Date of Award

December 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering and Science Education

Committee Member

Lisa Benson

Committee Member

Julie Martin

Committee Member

Sandra Linder

Committee Member

Charity Watson


This research is a sequential explanatory mixed methods study seeking to understand the influences of mathematics self-efficacy (math SE) on the behavior and attitudes of engineering students with poor math preparation behavior and attitudes in their first college math courses.

The quantitative phase of this research assessed the math SE of engineering students placed in non-college-level math courses at Clemson University. A total of 408 students completed a survey to classify their math SE level; based on the results of the quantitative data analysis, 11 engineering students were selected from different semesters between the Spring 2014 and Spring 2016 to be interviewed during the qualitative phase of this research.

Following a constructivist grounded theory approach for the qualitative data analysis, each of the eleven students’ interviews was coded and analyzed before conducting the interview whit the next participant. Findings of the grounded theory were compared and analyzed together with the quantitative results during the final mixing phase. This mixed analysis determined that these students’ choice of behaviors and attitudes in college math courses depended on their math SE beliefs and how these beliefs aligned with their mathematics competence/knowledge.

All interviewed students reported a relatively high math SE ranging from 6.2 to 9 (out of 10), but further analysis of their performance in their college math courses revealed differences in students’ descriptions of their math SE beliefs and their math competence/knowledge levels. This mismatch between students’ math SE and competence/knowledge affected students’ behaviors and attitudes in college math courses. Students with math SE beliefs matched to their math competence/knowledge reported to be more likely to spend extra time working to overcome their math deficiencies, and to seek extra help to address their doubts. However, students with math SE beliefs higher than their math competence/knowledge reported to be more likely to procrastinate and put poor effort into improving their math abilities, blaming external factors for their struggles in college math courses. On the other hand, students with math SE beliefs that were slightly lower than their math competence/knowledge reported to be more likely to spend extra time working on math related activities and to take their struggles learning math as opportunities to improve their math abilities.

Despite showing different behaviors and attitudes in math courses, these engineering students were confident that their math competence/knowledge would help them to complete all the math courses required by their majors. These students stated that they were likely to persist in engineering even if they face struggles in their math courses in the future due to their high math SE beliefs performing math in general.



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