What Motivates Olin Students? By Emily Mamula and Janie Harari '15

Life at Olin is enhanced by our small size and the
experiences available to us as a result. One of the more exciting opportunities
we have here is to do research, allowing for hands-on work in an area we're
passionate about, and working closely with a professor who really knows that
field.

 

As part of my blogging this semester, I wanted to highlight
some of these students and their projects and show how they are preparing them
for the future. The first student who spoke to us is Janie Harari of 2015, who
you met a few months ago when we heard about her
great summer bike trip
.

Janie.png

Hi! My name is Janie Harari, and I'm a sophomore here at
Olin.  I'm one of the many students involved
in research, but unlike many of the other projects, the work that I'm doing
involves a lot of social science.  The
past year, I have been working with Professor Jon
Stolk
to analyze why and how engineering students are motivated.

 

How did you get
involved with research at Olin?

 

I had done a lot of social science research in high school,
and I knew that I really wanted to continue that in college.  So when I was talking to Boris (a senior here
at Olin), and he mentioned this research project, I was extremely
interested. 

 

Jon had been giving out surveys to many of the classes that
he teaches here at Olin, and organizing with professors at other institutions
to do the same.  He had all the data, and
he left it up to me to choose what exactly I wanted to play with.  I chose to focus on regression analysis in
the statistics program SPSS, because I was familiar with this and wanted to
learn more.

 

What is your project?

 

A regression analysis is a way of building a model that predicts
a specific outcome.  It's essentially a
correlation with several dependent variables. 
In specific, I was looking at how different types of motivations, such
as internal motivation, external motivation, value of a task, and belief in your
abilities, could predict higher level cognitive outcomes, such as critical
thinking.

 

This is extremely applicable, since to some extent, teachers
can control the ways students are motivated. 
If they emphasize grades, students will be more extrinsically motivated,
and if they emphasize open-ended projects, students tend to be more
intrinsically motivated.  By analyzing
what types of motivation play a role in specific cognitive outcomes, teachers
will be able to teach in a way that effectively targets these.

 

What advantages do
you think being at Olin has given you in regards to doing this research?

 

Our research group meets every week, and since it is at
Olin, it's a small group, and we have plenty of time to entertain everyone's
ideas.   The group feels like a family,
and everyone in it is really passionate about the topic, which makes for some
interesting discussions.  It's great to
hear other people talk about what section of the project they're focusing
on.  I know that I've been inspired to do
some qualitative research on what students are saying about classes after
hearing about some of the interesting quotes our team was bringing back.

 

What have you learned
so far?

 

I've learned a lot about the way classes are taught and the
pros and cons of students having different types of motivation.  Higher
level cognitive outcomes, such as critical thinking, can be accurately
predicted using regression analyses, indicating that these variables are
extremely intertwined.

 

It's also interesting to see how my own motivations for
learning change in different classroom settings at Olin.  I am
participating in another one of Jon's studies, and it provides me a place to
reflect on how I'm taught and what I've learned.  I have become much more
eager to get involved with providing input on the way Olin courses are taught
and help professors make them better.

 

 

How do you hope to
use what you're learning?

 

This research doesn't really fit in with my mechanical
engineering major, and I'm not planning on going into teaching.  So why do I do it?  I do it because I feel like it's an extremely
important area that everyone at Olin can relate to, whether they're a student
or a teacher.  And amid all the engineering
credits, it's nice to take a step back and ask how and why we are learning all
that we are.  Soon we'll get our findings
out, and we're hoping to get a journal paper published sometime soon as well!

Posted in: Fun @ Olin, Research