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Conference Proceeding

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In this Complete Research paper, we describe the development of a survey instrument to measure the ways that students experience the transition from pre-college engineering activities to first-year engineering programs. As the number of opportunities to study and do engineering prior to matriculation in an undergraduate engineering program increases, first-year engineering students draw from a diverse range of pre-college engineering experiences that affect their transition to studying engineering at a university.

The instrument utilizes a theoretical framework developed via a phenomenographic interview process that identified five distinct ways students experience the transition from pre-college to university engineering. These range from foreclosure or a feeling of entrapment in engineering, to frustration, to tedium, to connection, to the ability to help others be successful in first-year engineering. Utilizing the interview data that informed the development of these categories, we identified statements associated with each of these ways of experiencing the transition from pre-college to university engineering and used these statements to develop an initial instrument consisting of 65 Likert-type questions on students’ experiences combined with detailed questions on both the types pre-college engineering experiences the students participated in and the content of these experiences. Validation of the initial instrument involved multiple rounds of feedback from experts in both pre-college and first-year engineering education, followed by an initial administration of the instrument to the first-year student population at two universities. Analysis of these results showed that overall the instrument had good reliability, however we identified 15 low functioning items for removal, reducing the total number of items to 50.

Upon completion of the development process, we administered the final instrument again to another population of first-year engineering students. Analysis of these results using Exploratory Factor Analysis yields components that align well with most elements of the aforementioned theoretical framework. However, we identified several additional independent factors related to ways that students experience disconnects or frustration when transitioning from pre-college to first-year engineering programs.

Pre-college engineering is growing, but students arrive in first-year engineering programs with varying levels of prior exposure to engineering. Understanding how pre-college experiences affect students’ transitions to engineering will provide valuable data for both the creators and instructors of pre-college and first-year engineering curricula, and facilitate better alignment between these interrelated spheres of engineering education.

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© 2017, American Society for Engineering Education, Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference, Columbus, Ohio.