Exploring Learning Motivation in Engineering Writing Coursework

Exploring Learning Motivation in Engineering Writing Coursework

While educators and employers agree that today’s engineer needs to write well, they are often concerned that undergraduate students might not be on the same page. A common perception inside and outside the engineering community is that our students are unmotivated in their writing classrooms and unmotivated to write in general. This perception has a pronounced effect on the design of engineering writing education, as well as how writing is presented to students. Despite its influence on the curriculum, the writing and learning motivation of today’s engineering students has not been explored by research. 

With this study, we seek to uncover the many writing and learning motivations of today’s diverse engineering student body. We intend for this work to act as an evidence-based springboard for innovative educators, so they may use it as a basis to design classes that better align students’ motivation toward successful writing and growth. 

The results of this project to date have challenged many long-held beliefs about engineers as writers. We have found that today’s engineering student body contains as many adept, eager writers as it does reluctant writers; and most students are comparably highly motivated at the start of their writing classes as they are in their nonwriting engineering classes. However, students who are strong writers often become demotivated by coursework that isn’t challenging, and students struggle with the different assessment, accomplishment, and reward structures between classes with graded writing and classes with problem sets. Upcoming work on this project discusses the role of students’ confidence and anxiety for writing and writing coursework, and how this relates to student motivation to learn and improve in engineering writing courses. 

This project is supported by NSF IUSE 1431503 and 1744337. All publications relating to this project include takeaways and suggestions for instructors. 

CEE research 2


By: Stephanie Pulford, Ph.D., Kavi Tan, Amanda Model, Michael Gonzalez