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Pugh, Kevin

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This study used a quasi-experimental design to examine the effectiveness of a project-based learning (PjBL) course design on meaningful learning, student goal orientation, engagement, and perceived classroom motivational climate in an introductory psychology course. Project-based learning was examined in comparison to a traditional, lecture and multiple-choice exam course design in introductory psychology over the course of one semester (N = 247). Generally, there is limited research examining PjBL in large introductory classes, specifically in relation to concrete outcomes such as meaningful learning and perceived classroom climate (Gurung et al., 2016). Therefore, the purpose of the study was to add to the limited research that exists and work to encourage the use of alternative designs like PjBL in large introductory courses. I decided to employ a PjBL design in introductory psychology because it is a course that has remained generally unchanged in the last few decades. It typically involves large class sizes, daily lectures, minimal active learning opportunities, and multiple-choice exams once every four weeks. I believe it has become a “classic” as defined by John Dewey (Dewey, 1933). It has become something that people no longer find true wonder or intrigue in and simply recognize it as existing in one way. As an introductory psychology instructor, I quickly realized the affordances of the course and felt the traditionally accepted format was not maximizing these students’ potential benefits. The research that does exist related to PjBL and introductory courses (i.e., Hard et al., 2018) and research that speaks to the power of introductory psychology in general (i.e., Gurung et al., 2016) encouraged me to pursue alternative methods and examine their potential benefits related to valuable academic outcomes such meaningful learning, goal orientation, engagement, and classroom motivational climate. Findings from the current study yielded no statistically significant differences between the PjBL condition and traditional condition regarding meaningful learning, goal orientation, or engagement (measured through transformative experience), suggesting that other motivational and learning outcomes may want to be examined. However, significant differences were found when examining perceived classroom motivational climate. These differences are in line with existing motivational climate research (i.e., Appleton et al., 2016; Dweck & Leggett, 1988) and speak to the potential value of authentic, autonomy-supportive course designs in improving student climate perceptions.


154 pages

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