First-year engineering students’ experiences with a course of ethics and history of technology

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Several course aspects can affect students’ motivation and engagement with it. This study focuses on an 11-week course on ethics and history of technology (USE Base course), taught to 2000+ first-year engineering students. Previous evaluations of the USE Base course showed that students of Informatics and Applied Mathematics (INF/AM) and Biomedical Technology (BMT) reported low motivation and satisfaction with it. Our aim was to understand better the reasons behind students’ low motivation with the course and to implement educational changes to make it more relevant and interesting for them.
Our research questions were:
RQ1: Which aspects of the USE Base course do students of Informatics, Applied Mathematics (INF/AM) and Biomedical Technology (BMT) consider interesting?
RQ2: Are there differences in students’ deep learning and motivation with the course, compared to 2017?
For the design our study, we used theories related to deep learning (Marton and Saljo, 1976), learning environment (Dochy et al., 2005) and Self-Determination Theory of motivation (Ryan and Deci, 2000). To answer the research questions, we used a mixed-method approach focusing on the two target groups of INF/AM and BMT.
To answer the RQ1, we performed focus-group discussions with second-year students, who had already attended the course in 2017. In addition, we invited first-year students before the beginning of the new course to provide us with feedback about the new study material. During the course, we conducted observations and held focus group discussions after the end of the course.
To answer RQ2, validated questionnaires on deep learning, learning environment and motivation were electronically administered to students after the history part, after ethics part and after the final exam. Their answers were compared to the students’ answers in 2017.
The qualitative study revealed a link between students’ professional identity and the perceived relevance of the USE Base course. Students who saw ethics and knowledge of history as part of their professional identity as engineers, were more engaged and motivated during the course.
An important factors affecting students’ motivation and deep learning was the perceived differences in educational approaches, (e.g. on how feedback was given, multidisciplinary groups) and the study material (e.g. long reading texts), between the USE Base course and the courses of their own departments. In terms of educational content, for all students’ clarity in the course assignment and organization of the study material was considered important. That was especially true for INF students, who needed much more structure on how the material was organized and presented.
The quantitative results showed a significant increase in INF/TW students’ overall evaluation of the course, compared to the students in 2017; while the difference for students of BMT was not significant. More results of the quantitative study will be discussed.
The preliminary conclusions indicate that the interest of INF/TW and BMT students for the USE Base course is influenced by their way of looking at reality and their own professional identity. It also highlights the difficulties of general courses offered to students from different departments to establish a common ground in terms of educational approaches and be relevant for all of them. This study also discusses educational approaches to facilitate students’ motivation and deep learning.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2019
Event126th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, ASEE 2019: Charged Up for the Next 125 Years - Tampa Convention Center, Tampa, United States
Duration: 15 Jun 201919 Jun 2019
Conference number: 126


Conference126th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, ASEE 2019
Abbreviated titleASEE
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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