The effects of topic choice in project-based instruction on undergraduate physical science students' interest, ownership, and motivation
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Motivating nonscience majors in science and mathematics studies became one of the most interesting and important challenges in contemporary science and mathematics education. Therefore, designing and studying a learning environment, which enhances students' motivation, is an important task. This experimental study sought to explore the implications of student autonomy in topic choice in a project-based Physical Science Course for nonscience majors' on students' motivational orientation. It also suggested and tested a model explaining motivational outcomes of project-based learning environment through increased student ownership of science projects. A project, How Things Work, was designed and implemented in this study. The focus of the project was application of physical science concepts learned in the classroom to everyday life situations. Participants of the study (N=59) were students enrolled in three selected sections of a Physical Science Course, designed to fulfill science requirements for nonscience majors. These sections were taught by the same instructor over a period of an entire 16-week semester at a large public research university. The study focused on four main variables: student autonomy in choosing a project topic, their motivational orientation, student ownership of the project, and the interest in the project topic. Achievement Goal Orientation theory became the theoretical framework for the study. Student motivational orientation, defined as mastery or performance goal orientation, was measured by an Achievement Goal Orientation Questionnaire. Student ownership was measured using an original instrument, Ownership Measurement Questionnaire, designed and tested by the researchers. Repeated measures yoked design, ANOVA, ANCOVA, and multivariate regression analysis were implemented in the study. Qualitative analysis was used to complement and verify quantitative results. It has been found that student autonomy in the project choice did not make a significant impact on their motivational orientation, while their initial interest in the project topic did. The latter was found to be related to students' ownership of the project, which was found to lead to improved mastery goal orientation. These findings indicate that incorporating project-based learning in science teaching may lead to increased student mastery goal orientation, and may result in improved science learning.