool in engineering education for measuring students’ attitudes about engineering and their confidence in their abilities to achieve in the engineering classroom. Although different versions of the scale have been developed for students at different points in their educational careers, 28 of the items are equable across the various forms of the survey. The authors administered these items to a large sample (N = 372) of engineering majors at a large public university in the southwest. Item and factor analysis of the items revealed problems with the structural validity of the scale, and items and factors were removed based on theoretical and empirical justification. The remaining items produced a structurally valid three-factor solution. The authors found these factors were significantly correlated with student study strategies.

Lee, J., Stump, G., Hilpert, J., & Husman, J. (2009, April). Perception of instrumentality for required courses in an engineering curriculum: What difference does it make? Poster accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Abstract

This study examines differences in engineering students’ endogenous and exogenous instrumentality for two required courses within the engineering curriculum. The results indicated that engineering students have higher endogenous instrumentality than exogenous instrumentality for required engineering and math studies, and that they have higher endogenous and exogenous instrumentality for their math courses than their engineering courses. Additionally, endogenous PI was significantly predictive of students’ engagement in knowledge building behaviors to learn course content, while exogenous PI was not. Fostering engineering students’ perceptions of instrumentality for their coursework may be key to their strategic self-regulation for learning course material.

Stump, G., Hilpert, J., Husman, J., & Chung, W.T. (2009, April). Constructivist learning outcomes for students in engineering and non-major science courses. Poster accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Abstract

This study examined the effects of collaboration and gender on students’ course grade. Study participants were engineering students and students enrolled in a non-major science course. A 2x2 ANOVA revealed gender effects on collaboration within engineering major courses; further examination using a 2x3 ANOVA revealed gender effects on collaboration for engineering students who received As in the course. Multiple regression analysis showed that collaboration and self-efficacy were significant predictors of course grade for the combined sample; however, when the sample was divided by course type and gender, collaboration was a significant predictor of course grade for males only in the non-science major course.