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Developing Authentic Programming Assignments to Enhance Motivation

Dr Susan Gentry | University of California, Davies

Developing Authentic Programming Assignments to Enhance Motivation

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Programming and computational tools are commonly taught in a materials science curriculum, with student performance varying due to their prior knowledge and motivation. Students' knowledge can be addressed through scaffolding (as discussed at the 2017 NAMES conference), while their motivation has recently been addressed through creating authentic assignments. In an upper-division kinetics course, students complete a set of MATLAB assignments. The first two modules are skill-based, requiring students to demonstrate their knowledge of programming syntax and computational methods. Students then complete a series of technical memos, such as predicting reaction kinetics, simulating diffusion couples, and analyzing three-dimensional microstructures. For each technical assignment, students are given a workplace scenario which requires the use of MATLAB and materials science knowledge to solve the problem. These activities seek to enhance students' learning through increased motivation and utilize methods described in the book How Learning Works by Susan A. Ambrose et al. Motivation can be divided into several subcategories such as students' efficacy expectations ("Can I succeed?") and value ("Will this help me get a job after I graduate?"). When designing a computational module, an instructor can activate multiple aspects of motivation from expectancy-value theory. Effective course design will stimulate students' motivation of programming topics, supporting the learning of all students (not just the best students).