17, 2020) … As universities continue to adapt to the evolving situation
surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, researchers from the University of
Pittsburgh want to understand how the ever-changing learning environment
affects student motivation, stress, and valued experiences.
Two Swanson School of Engineering faculty, Renee Clark and
Samuel Dickerson, received an award from the National Science Foundation to
lead a longitudinal study to determine the degree to which undergraduate
engineering students are academically motivated several semesters after the
start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team believes that the new safety measures implemented
on campus may affect “valued college experiences” that increase motivation and
help students maintain a work-life balance. They will survey which university
experiences students value most and examine how the pandemic has impacted those
experiences. They will also study students’ perceived motivation and stress
levels using validated instruments in the semesters following the COVID-19
rules and restrictions.
Besterfield-Sacre, the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Industrial Engineering and
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, initiated this study at the start of the
COVID crisis with a team of undergraduate students and continues to provide
necessary direction and mentoring to Dickerson and Clark and they design and
administer the study together.
“The scope of this project is only step one,” said
Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt.
“We suspect that students are less motivated, but with this study, we can figure
out what contributed to this and determine how to mitigate it in case we need
to transition to a fully virtual experience again.”
Conversely, the group also wants to know if some students
prefer the self-paced, flexible nature of remote learning.
They have created an online assessment tool with the help of
Pitt undergraduate students. Participants will be able to choose up to five
“valued college experiences” and then rate the degree to which COVID-19 has
impacted those experiences.
“College in and
of itself is stressful, but I generally find what is offered on and
around campus to really complete the college experience and give me the time to
enjoy myself while on campus,” said Alexander Cohen, a junior history major at
Pitt who is contributing to the project.
“I believe that incorporating the undergraduate viewpoint on this project helps
us consider what experiences are valued the most and keep us in a healthy frame
of mind, both mentally and
emotionally,” he continued.
They will use the MUSIC Model of Motivation by Brett Jones,
professor of educational psychology at Virginia Tech, and his colleagues to
formally measure academic motivation. They will similarly assess stress with the
Perceived Stress Scale, a well-known, established instrument by Sheldon Cohen, Robert
E. Doherty Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, and his colleagues.
“This instrument measures students’ perceived stress and
also will provide us with baseline data from college students who were
previously studied,” said Clark, assistant professor of industrial engineering.
“We can use these data to determine where our students’ stress level is in
comparison and try to figure out the top stressors.”
Given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, Clark and
Dickerson have created a flexible study that can adapt to the changing
structure of higher education.
“It’s more than just a
survey,” said Dickerson. “We are collecting real data that we hope will reveal
ways to improve the college experience and motivation and decrease stress for
students who, unfortunately, found themselves in this unprecedented situation.”
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Contact: Leah Russell