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Asking the Right Questions: A Tool for Examining Student Motivation and Engagement in Hybrid Courses

Virginia M. Pitts (University of Denver, USA)
Additional Authors
Daniel Melluzzo (University of Denver, USA)
Session Information
July 9, 2014 - 10:10am
Teaching & Learning Effectiveness
Areas of Special Interest: 
Blended Course
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research and Evaluation
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Plaza Ballroom F
Session Duration: 
50 Minutes
Information Session 5
Virtual Session
Best in Track

Our paper presents the design of a theoretical framework and survey instrument for examining the nature of student motivation and engagement in hybrid courses.

Extended Abstract

In this presentation, we will describe our design of a theoretical framework and survey instrument to examine student motivation and engagement in hybrid courses. Persons who are looking for ways to evaluate the success of their hybrid courses or programs, or who are interested in the role motivation plays in determining how students engage with such courses, will benefit from attending this presentation. Participants will (a) consider specific ways in which the hybrid approach can, in theory, improve learning and engagement and the role student motivation might play in that, (b) gain familiarity with a framework/survey that examines student motivation and engagement in hybrid and non-hybrid courses, (c) discuss strengths and weaknesses of this particular survey approach when it comes to building our understanding as a field of student motivation, engagement, and learning in hybrid courses, and (d) consider how such a framework/survey might support faculty development efforts and hybrid course design.

The survey instrument we will present was developed as part of the Renew DU Hybrid Initiative, a two-year project in which the University of Denver's Office of Teaching and Learning is partnering with teams of faculty members to pilot the hybrid approach in large-enrollment foundational courses. The purpose of the pilot is to assess the effectiveness of the hybrid approach in promoting student learning and engagement at DU, and gather data to inform the design of our overall hybrid strategy as well as the design and delivery of our hybrid courses moving forward.

The instrument we developed is intended to help us answer the questions: "How does the nature of student engagement vary between hybrid and non-hybrid courses?" and "What is the relationship between student motivation and engagement/participation in hybrid courses?"

The hypotheses that shaped the development of this instrument are:

1) Hybrid courses improve student learning and engagement through (a) individualizing the student experience, (b) promoting active in-class participation, and (c) enhancing student-student and student-faculty interaction.

2) Hybrid courses help students develop skills in independent, self-directed learning.

3) The nature of students' motivation mediates their engagement/participation in hybrid courses, as well as the extent to which students take responsibility for their own learning.

The first two hypotheses shaped the design of the pilot initiative. Designing and delivering hybrid courses that make the most of these "opportunities of the hybrid approach" (that is, the opportunities to individualize instruction, engage students more actively in class, enhance student-student and student-faculty interaction, and promote self-directed learning) was the focus of a 5-week workshop, designed and facilitated by DU's Office of Teaching and Learning , in which all faculty who were part of the Renew DU Hybrid initiative participated.

We developed the third hypothesis once the initiative was underway. Preliminary data, gathered through informal open-ended surveys and conversations with students and instructors, indicated that while student responses to the hybrid approach were generally positive, not all students responded to hybrid courses in the ways we had hoped. In particular, while there was some indication that students were taking advantage of the opportunities for individualization, active participation, enhanced interaction, and self-directed learning that these courses provided, other students seemed reluctant to invest the additional effort these hybrid courses required, or resented the fact that they were having to, as they put it, "teach themselves". Our hunch was that differences in students' motivation accounted, at least in part, for these apparent differences in their engagement/participation.

Given these hypotheses, we developed a survey instrument to examine student motivation and engagement in hybrid courses and compare patterns of motivation and engagement in hybrid courses to those in non-hybrid courses. In particular, we designed this instrument to help us examine the relationships between students':

• Perceptions of opportunities for individualization/choice, active in-class participation, and quality student-student and student-instructor communication/interaction (aspects of the student experience the hybrid approach is particularly suited to promote and that, in theory, contribute to increased student motivation, engagement, and learning)

• Perceptions of the value of what they are learning and their sense of self-efficacy. According to Eccles' Expectancy Value Theory (Eccles, 1983), these dimensions of motivation determine students' choices/behaviors in academic environments; we hypothesize they influence the nature of student engagement in hybrid courses.

• Use of active learning strategies (as a measure of behavioral engagement), sense of responsibility for learning, perception that participation in the course has contributed to their learning, and overall satisfaction with the course (outcomes we hypothesize are influenced by the hybrid approach).

The survey consists of 31 Likert-scale questions and two open-ended questions. These questions are drawn in part from the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (Pintrich et. al., 1991) and the Students' Motivation Towards Science Learning questionnaire (Tuan et. al, 2005).

Potential strengths of this survey approach are that:

• Rather than simply comparing hybrid to "non-hybrid" conditions, it allows us to focus in on the specific aspects of the hybrid learning environment that, in theory, contribute to improved student learning and engagement (e.g., individualization, active in-class participation, enhanced student-student and student-instructor interaction)
• It acknowledges student motivation as a potential mediating variable
• It assesses those aspects of engagement that the hybrid approach may particularly promote and that, in theory, may lead to learning gains, including behavioral engagement and student responsibility for learning.

This winter/spring, we will be piloting this survey with students in 16 hybrid sections that are part of the initiative, as well as students in non-hybrid, large-enrollment foundational courses similar in subject to those that are part of the pilot. We hope to be able to validate the survey though this first round of data collection.

In our presentation, we will describe how we developed the instrument and share the instrument itself (provided as a handout). We also hope to present the results of our preliminary data analysis. At several points through this presentation, we will invite small and whole-group discussion regarding potential strengths and weaknesses of this framework/approach (in terms of what it focuses on and what it misses) and the ways in which this framework/approach might be incorporated into research, professional development, and course design.

Lead Presenter

Throughout her career, Dr. Pitts has focused on learning, motivation, and design. She received a degree in Industrial Engineering in 1988, followed by an 11-year stint as a business process and change management consultant. She then completed her PhD at Northwestern University in Learning Sciences (which focused on applying research in learning and motivation to the design of innovative, research-based learning environments); her dissertation research was on student motivation and engagement in project-based science curricula. After that, she spent four years as a professional development consultant with National Geographic Education Programs and an adjunct faculty member at Regis University and CU-Denver (in their masters of education programs). She is now the Associate Director with the Office of Teaching and Learning at DU, where her primary focus is supporting faculty in the design, development, and delivery of hybrid courses.