Motivating factors in problem-based learning: A student perspective on the role of the facilitator

Holly M. Matusovich, Brett D. Jones, Marie C. Paretti, Jacob Preston Moore, Deirdre Annaliese Nicole Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Problem-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogical approach that has been identified as promoting learning outcomes consistent with ABET criteria. Although the learning benefits of PBL have been well documented, little is known about the effects of PBL on students' motivation and engagement in learning. As problem-based approaches are becoming more widespread in use across engineering programs and curricula, it is particularly important to understand the impact that such approaches have on students' motivation. As part of a larger mixed methods study, this paper focuses on the critical element of team facilitation. Specifically, we examine how students perceive the role of facilitators and how these perceptions influence student motivation. Grounded in the MUSIC Model of Academic Motivation, we present findings from interviews conducted with first-year engineering students at two different research sites. State U1 participants are engaged in a well-established PBL-based course. State U2 participants are engaged in a course that uses a project-based approach to integrate design projects into the class (termed traditional engineering design, or TED, for this study). We conducted semi-structured interviews with eleven men and eight women from State U1 and three men and eleven women from State U2 at the end of their first year. Audio recordings were transcribed and then analyzed using MAXQDA coding software. We developed codes inductively through the data and based on relevant literature. Our findings demonstrated that participants at both sites viewed the facilitator (PBL) or workshop leader (TED) as the grading authority, although it was most salient for the TED participants from State U2 and for participants in only one of the six PBL groups at State U1. For most participants at State U1, however, the more dominant function of the facilitator was modeling the engineering problem solving process. These State U1 participants also expressed feelings of empowerment and were motivated to put more effort into their coursework through the engagement of faculty in the learning process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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