Characterising the learning dispositions of first year engineering students

School of Engineering , Macquarie University
Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education, 2017, pp. 170 - 179
Issue Date:
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The increased adoption of blended learning designs such as flipped instruction by STEM academics has brought learning benefits for many students; however, it relies heavily on students being able to take much more responsibility for their own learning than in traditional lecture-based subjects (Reidsema et al 2017). Previous studies (Willey & Gardner 2015, 2014a, 2014b, Gardner et al. 2014, Willey et al. 2014) of students in two different engineering majors at the University of Technology Sydney have shown that students who perform poorly in flipped learning environments typically do not demonstrate the agency and self-efficacy necessary to take responsibility for their own learning and hence have difficulty achieving the cognitive changes expressed as learning outcomes in subjects. Poor self-efficacy, that is a competence belief about one’s capability to execute a particular action and achieve a particular goal, has been linked to attrition in previous research: Many different factors underpin attrition decisions in any one institution and for any one individual, for whom attrition usually results from the aggregation of diverse factors rather than 'the straw that broke the camel's back'. The only attrition triggers which span most universities and years of study are lack of clear reasons for being at university or academic self-efficacy (Willcoxson et al 2011)[6]. Crick and Goldspink (2014) refer to the link between learning dispositions, agency and identity and how students’ thinking about these concepts, such as self-efficacy, frames their future learning trajectories. While university programmes generally address knowledge generation, Crick et al (2015) argue that forming a learning identity is also “pedagogically significant”. The research of Thomas (2013) reports that ...students often experience stress, uncertainty and use ineffective learning strategies when they are not supported to understand how to direct their own learning... findings suggest that learners can demonstrate increases to cognitive and metacognitive functioning, as well as self-efficacy through engagement with a program to support self-regulated learning... However, Thomas (2013) also found that there are “significant challenges to encouraging all students to engage with such a program”. Buckingham Shum and Crick (2012) point out that the development of self-regulation and self-efficacy impacts not just student performance at university but also their performance in the workplace: Theoretical and empirical evidence in the learning sciences substantiates the view that deep engagement in learning is a function of a complex combination of learners’ identities, dispositions, values, attitudes and skills. When these are fragile, learners struggle to achieve their potential in conventional assessments, and critically, are not prepared for the novelty and complexity of the challenges they will meet in the workplace, and the many other spheres of life which require personal qualities such as resilience, critical thinking and collaboration skills.
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