Characterizing student engagement with hands-on, problem-based, and lecture activities in an introductory college course

Keywords: Hands-on, Problem-based Learning, Situational Interest, Motivation, Introductory Course


This study examines the interest, motivation, and behavioral engagement of college students in an introductory course relative to three instructional formats used in the course: hands-on, problem-based laboratory stations; problem-based written case studies; and video lectures. Groups of five to seven students were assigned learning activities as treatments in a Latin Square design consisting of three experimental periods. At the beginning of selected laboratory sessions, students completed 10 minutes of the experimental activity immediately followed by a questionnaire. Students rated hands-on, problem-based laboratory stations as more challenging, novel, and attention-grabbing than they rated case studies or video lectures. Interest, intrinsic motivation, and behavioral engagement were greatest for groups completing laboratory stations followed by those completing case studies and lectures, respectively. Overall, the greater situational interest experienced during laboratory stations and case studies indicates that these activities can be leveraged to create learning environments that promote interest, engagement, and achievement.

Author Biographies

MaryGrace Erickson, Purdue University

MaryGrace Erickson is a doctoral student in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (USA). While writing this article, she was the laboratory coordinator for Purdue University’s Introduction to Animal Agriculture course.

Danielle Marks, Purdue University

Danielle Marks is a Master of Science student in the Department of Animal Sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN (USA). She has served as both lecture and laboratory coordinator for Purdue University’s Introduction to Animal Agriculture course.

Elizabeth Karcher, Purdue University

Elizabeth Karcher is an Assistant Professor and the Undergraduate Programs Coordinator in the Department of Animal Sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN (USA). She is the instructor for Purdue University’s Introduction to Animal Agriculture course.


Abrahams, I. (2009). Does practical work really motivate? A study of the affective value of practical work in secondary school science. International Journal of Science Education, 31(17), 2335-2353.

Ainley M. (2012) Students’ interest and engagement in classroom activities. In S. L. Christenson, A. L. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 283-301). Boston, MA: Springer.

Ainley, M., Hidi, S., & Berndorff, D. (2002). Interest, learning, and the psychological processes that mediate their relationship. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(3), 545-561.

Alexander, P. A., & Jetton, T. (2000). Learning from text: A multidimensional and developmental perspective. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 3) (pp. 285–310). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Alvarez-Bell, R. M., Wirtz, D., & Bian, H. (2017). Identifying keys to success in innovative teaching: Student engagement and instructional practices as predictors of student learning in a course using a team-based learning approach. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 5(2), 128-146.

Azevedo, F. S. (2013). The tailored practice of hobbies and its implication for the design of interest-driven learning environments. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 22(3), 462-510.

Barrows, H. S. (1986). A taxonomy of problem-based learning methods. Medical Education, 20(6), 481-486.

Barrows, H. S. (2000). Problem-based learning applied to medical education. Springfield, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report no. 1. Washington DC: George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Bergin, D. A. (1999). Influences on classroom interest. Educational Psychologist, 34(2), 87-98.

Bernstein, D. A. (2018). Does active learning work? A good question, but not the right one. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 4(4), 290-307.

Black, A. E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The effects of instructors’ autonomy support and students autonomous motivation on learning organic chemistry: A self-determination theory perspective. Science Education, 84(6), 740-756.<740::AID-SCE4>3.0.CO;2-3

Blumenfeld P. C., Kempler T. M., Kracjik, J. S. (2006). Motivation and cognitive engagement in learning environments. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 475-488). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Ecological systems theory (1992). In U. Bronfenbrenner (Ed.), Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development (pp. 106-173). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Chen, A., Darst, P. W., & Pangrazi, R. P. (1999). What constitutes situational interest? Validating a construct in physical education. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 3(3), 157-180.

Chi, M. T. H. & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP framework: Linking cognitive engagement to active learning outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49(4), 219-243.

Dan, Y., & Lan, W. (2010). Measurement and comparison of American college students' history interests. College Student Journal, 44(2b), 424-432.

Daniel, D. B., & Poole, D. A. (2009). Learning for life: An ecological approach to pedagogical research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(1), 91-96.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Springer.

Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class. Science, 332(6031), 862–864.

Dhanapal, S., & Shan, E. W. Z. (2014). A study on the effectiveness of hands-on experiments in learning science among year 4 students. International Online Journal of Primary Education, 3(1), 29-40. Retrieved from

Drinkwater, M. J., Gannaway, D., Sheppard, K., Davis, M. J., Wegener, M. J., Bowen, W. P., & Corney, J. F. (2014). Managing active learning processes in large first year physics classes: The advantages of an integrated approach. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 2(2), 75-90.

Erickson, M. G., Guberman, D., Zhu, H., & Karcher, E. L. (2019). Interest and active learning techniques in an introductory animal sciences course. North American College Teachers of Agriculture Journal. 63(2). Retrieved from

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415. Retrieved from

Frydenberg, E., Ainley, M., & Russell, V. J. (2005). Student motivation and engagement. Canberra: Department of Education, Science and Training.

Fulmer, S. M., & Frijters, J. C. (2009). A review of self-report and alternative approaches in the measurement of student motivation. Educational Psychology Review, 21(3), 219-246.

Gokhale, A. A. (1995). Collaborative learning enhances critical thinking. Journal of Technology Education, 7(1), 22-30. Retrieved from

Guay, F., Vallerand, R. J., & Blanchard, C. (2000). On the assessment of situational intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The situational motivation scale (SIMS). Motivation and Emotion, 24(3), 175-213.

Guay, F., Boggiano, A. K., & Vallerand, R. J. (2001). Autonomy support, intrinsic motivation, and perceived competence: Conceptual and empirical linkages. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(6), 643-650.

Haigh, M., & Gold, J. R. (1993). The problems with fieldwork: A group‐based approach towards integrating fieldwork into the undergraduate geography curriculum. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 17(1), 21-32.

Hewett, R., & Conway, N. (2016). The undermining effect revisited: The salience of everyday verbal rewards and self‐determined motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 37(3) 436-455.

Hidi, S. (1990). Interest and its contribution as a mental resource for learning. Review of Educational Research, 60(4), 549-571.

Hidi, S, & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2000). Motivating the academically unmotivated: A critical issue for the 21st century. Review of Educational Research, 70(2), 151-179.

Hidi, S. & Renninger, K.A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development, Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111-127.

Hidi, S., Renninger, K. A., & Krapp, A. (2004). Interest, a motivational variable that combines affective and cognitive functioning. In D. Y. Dai & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Motivation, emotion, and cognition: Integrative perspectives on intellectual functioning and development (pp. 89–115). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn? Educational Psychology Review, 16(3) 235-266.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99-107.

Hodson, D. (1990). A critical look at practical work in school science. School Science Review, 71, 33-40.

Hofstein, A., & Lunetta, V. N. (2003). The laboratory in science education: Foundations for the twenty-first century. Science Education, 88(1), 28-54.

Holstermann, N., Grube, D., & Bögeholz, S. (2009). Hands-on activities and their influence on students’ interest. Research in Science Education, 40(5), 743-757.

Izard, C. E. (2007). Basic emotions, natural kinds, emotion schemas, and a new paradigm. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(3), 260–280.

Jeno, L. M., Raaheim, A., Kristensen, S. M., Kristensen, K. D., Hole, T. N., Haugland, M. J., & Mæland, S. (2017). The relative effect of team-based learning on motivation and learning: A self-determination theory perspective. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 16(4).

Jonassen, D. H., & Hung, W. (2008). All problems are not equal: Implications for problem-based learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 2(2).

Kempa, R. F., & Diaz, M. M. (1990). Motivational traits and preferences for different instructional modes in science. Part 1: Student’s motivational traits. International Journal of Science Education, 12(2), 195-203.

Kintsch, W. (1980). Learning from text, levels of comprehension, or: Why anyone would read a story anyway. Poetics, 9(1/3), 87-98.

Kirby, S., Byra, M., Readdy, T., & Wallhead, T. (2015). Effects of spectrum teaching styles on college students’ psychological needs satisfaction and self-determined motivation. European Physical Education Review, 21(4), 521–540.

Kontra, C., Lyons, D. J., Fischer, S. M., & Beilock, S. L. (2015). Physical experience enhances science learning. Psychological Science, 26(6), 737-749.

Krapp, A. (2005). Basic needs and the development of interest and intrinsic motivational orientations. Learning and Instruction, 15(5), 381-395.

Krapp, A., Hidi, S., & Renninger, A. (1992). Interest, learning, and development. In K. A. Renninger, S. Hidi, & A. Krapp (Eds.), The role of interest in learning and development (pp. 3–25). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

LaGuardia, J. G., Ryan, R. M., Couchman, C. E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Within-person variation in security of attachment: A self-determination theory perspective on attachment, need fulfillment, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(3), 367–384.

Landis, J. R., & Koch, G. G. (1977). The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics, 33(1), 159-174.

Lane, E. S., & Harris, S. E. (2015). A new tool for measuring student behavioral engagement in large university classes. Journal of College Science Teaching, 44(6), 83-91. Retrieved from

Lewalter, D., Krapp, A., Schreyer, I., & Wild, K-P. (1998). Die Bedeutsamkeit des Erlebens von Kompetenz, Autonomie und sozialer Eingebundenheit für die Entwicklung berufsspezifischer Interessen [The relevance of experiencing competence, autonomy and social relatedness for the development of job-related interests]. In K. Beck & R. Dubs (Eds.), Kompetenzentwicklung in Der Berufserziehung: Kognitive, motivationale und moralische Dimensionen kaufmännischer Qualifizierungsprozesse (pp. 143-168). Stuttgart: Steiner.

Lewis, M. D., & Granic, I. (2000). Introduction: A new approach to the study of emotional development. In M. D. Lewis & I. Granic (Eds.), Emotion, development, and self-organization: Dynamic systems approaches to emotional development (pp. 1-15). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Linn, M. C., & Slotta, J. D. (2006). WISE science. In L. Abbeduto (Ed.), Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial issues in educational psychology (4th ed., pp. 310-316). Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill.

Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Durik, A. M., Conley, A. M., Barron, K. E., Tauer, J. M., Karabenick, S. A., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2010). Measuring situational interest in academic domains. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 70(4), 647-671.

McDonald, F., Reynolds, J., Bixley, A., & Spronken-Smith, R. (2017). Changes in approaches to learning over three years of university undergraduate study. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 5(2), 65-79.

McHugh, M. L. (2012). Interrater reliability: The kappa statistic. Biochemia medica, 22(3), 276-282. Retrieved from

Middleton, J. A. (1995). A study of intrinsic motivation in the mathematics classroom: a personal constructs approach. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 26(3), 254-279.

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231.

Renninger, K. A. (2000). Individual interest and its implications for understanding intrinsic motivation. In C. Sansone & J. M. Harackiewicz (Eds.), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance (pp. 373-404). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Renninger, K. A., & Hidi, S. (2011). Revisiting the conceptualization, measurement, and generation of interest. Educational Psychologist, 46(3), 168-184.

Rigby, C. S., Deci, E. L., Patrick, B. C., & Ryan, R. M. (1992). Beyond the intrinsic-extrinsic dichotomy: Self-determination in motivation and learning. Motivation and Emotion, 16(3), 165–185.

Roberts, J. C. (2015). Situational interest of fourth-grade children in music at school. Journal of Research in Music Education, 63(2), 180–197.

Rotgans, J. I., & Schmidt, H. G. (2011). Cognitive engagement in the problem-based learning classroom. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 16(4), 465-479.

Rotgans J. I. & Schmidt H. G. (2012) Problem-based learning and student motivation: The role of interest in learning and achievement. In G. O’Grady, E. Yew E., K. Goh, & H. Schmidt (Eds.) One-day, one-problem: An approach to problem-based learning (pp. 85-101). Singapore: Springer.

Rowles, C. J. (2012). Strategies to promote critical thinking and active learning. In D. M. Billings & J. A. Halstead (Eds.), Teaching in nursing: A guide for faculty (4th ed.) (pp. 283-315). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Savin-Baden, M. (2000). Group dynamics and disjunction in problem-based contexts. In S. Glen & K. Wilkie (Eds.), Problem-based Learning in Nursing (pp. 87-106). Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Schraw, G., Bruning, R., & Svoboda, C. (1995). Sources of situational interest. Journal of Reading Behavior, 27(1), 1–17.

Schraw, G., & Dennison, R. S. (1994). The effect of reader purpose on interest and recall. Journal of Reading Behavior, 26(1), 1–18.

Serrano-Cámara, L. M., Paredes-Velasco, M., Alcover, C., & Velazquez-Iturbide, J. Á. (2014). An evaluation of students’ motivation in computer-supported collaborative learning of programming concepts. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 499-508.

Silvia, P. J. (2008). Interest—The curious emotion. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(1), 57–60.

Tavakol, M., & Dennick, R. (2011). Making sense of Cronbach’s alpha. International Journal of Medical Education, 2, 53-55.

Underhill, K. (2016). Extrinsic incentives, intrinsic motivation, and motivational crowding-out in health law and policy. In I. G. Cohen, H. F. Lynch, & C. T. Robertson (Eds.), Nudging health: Health law and behavioral economics (pp. 190-201). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Vallerand, R. J., Blais, M. R., Brière, N. M., & Pelletier, L. G. (1989). Construction et validation del’échelle de motivation en éducation (EME)/Construction and validation of the motivation toward education scale. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 21(3), 323–349.

Webb, Jeff, & Engar, Ann. (2016). Exploring classroom community: A social network study of reacting to the past. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 4(1), 1-17.

Wild, K-P. (2000). Die Bedeutung betrieblicher Lermungebungen für die langfristige Entwicklung intrinsischer und extrinsischer Lernorientierungen [The role of learning environments in vocational education for the development of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational orientations]. In U. Schiefele & K-P. Wild (Eds.), Interesse und Lernmotivation: Untersuchungen zu Entwicklung, Förderung und Wirkung (pp. 73-93). Münster: Waxmann. Retrieved from

Yu, S., Levesque-Bristol, C., & Maeda, Y. (2018). General need for autonomy and subjective well-being: A meta-analysis of studies in the US and East Asia. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19, 1863–1882.

Yuretich, R. F., Khan, S. A., Leckie, R. M., & Clement, J. J. (2001). Active-learning methods to improve student performance and scientific interest in a large introductory oceanography course. Journal of Geoscience Education, 49(2), 111-

Zacharia, Z. C., Loizou, E., & Papaevripidou, M. (2012). Is physicality an important aspect of learning through science experimentation among kindergarten students? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(3), 447-457.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1985). The development of “intrinsic” motivation: A social learning analysis. In G. J. Whitehurst (Ed.), Annals of Child Development, vol. 2 (pp. 117-160) Greenwich, CT: JAI.

How to Cite
EricksonM., MarksD., & KarcherE. (2020). Characterizing student engagement with hands-on, problem-based, and lecture activities in an introductory college course. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 8(1), 138-153.