Defining and determining the impact of a freshman engineering student's approach to learning (surface versus deep)
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When an engineering student attends four or five years of college to become a professional engineer one makes the assumption that they approach this learning process in such a way to gain the most knowledge possible. The purpose of this study is to measure the learning approach (deep versus surface) of first-year engineering students, test the impact of two interventions (journaling and learning strategy awareness) on increasing the deep approach to learning, and determine the relationship of the approach to learning on retention within an engineering program. The study was conducted using a quantitative self-reporting instrument to measure surface and deep learning at the beginning and end of the first and second semesters of the freshman year in an engineering program. Retention was measured as the continuous enrollment of a student in the second semester of the first-year engineering program. Results indicate that the first-year engineering students have a slightly higher level of the deep approach to learning than a surface approach to learning when they begin college. However, the results also indicate that the deep approach to learning decreased during the first semester and during the second semester of their freshman year. A student's approach to learning can be impacted by their prior knowledge, the teaching context, the institutional context or the motivation of the student. Results surrounding the learning strategies intervention also indicate that the first-year engineering students do not possess the strong learning strategies that are anticipated from students accepted into an engineering program with stringent application requirements. Finally, results indicate that a deep approach to learning appears to have a positive relationship and a surface approach to learning appears to have a negative relationship to retention in an engineering program. This study illustrates that incorporating learning theory and the use of current learning strategy measurements contributes to the understanding of a freshman engineering student's approach to learning. The understanding of the engineering student's approach to learning benefits faculty in establishing curriculum and pedagogical design. The benefit to the student is in understanding more about themselves as a learner.
Fowler, Debra Anne (2003). Defining and determining the impact of a freshman engineering student's approach to learning (surface versus deep). Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from