Students frequently struggle in first year engineering and cognate classes, posing challenges to timely completion of the degree and potentially contributing to attrition from engineering majors. The goal of our grant (NSF EEC-[Number to be added in final version]) is to examine whether helping students reflect on performance early in the course would improve student outcomes. In particular, we examined counterfactual thoughts, thoughts about “what might have been.” These thoughts contribute to causal reasoning and play an important role in making plans for the future. Additionally, we examined behavioral intentions, specific plans for future actions in the course, which research has also shown improves student outcomes.
After the first exam in a large-enrollment class taken by first-year engineering majors, 290 students were randomly assigned to either generate counterfactuals about what they personally could have done differently that would have resulting in doing better on the exam (vs. describe their actual performance) and to either generate intentions about what they could personally do to improve their performance for the remainder of the semester (vs. describe their expectations for the remainder of the semester). Students also reported their exam grade. At the end of the semester, instructors provided the final course grade.
We examined the effects of the intervention conditions by regressing final grade onto the counterfactual condition, intention condition, and the standardized value of the exam grade and all possible interaction terms. This revealed no significant effect of either intervention condition, nor any significant interaction involving either intervention condition.
Thus, in the current study, neither reflecting on thoughts about how one could have done something different to improve performance nor generating plans to improve in the future improved student outcomes in the course. Ongoing work is examining whether there are specific subgroups of students who benefitted from the intervention, and whether there are additional circumstances under which these interventions might be beneficial.
Dr. Summerville is a senior cognitive scientist at Kairos Research. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Summerville is a social psychologist whose research examines how thoughts of "what might have been" affect emotion, motivation, and behavior. While on the faculty of Miami University, she was the PI of a grant from NSF's EEC division investigating new interventions in engineering education that utilize social cognitive psychology.
Jennifer Blue is an Associate Professor of Physics at Miami University. She works to give more people access to physics. Sometimes thatâ€™s reforming the curriculum for introductory classes, sometimes itâ€™s working with K-12 science teachers, and sometim
Brian Kirkmeyer is the Karen Buchwald Wright Senior Assistant Dean for Student Success and Instructor in the College of Engineering and Computing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His background includes BS, MS and PhD degrees in Materials Science and
Brielle Johnson is a graduate student in the Social Psychology program of the Department of Psychology at Miami University. She earned her B.S. from Grand Valley State University with a double major in Psychology and Sociology. Her research interests include issues related to social class, as well as areas of existential psychology and counterfactual thinking.
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