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Engineering students' perceptions of the role of work industry-related activities on their motivation for studying and learning in higher education

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A number of key graduate outcomes related to industry-based interventions and work-industry-related activities (WIA's) are specified by the Swedish Higher Education Ordinance for all Engineering Degree Programmes. A paucity of research regarding student perceptions of these WIAs and their role in student's motivation for learning motivates the current study. Understanding student perceptions of WIA is critical to ensuring the effective integration of WIAs into engineering education. This study explores the perceived motivational effects of WIAs with which students engage through the lens of self-determination theory. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nineteen master's students studying in two research-intensive Swedish universities. Six themes emerged from thematic analysis. The themes describe the impact WIAs can have on student motivation in terms of their perceptions of (1) relevance for the development of knowledge and skills, (2) influence on the student's future profession identity, (3) utility for gaining industrial experience, inclusive of research experience, (4) relevance to student's programmes of study, (5) industry marketisation agendas, and (6) alignment with industry needs over the student's own needs. The motivating and demotivating aspects of WIA's based on these themes are discussed to improve the collaboration between industry and academia in engineering education.
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European Journal of Engineering Education
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Engineering students’ perceptions of the role
of work industry-related activities on their
motivation for studying and learning in higher
education
Panagiotis Pantzos, Lena Gumaelius, Jeffrey Buckley & Arnold Pears
To cite this article: Panagiotis Pantzos, Lena Gumaelius, Jeffrey Buckley & Arnold Pears (2022):
Engineering students’ perceptions of the role of work industry-related activities on their motivation
for studying and learning in higher education, European Journal of Engineering Education, DOI:
10.1080/03043797.2022.2093167
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/03043797.2022.2093167
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
Group
Published online: 29 Jun 2022.
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
Engineering studentsperceptions of the role of work industry-
related activities on their motivation for studying and learning in
higher education
Panagiotis Pantzos
a
, Lena Gumaelius
a,b
,Jerey Buckley
a,c
and Arnold Pears
a
a
Department of Learning in Engineering Sciences, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden;
b
Mälardalen University, Västerås, Sweden;
c
Faculty of Engineering and Informatics, Athlone Institute of Technology,
Athlone, Ireland
ABSTRACT
A number of key graduate outcomes related to industry-based
interventions and work-industry-related activities (WIAs) are specied
by the Swedish Higher Education Ordinance for all Engineering Degree
Programmes. A paucity of research regarding student perceptions of
these WIAs and their role in students motivation for learning motivates
the current study. Understanding student perceptions of WIA is critical
to ensuring the eective integration of WIAs into engineering
education. This study explores the perceived motivational eects of
WIAs with which students engage through the lens of self-
determination theory. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with
nineteen masters students studying in two research-intensive Swedish
universities. Six themes emerged from thematic analysis. The themes
describe the impact WIAs can have on student motivation in terms of
their perceptions of (1) relevance for the development of knowledge
and skills, (2) inuence on the students future profession identity, (3)
utility for gaining industrial experience, inclusive of research experience,
(4) relevance to students programmes of study, (5) industry
marketisation agendas, and (6) alignment with industry needs over the
students own needs. The motivating and demotivating aspects of WIAs
based on these themes are discussed to improve the collaboration
between industry and academia in engineering education.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 24 June 2021
Accepted 17 June 2022
KEYWORDS
Motivation; engineering
education; work industry-
related activities; semi-
structured interviews;
thematic analysis
1. Introduction
Industry engagement activities are pedagogically critical in engineering education as a means of
improving studentslearning experiences (Rodrigues 2004). Academia-industry collaboration pro-
vides students with opportunities to engage with up-to-date industry practices, learn more about
their profession, and develop skills and competencies to be more eective in the classroom (Herrmann
2013). Over the past two decades, work-industry-related activities (WIAs), such as guest lectures and
internships, have been used as pedagogical interventions to support students in gaining an under-
standing of how engineering education learning outcomes are applied in real-world situations (Iso-
möttönen et al. 2019; McDermott et al. 2018). While dierent kinds of WIAs have been investigated
to determine their impact in terms of learning and knowledge application (Patil et al. 2012; Schambach
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
CONTACT Panagiotis Pantzos pantzos@kth.se
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed online at https://doi.org/10.1080/03043797.2022.2093167.
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION
https://doi.org/10.1080/03043797.2022.2093167
and Dirks 2002; Smith et al. 2009), little research has been conducted regarding their eect on stu-
dentsmotivation for studying and learning in engineering education. Drysdale and McBeath
(2018) highlight the importance of industry collaboration with higher engineering schools for posi-
tively impacting studentsachievement, and educational developers in engineering education regu-
larly try to reform curricula to include industry experience. However, research has shown that this
process is often perceived as not being conducted in a way that is most appropriate for meeting
student and industry needs (Alboaouh 2018; Male and King 2014; Wallin et al. 2014).
Previous research demonstrates that increased student motivation can signicantly increase
student retention, levels of educational achievement, and professional success (Flowers and
Hermann 2008; Woods 1995). However, there are many factors that can inuence studentsmotiv-
ation that universities and educators often overlook (Koca 2016; Lumsden et al. 1994; Sogunro
2015). One way to achieve a positive impact on student motivation is to integrate industry experi-
ences into education (Brooks, Freiburger, and Grotheer 1998; Dev 1997). Similarly, the broader
culture of higher education institutions can aect studentsmotivation to study and learn (Peterson
and Spencer 1990; Tierney and Lanford 2018). According to Schunk, Meece, and Pintrich (2014), insti-
tutional culture components such as task and work practices, authority and management structures,
grouping practices, assessment practices, time use, recognition and reward structures, and climate
have a strong inuence on student motivation, behaviour, and learning outcomes. When ideologies,
beliefs, patterns of organisational behaviour, and shared values of higher institutions are contradic-
tory to studentsexpectations and beliefs, their motivation to study and learn can be negatively
aected (Abdulcalder 2015; Al-Otaibi, Yusof, and Ismail 2019; Nupke 2012).
Despite the eorts and close collaboration between Swedish engineering universities and industry
to develop a common strategy for students, there is a lack of evidence relating to studentsperceptions
of WIAs. To our knowledge, no systematic investigation of student perceptions of WIAs has been con-
ducted about how Swedish studentsperspectives of industry aect their motivations to learn engineer-
ing. Moreover, the institutional culture of engineering schools and its impact on studentsmotivation is
often not included in much related empirical work. Thus, the purpose of this study is to gain insight into
Swedish studentsperceptions of WIAs insight into motivation for studying engineering.
An important clarication is how this relates to the research on work-integrated learning (WIL).
The work on WIAs reported here does overlap with research concerning WIL, however, a key distinc-
tion is that WIL usually takes place physically in host organisations external to the higher institution,
for instance, in the form of work placements and internships, and is associated with, for example,
training implementation, learning assessment, and curricular design (Tran and Nguyen, 2018;
Rowe and Zegwaard, 2017 as cited in Nguyen Thi Ngoc Ha 2022). Therefore, WIA as it is conceived
in this study is a broader construct in that it also includes academia-industry collaboration which
takes place within higher education institutions, such as guest lectures or industry-delivered semi-
nars. The work intends to contribute to the body of empirical evidence which supports the pedago-
gical use of WIAs helping to better align their design with student needs, with specic emphasis on
motivational needs. The central research question which guided this study was:
RQ1. How do engineering students perceive WIAstoaect their motivation to engage in their studies?
As this study involved qualitative inquiry with a sample of engineering students, a sub-question
was needed to associate the necessary context with the insights gained through RQ1:
RQ2. What WIAs had the sample of engineering students engaged in during their studies?
2. Theoretical background
2.1. Motivation and student learning
There are multiple denitions and theories regarding the nature of motivation. Schunk, Meece, and
Pintrich (2014,5)dene motivation as the process whereby goal-directed activities are instigated
2P. PANTZOS ET AL.
and sustained, further elaborating that motivation as a process is not directly observable, but rather
it is inferred from actions. Another denition comes from Bomia et al. (1997, 1) who refer to a stu-
dents willingness, need, desire and compulsion to participate in, and be successful in, the learning
process. One of the most prominent motivation theories and the lens through which motivation is
considered in this study is Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT argues that humans are inherently
inclined to develop psychologically through interaction with others. These proactive interpersonal
tendencies are not considered automatic in that they require strong supporting preconditions.
Specically, SDT claims that this development requires support for three basic psychological
needs; autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Ryan et al. 2019).
In SDT, motivation is categorised as intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation pertains to activi-
ties done for their own sakeor for their inherent interest and enjoyment(Deci and Ryan 2000 as
cited in Ryan and Deci 2020). Intrinsic motivation can be a signicant factor in the primacy of lifelong
learning as opposed to forced external learning and instruction (Ryan and Deci 2017). Despite the
important role of intrinsic motivation in learning and development, research from several countries
has shown that it seems to decrease over time between school years (Gillet, Vallerand, and Lafreniere
2012; Gnambs and Hanfstingl 2016; Scherrer and Preckel 2019). Specically for school-related activi-
ties this declining trend in intrinsic motivation is associated with decreasing psychological need sat-
isfaction (see Ryan and Deci 2020)a phenomenon which this study also explores relative to WIAsin
engineering higher education.
In contrast to intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation relates to behaviours that are done for
reasons apart from peoples inherent satisfaction. SDT posits four major subtypes of extrinsic motiv-
ation including integration, identication, introjection, and external regulation, and there is also
amotivation, all of which concern a lack of intentionality. In education settings, amotivation can
arise from either a lack of interest or value in activities or a lack of perceived competence to
perform, and can negatively aect learning, wellness, and engagement (Ryan and Deci 2020).
According to SDT, intrinsic motivation and internalisation can be enhanced by psychological need
supports resulting in higher achievement, whereas attempts to control learning outcomes primarily
through extrinsic sanctions, rewards, and evaluations generally lead to lower quality motivation and
academic performance (Ryan and Deci 2020). Internalisation is a natural process wherein people
transform and integrate values, social practices, and regulations into personally held values (Deci
and Ryan 2000; Ryan and Deci 2000). This process can be expedited or impeded by specialised
factors associated with the support of the three basic psychological needs. The development and
adoption of more autonomous types of extrinsic regulation can be expedited by social context
factors that support competence, relatedness, and autonomy. However, when people feel con-
trolled, incompetent, or alienated from stakeholders internalisation can be negatively aected,
resulting in people remaining prone to more controlled, external, and introjected types of extrinsic
regulation (Ryan and Deci 2019).
2.2. Institutions and modes of engineering education
In the nineteenth century in Sweden, several technical engineering schools started to invest signi-
cant eort into a process of transformation towards a structure and role more similar to that of the
academicuniversities. This academic drift(Christensen 2012) has been dened as the process of
academisationof engineering education (Lundren, 1990). Since learning is viewed here through
a social context in which stakeholders and educators become important actors as social models
(Bandura 2012), an understanding of university natures and their modes of engineering education
can provide an explanatory framework for studentsmotivation to study in higher education.
Barnett (2011) describes scienticuniversities, entrepreneurial universities, and ecological univer-
sities as three types of higher education institutions. The scientic university emphasises fostering
intellectual or logical thinking and aims to produce knowledge in the basic and applied sciences
rather than cultivating practical skills for using knowledge. The entrepreneurial university
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION 3
emphasises studentsdevelopment of competencies in entrepreneurship (Tryggvason and Apelian
2012). An entrepreneurial university is presented as being well poised to deal with engineering chal-
lenges that highlight processes, skills, and collaboration with industries and which have an applied
scope (Barnett 1994). The ecological university in contrast takes all aspects of sustainability, econ-
omics, and society into account (Jamison, Kolmos, and Holgaard 2014). In addition to these types
of universities, Jamison, Kolmos, and Holgaard (2014) conceptualise three contending modes of
engineering education, academic,market-driven, and integrative, which reect dierent perspectives
of engineering knowledge, intentions, and pedagogical approaches (Harwood, 2006; Jamison and
Heymann 2012).
According to Jamison, Kolmos, and Holgaard (2014), the academic mode emphasises the impart-
ing of scientic, theoretical, and disciplinary knowledge to engineers-to-be through a propositional-
based educational process consisting largely of book-learning(263). In the academic or theory-
driven approach, teaching and learning processes are based on transferring or translating theories
from the basic sciences into an applied context through behaviourist pedagogical approaches
(Jamison and Heymann 2012). The market-driven mode builds upon the approaches to engineering
education at entrepreneurial universities. It is based on practical knowledge that involves techno-
logical innovation that can be used for solving authentic discipline-specic problems. Jamison,
Kolmos, and Holgaard (2014) argue that the social role of the engineer is that of the entrepreneur
or business manager who turns technical inventions into marketable innovations(264). Finally, the
market-driven approach, according to Jamison, Kolmos, and Holgaard (2014), is centred on acting
and especially company interaction with focus on supplying the companies with engineers
having the needed know-how to operate technical systems and artifacts(264). Thus the educational
process is based on dierent constructivist pedagogical approaches, such as learning by doing, for
students to learn computer-aided design, programming and simulation, knowledge management,
and marketing (Jamison, Kolmos, and Holgaard 2014; Jamison and Heymann 2012). Finally, the inte-
grative mode builds upon the approaches to engineering education at ecological universities and
tries to highlight the more socially relevant form of engineering education. It mixes social, technical,
environmental, and scientic capacities of engineering in a comprehensive form of education, where
students are educated to face both internal and external challenges in terms of situated learning
(Jamison, Kolmos, and Holgaard 2014). In the integrative approach, the educational process is
based on a blend of learning by doing and book learning(Jamison and Heymann 2012). In other
words, the approach consists of a mix of traditional, constructivist, and innovative pedagogical
approaches for teaching and learning through education for sustainable development.
2.3. Work industry-related activities (WIAs)
Although there are dierent perspectives on the role that companies should have within higher edu-
cation, particularly in Engineering education, academiaindustry collaboration is generally regarded
as an important component of the successful preparation of engineering students for their future
professional careers. This collaborative relationship empowers students to engage in contemporary
industry practices, learn more about their eld, and develop skills (Herrmann 2013). As previously
discussed, WIAs as a concept relate to many types of collaboration both within and outside the
scope of higher education institutions, unlike WIL experiences which typically take place in industry
settings. A nuanced understanding of dierent WIAs is important to advance our insight about such
activity. To that end, and as a background to our discussion we provide a brief overview of empirical
ndings relating to internships/cooperative experiences, industry tours/eld trips, guest lectures,
summer schools, and career fairs.
Internships are dened as professional learning experiences in a workplace, in which students are
gaining authentic work experience that can be accompanied by classroom learning (Smith et al.
2009). Previous studies regarding internships and cooperative experiences with industry have
shown that students who experienced an authentic workplace environment and culture gained
4P. PANTZOS ET AL.
motivation to learn and work, had valuable experiences of real-world problem-solving, and devel-
oped their interpersonal and communication skills (Butler 2014; Cates and Jones 2000; Fleming
and Eames 2005; Schambach and Dirks 2002).
Industry tours/eld trips, for example visiting a production plant in person, are the most typical
learning experiences that take place away from the classroom (Kisiel 2006). Several studies have
described positive student learning outcomes from industry tours, such as students observing a pro-
duction environment and engaging in workplace culture. (Hanh and Hop 2018; Patil et al. 2012;
Townsend and Urbanic 2013).
Guest lectures are dened as lectures delivered in higher education settings by external guest
speakers who may be subject matter experts or hold signicant industrial work experience (Goldberg
et al. 2014; Riebe et al. 2013; Rodrigues 2004). Guest speakers oer the potential for enhancing the
studentsexperience and supporting their learning in higher education (Bridges 1999; Taylor 2003).
However, while students often believe that guest lectures are enjoyable, they do not necessarily nd
them challenging (Karns 2005). Additionally, the traditional format of guest lectures, where there is
limited time for questions from students at the end, can reduce the potential impact on learning
(Dalakas 2016; Taylor et al. 2004).
Summer schools in higher education are dened as schools or programmes generally provided by
universities and/or sponsored by private companies, that oer courses and activities during stu-
dentssummer vacation and can oer the opportunity to gain extra higher education credits.
Student participation in summer schools has been shown to have substantial positive impacts on
learning (Cooper et al. 2000). Industry-oriented summer schools for engineering students, in particu-
lar, have been identied as useful for the development of teamwork, exibility, leadership, and com-
munication skills (Larsen et al. 2009).
In general, a thesis or dissertation is an obligatory task typically undertaken at the end of a pro-
gramme of study wherein the student should demonstrate knowledge and the ability to conduct
independent work within an area of study. In this study, only engineering studentsthesis work in
collaboration within the industry is explored, where either a company contacts a university depart-
ment and suggests a thesis topic, or where ongoing cooperation between a company and the
department leads to a collaboratively derived thesis topic.
Lunch seminars are events on a university campus that are delivered by speakers from the indus-
try and are named as such as they are usually delivered during a lunch or break period. Similarly, and
nally, industry-related information can also be delivered to students through career fairs. During
career fairs, students have the opportunity to explore potential employment opportunities by enga-
ging with recruiters (Breaugh and Starke 2000). The aim of career fairs is not only to recruit but also to
educate and foster interest within students (Payne and Sumter 2005; Reilly et al. 2007;Roehling and
Cavanaugh 2000). Silkes, Adler, and Phillips (2010) found that university students studying in the
eld of hospitality and tourism management perceived career fairs to improve their overall level
of knowledge about the eld and enhance their overall level of interest in the industry. However,
research on studentsperceptions of career fair experiences and their potential impact on learning,
specically within engineering education, is limited.
3. Research methodology
3.1. Approach
Due to a lack of knowledge relating to the impact of dierent WIAs on student motivation (Swed-
berg 2018), an exploratory, inductive, qualitative study was conducted. Specically, this study
explored how Swedish higher-level engineering students perceived WIAs with which they had pre-
viously engaged as having aected their motivation for learning. In this study, Swedish students
refer to people studying in Sweden, both Swedish and international nationalities. Semi-structured
interviews were used to gain an in-depth understanding of the participating studentsperceptions
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION 5
of what they saw as relevant and important (Bryman 2016). Data was collected in two consecutive
phases from two Swedish universities, henceforth referred to as University A and University B. An
inductive thematic analysis was conducted on data collected from University A (phase 1 of the
research). However, a degree of deduction was involved since the researchers tried to establish
the conditions in which interpretations will and will not hold. According to Bryman (2016), this strat-
egy is often described as iterative: it involves a weaving back and forth between data and theory
(23). Following this, data was collected from University B (phase 2 of the research) and coded deduc-
tively using the phase 1 themes as a basis, however, novel insight warranted inductive engagement
as well which resulted in the emergence of new themes.
3.2. Participants and selection process
In identifying participants, both context and demographic characteristics of individuals within the
population were considered (Bryman 2016). Two universities, one in Stockholm and one in Gothen-
burg, were purposively selected based on their size and provision of engineering programmes.
Further, these two institutions have broad collaborations with industry in Sweden and abroad as
well as an array of WIAs are integrated into their educational programmes. Specically, University
A is a traditional public-owned technological university that focuses on gender equality, internatio-
nalisation, digitisation, and sustainability, providing a more holistic model of teaching and research.
According to the literature on modes of engineering education, University A is considered by the
researchers to be reective of an integrative university. Whereas, University B is a university
owned by a foundation and it has been acknowledged for entrepreneurial activities and technologi-
cal research, which oers opportunities for commercialisation. As such, University B is considered
representative of the entrepreneurial university.
Participants from both universities were selected based on three criteria. First, they had to be
enrolled in a 5-year long engineering programme, or an equivalent. Additionally, they had to
have participated in more than one WIA during their studentship. In Sweden, most engineering pro-
grammes follow a 3 + 2 model, where the rst three years are oered at Bachelors level and the nal
two years are oered as Masters level. A third inclusion criteria was that participation in this study
was restricted to students who had completed the requirements of the Bachelor level phase of their
programme of study, and were either within or just about to begin the Masters level phase. This cri-
terion was applied to ensure a breadth of experience with WIAs which would be gained within the
studentsrst 3 years of study. A snowball sampling technique was followed in which the researchers
rst interviewed three students who met these criteria and then these sampled students suggested
other students who had the characteristics or experience relevant to the study (Bryman 2016). The
researchers also sought to achieve a maximum variation of studentsperspectives for the range of
WIAs by identifying key aspects of variations such as eld of study, gender, and nationality and
then nding cases that dier from each other (Suri 2011). Data collection halted, and thus the
sample size was determined, when theoretical saturation was deemed to have been reached. Satur-
ation was considered as the point in which no new insights were apparent in the most recent data
collection(Sandelowski 2008).
In total, 19 participants were interviewed, of which 10 were from the University A and 9 were from
the University B. Eleven students were male and 8 were female. Twelve participants were inter-
national students and 7 were native to Sweden. The participants were between 23 and 32 years
old. Finally, they were studying across a range of Masters programs in the areas of electrical engin-
eering, production engineering and management, sustainable technology, humancomputer inter-
action, mechanical engineering, energy and the environment, applied mechanics, infrastructure and
environmental engineering, engineering physics and mathematics, environmental engineering, and
mechatronics.
6P. PANTZOS ET AL.
3.3. Data collection
The data for this study were collected using semi-structured interviews to gain insight into individual
perceptions of WIAs in higher engineering education. Open-ended questions and sub-questions
based on thematic categories were developed and the interview protocol is located in the Sup-
plementary Material. Each interview lasted approximately 4550 min, and all participants were inter-
viewed in English. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim for analysis.
3.4. Data analysis
Data collected in phase 1 from University A was analysed using a thematic analysis, where the six
phases outlined by Braun and Clarke (2006) were employed. NVivo software was used for the quali-
tative analysis. First, the primary author, who was also the interviewer, listened to the audio record-
ing several times, and reviewed the transcripts to immerse in the pool of data. The second phase,
which was executed by the primary and secondary author involved the initial inductive identication
of emerging and compatible codes. Preliminary exploratory insight was gained through an examin-
ation of the most frequently occurring words within the dataset. This was followed by the identi-
cation of initial codes that were bounded by the research question and stemmed from points of
interest identied through the interview process (Saldaña 2013). In the third phase the authors
applied descriptive codes to the dataset (Saldaña 2013). This was done both independently and col-
lectively to ensure further rigour, with the authors consolidating a single set of descriptive codes. A
codebook (see Supplementary Material) was created based on this preliminary coding of the tran-
scripts, the overarching research questions, theoretical background, and challenges identied in pre-
vious studies. Concepts, key issues, and themes began to emerge which signied the inception of a
thematic framework. In the fourth phase, pattern coding (Saldaña 2013) was employed to incorpor-
ate the descriptive codes into themes, and a thematic map was created to aid in visualising and
understanding the relationships and links between them and in the fth phase names were ascribed
to themes which reected the data. This was rst done by the primary author and reviewed by the
second author, where there was collaborative discussion concerning the validity of the established
themes. Finally, data extracts that correspond with the essence of each theme were identied for
presentation in this manuscript (Braun and Clarke 2006; Clarke and Braun 2013; Jackson and
Bazeley 2019). For data collected in phase 2, a deductive approach was used whereby the data
was coded into the themes which emerged from phase one, again by two of the authors working
in an iterative and immersive process similar to the process described for phase 1. However, new
insight was gained and therefore a similar inductive approach was applied where required.
3.5. Trustworthiness
Multiple processes were followed to strengthen the reliability and validity of this study. The entire
research process is described in detail to ensure sucient transparency (Buckley et al. 2021) and
uncut quotations from the participantsresponses are used in the presentation of ndings. Trust-
worthiness was also supported through participative data analysis, debrieng, and continuous feed-
back of data interpretation by all authors, as they reviewed and rened the emerging themes to
make the ndings credible and dependable (Bryman 2016; Lincoln and Guba 1985). The expert
assessment process by Creswell and Clark (2007) was also followed to ensure conrmability.
Finally, all procedures from the research design to enactment and presentation were assessed by
three experts in engineering education and the social sciences who provided continuous feedback
throughout.
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION 7
3.6. Ethical considerations
The research aims and objectives of the study were explained in detail to participants and written
informed consent was obtained from all the participating students (Bryman 2016). All research
data and personal identiable information were collected, coded, and stored according to both Uni-
versitiesethical policies and data management plans. The ndings are presented without partici-
pant names to preserve anonymity.
4. Findings
4.1. Which WIAs had the participants engaged with?
To contextualise the themes which emerged relating to the eect of WIAs on the participating stu-
dentsmotivation, they were asked to detail the types of WIAs that they had engaged with during
their programmes of study to date. Participants from both institutions had engaged with guest lec-
tures, industry tours, dissertations in collaboration with industry, internships, summer schools, carrier
fairs, and lunch seminars delivered by people from the industry. Concerning the dissertations com-
pleted in collaboration with industry, these related both to dissertations completed at the end of the
studentsthird year of studies before entry to the Masters phase of their programme, and their 5th
year Masters dissertation.
The ndings showed that each of total 19 students participated in at least two dierent WIAs
during their studies. Table 1 illustrates each student from University A and University B in which
WIAs had been participated.
4.2. Motivation factors of WIAs
Six core themes emerged from the thematic analysis with respect to the impact of WIAs on motiv-
ation to study and learn in engineering education (Table 2).
It is crucial to point out that aspects of studentsnarratives overlap across WIAs. These themes
therefore should be seen as an interpretation of understandings and attitudes in general, which
are not isolated perceptions and beliefs, but which are all relative to each other.
Table 1. Students and WIAs that had been participated.
Student University
WIAs
Internship
Industry-
tour
Thesis
work Career fair
Guest
lecture
Summer
school
Lunch
seminar
1A ●●
2A●●
3A ●●
4A●●
5A ●●
6A ●●
7A ●●
8A ●●
9A ●●
10 A ●●
1B ●●
2B ●●
3B●●
4B ●●
5B ●●
6B●●
7B●●
8B ●●
9B ●●
8P. PANTZOS ET AL.
4.2.1. Development of knowledge and skills
The development of knowledge and skills through WIAs was generally deemed motivational. Most
students stated that internships were the most appropriate WIA due to the immersive and authentic
nature of the experience. During an internship, students felt like professional engineers who could
have an impact on society and utilise the knowledge obtained from their studies.
The internship makes you a better person professionally speaking and it helped me to develop my soft skills, how to
talk, behave, etc.
University A student 4
Participating in summer schools and guest lectures provided opportunities to develop communi-
cation skills through meetings and discussions with industry personnel. Furthermore, in summer
schools, students participated actively in real-world problem-solving, developing communication
and collaboration skills, and gaining knowledge relating to computing and programming.
During the summer school, I took a project from start to nish, started from scratch with the conception of an idea to
some actual deliverables, and presented it in front of a business jury with investors, so this whole procedure and some
tight time constraints was extremely helpful and I enhance my skills in problem solving, conceptualizing, working
with other people/collaboration.
University A student 10
Students noted that WIAs such as industry tours and summer schools could be great opportunities
to gain practice-oriented knowledge. These activities were seen as useful as they beneted future
industry employability. This practical experience was seen as motivating for students in terms of
becoming an engineer as it gave insight into future professional activity and prospects. However,
when asked how this practical knowledge aected their motivation for subsequent university
studies, the students responded that there was little or no impact on their motivation, since this
knowledge was not needed for the theoretical tasks that their courses required.
I would say although we learn more theory at the university, practical knowledge is more appreciated in the industry
So I got some practical knowledge through summer school.
University A student 1
because summer school was mostly practical, and most courses at the university are theoretical, it doesnt really
carry over that well. So, I dont really feel that I learned anything during that activity that came back useful when I
came back...
Table 2. Motivational themes of WIAs.
Theme Participant description of WIA
Interpreted predominant
motivational eect
Development of knowledge and skills Seen as supporting the development of, practice-oriented
knowledge and communication skills.
Motivational
Future professional orientation
identity as inspiring engineers
Seen as oering opportunities to gain authentic work
experience supporting the development of students
engineering identities.
Motivational
Research insight and collaboration
with industry
Seen as supporting research collaboration between
academia and industry, however, there can be a lack of
ideal research conditions and experienced researchers
and sta.
Both motivational and
demotivational
Relevance for academic study Seen as both relevant and lacking relevance by students
regarding their studies.
Both motivational and
demotivational
Marketisation of higher education Seen as industry marketing opportunities that contribute
to Marketisationof higher education
Demotivational
Perceived alignment with industry
rather than student interests and
needs
Seen as placing emphasis on too narrow industry
requirements with pre-determined research topics and
learning outcomes
Demotivational
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION 9
University B student 8
Students stated that many lunch seminars had been oered by dierent companies at their univer-
sity. These seminars and career fairs were seen as appropriate and valuable WIAs, both for develop-
ing interpersonal skills and for gaining awareness of future career opportunities after graduation.
However, during these activities if the presenter advertised or emphasised the product more than
they focused on the students learning this was seen as de-motivating. With this, the potential nega-
tive impact of industry marketisation became apparent.
They have some lunch seminars organized they try to advertise their goals, their topics.
University B student 1
4.2.2. Future professional orientation identity as inspiring engineers
Students explained that work experience during their studies was rewarding as they were able to
better understand the companiesremits, desires, and expectations. From this, they became more
motivated to dene subelds of interest and to position themselves professionally for the future.
These experiences further saw students changing direction during their studies. Internships and
industry tours were predominantly noted by the students in this regard.
However, if I hadnt done the internship, I am pretty sure I would have decided to try and become the programmer
because would have thought that this is the direction that would give me more job opportunities in the future.
However, after doing the internship I realized I dont care if programming gives me better opportunities in the
future, I want to do design. So, it helped me take the right decision, and this could be reected in my focus in the
next semester at the [university A].
University A student 2
Students also claimed that these WIAs inspired them to explore and take part in production pro-
cesses in industries. The engineers they engaged with also acted as and further informed students
of people who were considered role models, contributing to a developmental impact on their engin-
eering identities.
Having industries integrated from the rst year already as it inspires students about what actually happens in the
industries Role models, is a good idea for motivating kids and students. People like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk,
that are super inspiring changing the world with engineering solutions. Guest speakers talk for them
University A student 3
It was cool to actually see what is happening in the process and the production it was more going to the oce
and being inspired by what they were doing and meet a lot of people.
University A student 8
4.2.3. Research insight and collaboration with industry
Students expressed how important and motivating it is for them to spend time with Doctoral stu-
dents or/and researchers who are working in industry within Research & Development (R&D) depart-
ments but noted in the WIAs they engaged with there was little time for this.
So, focus on R&D departments, they must do that, it is very important, but they never do at least in my case. I cant
speak for everyone In big companies, the R&D department, normally students dont get to meet those people.
University A student 9
Some students believed that there should be more WIAs in their masters programs to provide this
opportunity, such as eld trips to meet researchers in R&D departments. Negative aspects of industry
collaboration in terms of research activity were also expressed. These included contradictory goals
10 P. PANTZOS ET AL.
between industry and academic thesis supervisors leading to disagreement or stemming from mis-
understanding and a lack of engagement from industry supervisors.
the goals of the company were very dierent from the goals of the institution. So, the company wanted me to
implement a special algorithm within their framework that its not used anywhere else they wanted me instead
to explore dierent angles and aspects of my research
University B student 2
A negative experience of industry within such a direct interaction had an explicit negative impact on
student motivation.
No help from them No, they didnt make me want to continue studies in a higher level.
University A student 5
4.2.4. Relevance for academic study
Students argued that there were WIAs, such as industry tours and guest lectures, that were explicitly
relevant to their studies and courses. This alignment appears positively related to their motivation
and they expressed enthusiasm for these activities.
in each one of the places we went there was one like group that was going to have a project on that. And yes, we
were trying to take photos from the eld to add afterwards in our assignment, and questions, a lot of questions. They
gave us a lot of information themselves without asking.
University B student 4
On the other hand, students claimed that there were WIAs which lacked relevance. Some students
had participated in several guest lectures, lunch seminars, and study tours, and the lack of relevance
caused feelings of boredom and frustration. Where there is disconnect between studentsexpec-
tations and the reality of engineering as it is presented in these WIAs the experiences were discussed
as being demotivational.
I think some of them were boring it was not relevance with my interests and what I am studying at all.
University A student 4
We didnt really get the responses that we assumed we were going to get...
University A student 5
The negative impact on their motivation is more apparent when this lack of relevance induces stress
relating to their conceptions of engineering practice.
Usually there are a few guest lectures in a few courses. Like, some people from industries come to one of the lectures
However, this is not related to the course or to the topic that we should learn I remember some of my class-
mates felt stressed and anxiety.
University B student 2
4.2.5. Marketisation of higher education
Many students noted that many WIAs, such as guest lectures, lunch seminars and career fairs, were
advertisements for future employment with companies that were presenting. This was seen as a par-
ticularly negative aspect of WIAs in that the students wanted higher education to be free from any
commercial inuence.
Exactly, they need to have better speakers and engage with the audience and put expert people there and I think
that they shouldnt just talk and advertise themselves like a TV show
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION 11
University A student 7
I want the education to be free from commercial inuence basically. I dont want the things I learn to be
inuenced by whatever company is paying or having inuence over the school
University B student 3
4.2.6. Perceived alignment with industry rather than student interests and needs
Some students argued that WIAs were too narrowly focused in terms of their alignment with the
industry. They felt as though there was insucient emphasis on general scientic knowledge. It
was noted that programmes of studies appeared to be based more on narrow industry requirements
than on a broader holistic education.
I feel that the knowledge which I learn here is limited. Where they make you ready for the industry here, its like
applied and they design a course structure based on the industry requirement.
University B student 1
This type of reasoning is also apparent in regard to the students masters theses, in which the pro-
jects which were pre-determined by collaborating industries, were misaligned with the students per-
sonal interests.
I dont know if they are doing with your interest or they nd something based on their interests and they are doing or
I dont know, I am confused. But what I feel like I want to work what I am interested in.
University B student 8
5. Discussion
5.1. Summary of ndings
The focus of this study was to explore how WIAs were perceived by engineering students to have
aected their motivation. Six themes emerged from a thematic analysis of semi-structured inter-
views conducted with 19 students from two Swedish universities. These related to (1) the develop-
ment of knowledge and skills, (2) studentsfuture professional identity as engineers, (3) research
insight and collaboration with industry, (4) relevance of WIAs to studies, (5) marketisation of
higher education, and (6) a perceived alignment with industry rather than student interests and
needs. Although the participating students engaged with a range of WIAs, the WIAs engaged
with were too vaguely dened and the sample size and methodology prevent distinct links from
being drawn discretely between themes and specic WIAs. Therefore, in this study, the analysis
was conducted holistically, and the themes are considered general.
Evidence of all six emergent themes can be found within the literature to varying degrees which
suggests validity in the insight gained from this work. The nding that students believe they learn
more in terms of practical knowledge skills rather than theoretical knowledge through WIAs such
as internships, industry tours, and summer schools is in line with previous studies (Butler 2014;
Cates and Jones 2000; Fleming and Eames 2005; Schambach and Dirks 2002). Previous work also indi-
cates that role models are used to increase motivation in WIAs and that perceived relevance to
studies is a recurring issue (Morgenroth, Ryan, and Peters 2015). Motivational or demotivational
eects of the marketisation of higher education and studentsperceptions of WIAs aligning too
much on industry needs above their own are phenomena discussed less frequently within the per-
tinent literature.
12 P. PANTZOS ET AL.
5.2. Motivation and demotivation
Across the six themes, both motivating and demotivating aspects were identied. Motivation
seemed to increase through authentic educational experiences and when students perceived the
WIAs intent as aligned predominantly with their educational needs. This nding is in line with pre-
vious studies such as Townsend and Urbanic (2013) who claimed that active participation in WIAs
and immersion in workplace culture are paramount for eective WIAs. Students also found WIAs
to be motivating when a positive image of the engineering profession was presented. This could
be achieved through active immersion, such as taking part in a production process, or passively,
for example by being inspired during a guest lecture. WIAs provide the opportunity, during a pro-
gramme of study, for students to develop their engineering identities. This can result in increased
condence in a subsequent choice to pursue engineering as an area of study, and hence an
increased level of intrinsic motivation (Dev 1997; Entwistle 1988). Importantly, according to SDT,
the more internalised the motivation for a particular type of activity becomes, the more that activity
becomes part of a students identity. Further, research has shown that basic need for a feeling of sat-
isfaction is linked with increased engagement and higher performance in Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses, but also increased engineering identity (Skinner
et al. 2017 as cited in Ryan and Deci 2020).
Within this study, it is important to consider that the sample were all either current Masters stu-
dents, or about to begin Masters level study. This context may be the reason for the strongly
expressed desire for increased interaction with researchers within R&D departments in the industry
during study tours and academic researchers such as doctoral students engaging with contempor-
ary, relevant research. Active engagement with current and perceived future engineering problems
was presented as a motivating factor, and a dierentiator between WIAs which focused more on the
presentation of general skills and knowledge which needed to be developed. SDT research has
shown that when students are in learning environments that facilitated autonomy and social relat-
edness support, such as research activity similar to that undertaken in their Masters thesis work, they
usually express more enthusiasm indictive of volitional engagement with the activities (Streb et al.
2015 as cited in Ryan and Deci 2020). Studentsdesire for more autonomy and relatedness-suppor-
tive research environments could enhance their intrinsic motivation and perceived competence and
this may be an approach which is actionable to increase the ecacy of WIAs.
In addition to describing the motivational aspects of WIAs, the students noted demotivational
characteristics. At a basic level, WIAs were viewed as demotivating if there was perceived misalign-
ment with the studentsprogrammes of study, or if students could not see value in the knowledge,
they were developing through them. Similarly, WIAs could be demotivating if there was a lack of
challenge, a phenomenon also noted by Karns (2005), or a lack of a support structure that includes
clear goals and expectations, and eective feedback on their engagement. Specically, within SDT
the absence of structure has been empirically associated with lower intrinsic motivation, higher
anxiety, and less use of self-regulated learning approaches (Ryan and Deci 2020).
The students also expressed that they respond negatively when companies participate in WIAs
with the main goal of marketing their own company. In these situations, the students perceived
the companies as viewing them as consumers within their education. This marketisation of higher
education is a growing phenomenon based on neo-liberalist ideology which currently exerts con-
siderable pressure on higher institutionsstructures and cultures globally (Ball 2007; Burch 2009),
and can also negatively aect studentsmotivation and performance, usually in unintended ways
(Ryan and Deci 2020). Molesworth, Nixon, and Scullion (2009) claim that particularly for technical uni-
versities a marketed higher education context may undermine and negatively impact students
intrinsic motivation as this context focuses explicitly on job-related skills. This may not have been
demotivating for students who themselves identify as consumers within higher education,
however, these students may already have lower levels of intrinsic motivation. For example, King
and Bunce (2020) note that students who identify as consumers in higher education appear to
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION 13
display lower levels of autonomy, relatedness, and competence, as a consequence less internalised
intrinsic motivation.
Specic to collaboration between academia and industry, such as when the students were colla-
borating with an industry partner for their Masters thesis, students noted that a lack of communi-
cation and collaboration could be challenging and demotivating. This tended to relate to a lack
of communication between the student and an industry partner, and between the students aca-
demic supervisors and industry partners. It appears that a lack of consistency in the perceived
aims of the research project between academia and industry was a primary reason for this demoti-
vation. Previous research has shown that the lack of feedback and interconnection between industry
and engineering schools may negatively impact both the professional development and motivation
of engineering students (Alboaouh 2018). When this happens students can transition from being
more intrinsically motivated to be more extrinsically motivated as their goal shifts to the completion
of their thesis. It could be that the basic need for a feeling of competence is not met in such circum-
stances due to the lack of a structure in the learning environment and subsequently reduced oppor-
tunity for the positive feedback. Furthermore, the need of relatedness which concerns a sense of
connection and belonging may be undermined here as the lack of consistency between academia
and industry can leave students feeling alienated from both due to variances in messages. Finally,
studentsmotivation can be negatively aected, or at least not positively aected, if their thesis
project is predened and their autonomy in choice is undermined.
5.3. An interpretation of how the studentsperceptions can be explained
An institutions structure and culture can have an impact on studentsmotivation (Peterson and
Spencer 1990; Tierney and Lanford 2018). As previously described, Jamison, Kolmos, and Holgaard
(2014) model of engineering education provide three dierent modes of provision, the theoretical,
the market-driven, and integrative modes which are very closely related to Barnetts(2011) categor-
isations of scientic, entrepreneurial, and ecological universities respectively. To better understand
studentsviews on the WIAs they have participated in, particularly with respect to the demotivational
aspects, Jamison, Kolmos, and Holgaard (2014) model provides an auspicious framework.
Studentsmotivation is inuenced by the university environment and the method taken to study
and learn, the institutional culture (Peterson and Spencer 1990), and when ideologies of higher edu-
cation context are contradictory to studentsbeliefs and expectations their motivation to study can
be negatively aected (Nupke 2012). The participating students perceived the intent of their edu-
cation as predominantly associated with acquiring theoretical knowledge. They had signicant
experience of the academic mode of engineering education from within their universities.
However, the ndings indicate that the companies participating WIAs, and perhaps also some aca-
demic faculty who engage their students in WIAs, are perceived by students as aligning more with
the market-driven mode. This perceived misalignment had a demotivational eect on the students.
This is not to suggest that the information wasnt objectively relevant, but if the usefulness of the
activity is not apparent to the student, or the WIA is not perceived to be in the studentseducational
interests, students view this more negatively than positively. This type of reaction became apparent
when the students, for example, described guest lectures which focused on marketing a specic
company as a prospective employer, or when on an internship the companies displayed self-interest
with the applied scope of entrepreneurship above the holistic education of the student. Additionally,
this may explain the impact and the relevance of an entrepreneurial universitys learning environ-
ment (Barnett 2011) on studentsmotivation for studying. In general, when students could not
reconcile the added educational value of a WIA, our data suggests that they became demotivated,
and their motivation changed from intrinsic to extrinsic with a focus on completion rather than on
learning. However, when the value of a WIA was apparent and aligned with the studentsneeds, they
were seen as motivational and positive experiences. From this, it appears that the students view on
how WIAs should be integrated into their education was through the lens of the integrative mode of
14 P. PANTZOS ET AL.
engineering education which would typically be cultivated in an ecological university. They
expressed that appropriately challenging WIAs including sustainable and societal aspects of learning
were important and that there was merit in engaging with industry to obtain a better understanding
of contemporary and real-world engineering problems and challenges.
6. Conclusion
This work provides new insights into how WIAs integrated into engineering education aect student
motivation. Our results illuminate the nature of WIAs in terms of how they relate to knowledge and
skill development, identity development, and oering research insight. Their perceived relevance for
academic study, their emphasis on marketisation, and the perceived main beneciary are shown to
have both positive and negative motivational eects. Predominantly students expressed that WIAs
that gave them an immersive experience and better insight into contemporary real-world challenges
faced by engineers were motivational, whereas WIAs which better served industry over their edu-
cational needs lacked relevance. Activities in which there was poor collaboration between academic
and industry partners were experienced as demotivational. Furthermore, these motivational and
demotivational aspects of WIAs were considered through the lens of SDT, and at a macro level
about intrinsic and extrinsic level, and it was apparent that the three basic psychological needs of
feeling competent, autonomous, and related are described through the theory provided a useful
explanatory framework.
It is important to note that while theoretical saturation was deemed to be reached in the data
from both institutions, trueor absolutesaturation cannot be conrmed. These ndings are quali-
tative and interpretative, and as such should not be generalised beyond this sample. Future quan-
titative research could further investigate these ndings to establish inferences about relative eect
sizes of WIA characteristics on motivation. Furthermore, this study could not dierentiate between
demotivational activities, and those which cause a shift from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. The
nuances between both situations would merit further investigation as a demotivated student
would require dierent educational intervention than an extrinsically motivated student.
From a practical perspective, the primary conclusion is that collaborative discourse is needed
between students, academia and industry to achieve WIAs which are valuable to all involved
actors, and which are ecologicallyvalid and have clarity of purpose.
Acknowledgments
The authors would like to thank the engineering students of both Swedish Universities who participated in the study for
their time and insight.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Notes on contributors
Panagiotis Pantzos is a PhD student in Learning in Engineering Sciences at Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in
Sweden. He holds a MSc in International and Comparative Education from the Stockholm University as well as an
MEd in Educational Sciences-Education by using New Technologies from the University of the Aegean. He has
taught both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in areas of teaching and learning in higher Engineering
Education.
Lena Gumaelius is Pro Vice-Chancellor at MDH (Mälardalens högskola) where her main responsibility is education.
Besides her duties at MDH, she works as an associate professor in engineering education at KTH, Royal Institute of Tech-
nology, Sweden, where she is leading the Engineering Education in Society research group. Her main research interest is
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION 15
in engineering and technology education, where she focuses on inclusiveness and attractiveness as well as education
for sustainable development.
Jerey Buckley received his PhD from KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden) where he examined the relationship
between spatial ability and learning in STEM, with an emphasis on Technology and Engineering education. Now he is
Lecturer in Research Pedagogy in Athlone Institute of Technology (Ireland) and an Aliate Faculty member at KTH. His
main research interest is in how spatial ability relates to learning and problem solving in STEM, and he is also interested
in methodological rigour in Technology Education research.
Arnold Pears is Professor and Chair of the Department of Learning in Engineering Sciences at KTH Royal Institute of
Technology, Sweden. During his career, his interests have shifted from the teaching and learning of computing sciences
and related topics in the discipline of computing to a broader interest in STEM education with a focus on student iden-
tities and access to STEM careers, inclusive education and curriculum design and theoretical frameworks for engineer-
ing education research and development. His current projects include the work reported in this paper, as well as eort
to understand and develop competencies in computational thinking through formal and informal education.
ORCID
Panagiotis Pantzos http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4954-6747
Lena Gumaelius http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4115-6584
Jerey Buckley http://orcid.org/0000-0002-8292-5642
Arnold Pears http://orcid.org/0000-0002-5184-4743
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