The Mediation of Engineering Students' Academic Motivations and Subjectivities by Flipped Teaching

  • Geoffrey Rubner

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


The Flipped Classroom has attracted increasing interest in Higher Education. Many studies have been published, each typically comparing a single Flipped Classroom with an equivalent one that uses non-flipped teaching approaches. The majority of these studies have based their analysis on measures such as exam scores and student satisfaction, and are based on survey results. Only a small minority of such studies can be found that have used a theoretical framework in their analysis. In this thesis, which uses a case study approach, I use Activity Theory to analyse the mediation of students' academic motivations and subjectivities by flipped teaching. The study was carried out during 2020-21, within a university engineering department, where I taught. An extensive literature search revealed that it is relatively rare to find Activity Theory used in studies of flipped classrooms at university level. Furthermore, at the time of writing, there appear to be no such studies involving engineering programmes. Initially, a single year-1 flipped course was planned to be used as the vehicle for the research. The original intention was to use ethnographic techniques for data collection, however, this had to be abandoned following the intervention of the global Covid-19 pandemic. The corresponding response of the university resulted in the conversion of almost all taught courses to an online flipped model. This necessitated a change to the methods used for collecting data, but it also provided an opportunity, by widening the arena for data collection across all modules and all undergraduate years. Instead of using ethnography, Q Methodology, supported by semi-structured interviews, was used to operantly identify and analyse learners’ academic subjectivities and their relation to flipped teaching and learning. The results of the study support the hypothesis that flipped teaching approaches accentuate certain systemic contradictions in undergraduate engineering classrooms. This accentuation can be accounted for largely by the role-changes required of both learners and teachers in flipped classrooms. The results demonstrate that links can be drawn between the pedagogic tensions that arise from these contradictions, and learners’ subjectivities and academic motivation. The results from the Q data revealed that learner subjectivities could be categorised broadly into one of three factors/dimensions, each characterised by different views, attitudes and dispositions to learning. Learners whose subjectivities align with one of these factors/dimensions, and who express a preference for collaborative/collective forms of learning, are more likely than others to be impacted by implementations of flipped classrooms that limit their relational agency. The findings also show that learner’s academic motivations are particularly sensitive to the implementation of the synchronous components of flipped classrooms. Furthermore, they show that students will almost always disengage temporarily from the weekly cycle of synchronous and asynchronous learning imposed by flipped classrooms. All these results are discussed in detail in the thesis. This study contributes to knowledge by making both theoretical and methodological contributions to the understanding of Flipped Classroom pedagogy in undergraduate engineering. A theoretical contribution is made by the use of Activity Theory to examine the origins and effects of tensions and contradictions experienced by learners within Flipped Classrooms. A methodological contribution is made by using Q methodology to operantly investigate learners’ subjectivities under flipped learning.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJulian Williams (Supervisor) & Laura Black (Supervisor)


  • Vygotsky
  • subjectivity
  • motivation
  • Higher Education
  • Q methodology
  • engineering
  • Activity Theory
  • flipped classroom
  • Engestrom

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