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.


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!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Suzanne Alcott published on February 4, 2013 3:16 PM.

From Large Company to Start-up by Ellen Chisa '10 was the previous entry in this blog.

On the Road Again with ADE India is the next entry in this blog.

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