Instructor expectations in a project-based undergraduate mechanical engineering classroom

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Jones, Theresa Louise

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This study was inspired by my observations of the frustrations some students experienced in an undergraduate engineering course that used student-centered projects. This study first explored how the instructor conveyed his expectations of student learning behaviors, then how students perceived these behaviors, what learning behaviors the students engaged in, and finally, why the students engaged in those behaviors. The study lasted one semester and was predominantly qualitative using interviews with the instructor and four students in the course. These interviews were transcribed, summarized and then edited into individual narratives. Three surveys were also given to the entire class throughout the semester. The results suggested that students are open to understanding new or nontraditional instructor expectations. However, understanding these new expectations did not guarantee that students would then engage in the associated learning behaviors. Understanding why students may not choose to engage in the learning behaviors that will satisfy their instructor’s expectations was the most intriguing area for future research suggested by this study. The data gathered from the students suggested that personal achievement goals and motivational factors may be linked to the learning behaviors students choose. Future research into the interactions of achievement goals, motivation, and choices of learning behaviors in the engineering classroom is encouraged.