Pugh, Kevin J.

Committee Member

McDevitt, Teresa M.

Committee Member

Phillips, Michael M.


Educational Psychology


University of Northern Colorado

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Place of Publication

Greeley (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created





187 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


In the instructional strategy of problem-based learning (PBL), teachers pose students with real-world problems, and students make meaning of the content in the process of solving the problem. There has been considerable research confirming the effectiveness of PBL at fostering deep-level learning, but questions remain about how motivational factors may influence learning and engagement in a PBL context. I explored how elementary and secondary pre-service teachers experienced a PBL unit within the context of an undergraduate educational psychology course. I was interested in what factors might predict students’ learning and engagement within the same PBL unit. The factors I chose to explore in my dissertation research were achievement goal orientations and need for closure. Within the context of this investigation, I found it important to also investigate issues of debate in achievement goal theory, namely what goal constructs should be used and at what level of measurement. My first two research questions focused on investigating the factors describing course-level and project-level goals and if students’ course-level goals differ from their project-level goals. My next two research questions focused on investigating whether course-level, project-level goals, and need for closure predicted learning and engagement, controlling for prior experience. My final three research questions focused on describing the students’ experience with the PBL unit, how students explained their goals for the PBL unit, and how a student’s group impacted his or her experience with the PBL unit. To answer my research questions, I chose to utilize a sequential explanatory mixed methods design, by collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. Participants completed a course-level goal measure and a need for closure measure at the beginning of the semester in which they were enrolled. Two days into the PBL unit, participants completed a project-level goal measure. I then ran descriptive statistics on these variables with the purpose of choosing participants to interview based on their goal and need for closure scores. After the completion of the PBL unit, students took a learning assessment (measuring recognition learning and transfer), a transformative experience measure, and a project interest measure, and I interviewed the participants previously chosen. Factor analyses on the goal items suggested a three-factor solution of achievement goals comprised of mastery, outcome, and validation (ability + normative goals) best fit the course-level and project-level goal items. After analyzing the data, I found that course-level goals did differ from project-level goals. Also, participants’ score on the course-level mastery goals predicted transformative experience and transfer, suggesting students who held higher levels of mastery goals for the course were more likely to apply the information they learned outside of the confines of the course. In addition, project-level mastery goals also predicted transformative experience and project interest. The qualitative findings from the interviews suggested that students overall enjoyed the PBL unit, tended to report mastery and outcome goals more than other types, and were impacted (both positively and negatively) by the group element of the project. These results work to further inform the literature on how level of measurement of goals matters and indicate that some motivational characteristics (such as holding mastery goals) may influence learning and engagement within a PBL unit.

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