PERbites

Students Perception of Peer and Professor Mindset Impacts Attitudes In Engineering Classes

Title: Who Is Part of the “Mindset Context”? The Unique Roles of Perceived Professor and Peer Mindsets in Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Motivation and Belonging

Authors: Katherine Muenks, Veronica X. Yan, and Nina K. Telang

First author’s institution: University of Texas at Austin

Journal: Frontiers in Education 6:639338 (2021)

            In educational research, students’ mindsets are often explored as a predictor for their performance in challenging classes. Mindset is broken down into two categories: growth and fixed. Students holding a growth mindset tend to view effort and failure as a path to improvement whereas those holding a fixed mindset tend to view needing to exert effort or experiencing failure as a sign they are less intelligent than those to whom material comes (or seems to come) easily.

            Recently, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin studied whether not only students’ own mindsets, but also those of their peers and professors, impacted their education. They studied 304 students in an electrical and computer engineering program. These students were given a questionnaire that asked about their feelings of interest, self-efficacy, and interest in their engineering classes. The students also completed questions asking about their mindset as well as what they felt the mindset of their professors and peers were.

            The researchers analyzed the data using a statistical method called hierarchal linear regression. In this method groups of characteristics are sorted into boxes and a test for statistical significance is performed on each box to test whether those characteristics impact the outcome above and beyond the characteristics in the previous boxes. For this study controlled categories included gender, SAT score, and the semester students took the class were in box 1, personal mindset was in box 2, the perceived mindset of faculty was in box 3, and box 4 looked at the effect of the perceived mindset of students peers.

            To analyze the results, researchers first looked at how students thought their peers viewed effort and failure. This revealed that, on average, the engineering students thought their peers had much more of a fixed mindset and corresponding more negative views on failure and effort than did faculty. Next, researchers looked at how these beliefs impacted performance. They found that only box 2, measuring factors associated with students’ own mindsets, helped explained student self-efficacy (how successfully they felt they could be in their classes) and the degree to which students were motivated to avoid looking foolish.

            Student’s perceptions of their peers and professors’ mindset had a larger impact in other areas. Students who felt they had more growth-mindset professors felt their engineering classes were more useful and important, than those who felt they had more fixed-mindset professors. Additionally, students who thought their peers had a growth-mindset felt more motivated to master the material in their classes (mastery goals) and found them more interesting (intrinsic value). Both believing professors and peers had growth mindsets as well as a personal growth mindset helped students feel an increased sense of belonging (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Change in R2 for self-efficacy, utility value (how useful the class is perceived), attainment value (how important it is), intrinsic value (how interesting it is), mastery goals (how much students want to master the material), performance approach goals (how much students want a high grade), performance avoidance goal (how much students want to avoid a poor grade or looking foolish), and sense of belonging based on students own mindset and the perceived mindsets of others. Higher changes in R2 represent more of the differences in student answers being explained by that factor. Factors where a p value <0.05 is obtained are outlined in orange.

            The survey also had students choose if they would prefer to take an easy professor who gave good grades but whose students learned less or a more demanding one who tended to give lower grades but higher levels of student learning. An additional question was asked about whether students would choose a harder but more educational assignment or an easier one from which they would learn less. For these questions, student’s own mindsets impacted their choice as did the perceived mindset of their peers for the assignment question (Figure 2). Students were more likely to choose the harder option if they had a growth mindset or, for the assignment, if they perceived their peers did.


Figure 2: Change in R2 for whether students would choose a more challenging but more educational instructor or assignment over an easier but less educational one. Higher changes in R2 represent more of the differences in student answers being explained by that factor. Factors where a p value <0.05 is obtained are outlined in orange. Students were more likely to choose the harder option if they had a growth mindset or, for the assignment, if they perceived their peers did.

            . The results do suggest that students’ motivation, sense of belonging and competence in their classes is influenced by not only their own mindset but also how they think their teachers and peers feel about effort and failure. The authors note that these results are specific to a rather demographically non-diverse set of engineering students. The impacts of peer and faculty perceived mindset may vary with different groups of students or students studying a different major. The authors suggest the future interventions to improve student performance should not only focus on changing students’ own mindset, but in creating an environment where students perceive their faculty and peers to embrace struggle and growth in their learning.

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