Writing a master’s thesis: Associations between the grade, self-efficacy, approaches to writing, and experiences of the thesis as a teaching and learning environment
Keywords:Master’s thesis writing, approaches to thesis writing, thesis as a teaching-learning environment, self-efficacy for thesis writing, thesis grade
Master’s thesis writing is a challenging endeavor, requiring students to engage in deeper learning processes and apply several academic competences. This study investigates the associations between students’ approaches to master’s thesis writing, the perceptions of the thesis as a teaching-learning environment, self-efficacy for thesis writing, and thesis grade. The data consist of engineering students’ answers (N=283) to a survey and their thesis grade, gathered from the study register of a Finnish university. The findings indicate a positive association between the thesis grade, deep and organized approach to thesis writing, self-efficacy as well as levels of interest and relevance for thesis writing. This study identified three groups of thesis writers who differed from each other in their approaches to thesis writing: 1) Students applying a dissonant approach; 2) Students applying a deep and organized approach; 3) Students applying an unorganized approach. Students applying a deep and organized approach to thesis writing differed significantly from the other two groups as they scored higher in their experiences of the elements of the thesis as a learning environment, self-efficacy for thesis writing and thesis grade. This study highlights its results in conjunction with previous research and offers practical implications for master’s thesis writing support.
Arias-Gundín, O., Real, S., Rijlaarsdam, G., & López, P. (2021). Validation of the writing strategies questionnaire in the context of primary education: A multidimensional measurement model. Frontiers in Psychology, 12(July), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.700770
Asikainen, H. (2014). Successful learning and studying in biosciences. Exploring how students’ conceptions of learning, approaches to learning, motivation and their experiences of the teaching-learning environment are related to study success. PhD Dissertation, University of Helsinki.
Asikainen, H., Parpala, A., Lindblom-Ylänne, S., Vanthournout, G., & Coertjens, L. (2014). The development of approaches to learning and perceptions of the teaching-learning environment during bachelor level studies and their relation to study success. Higher Education Studies, 4(4), 24–36. https://doi.org/10.5539/hes.v4n4p24
Asikainen, H., Salmela-Aro, K., Parpala, A., & Katajavuori, N. (2020). Learning profiles and their relation to study-related burnout and academic achievement among university students. Learning and Individual Differences, 78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2019.101781
Asikainen, H., Virtanen, V., Parpala, A., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2013). Understanding the variation in bioscience students’ conceptions of learning in the 21st century. International Journal of Educational Research, 62, 36–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2013.06.010
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.84.2.191
Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37(2), 122–147. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.37.2.122
Biggs, J. (1987). Student Approaches to Learning and Studying. Research Monograph. In Australian Education Research and Development. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED308201
Biggs, J. (1988a). Approaches to Learning and to Essay Writing. In R. R. Schmeck (Ed.), Learning Strategies and Learning Styles. Plenum. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4899-2118-5_8
Biggs, J. (1988b). Students’ Approaches to Essay-Writing and the Quality of the Written Product. American Educational Research Association. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 293 145).
Biggs, J. (2003). Aligning teaching for constructing learning. Higher Education Academy. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.3100776
Biggs, J., Lai, P., Tang, C., & Lavelle, E. (1999). Teaching writing to ESL graduate students: A model and an illustration. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 69(3), 293–306. https://doi.org/10.1348/000709999157725
Bruning, R., Dempsey, M., Kauffman, D. F., McKim, C., & Zumbrunn, S. (2013). Examining dimensions of self-efficacy for writing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(1), 25–38. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029692
Cerrato-Lara, M., Castello, M., Garcia Velazquez, R., & Lonka, K. (2017). Validation of the writing process questionnaire in two Hispanic populations : Spain and Mexico. Journal of Writing Research, 9(2), 151–172. https://doi.org/10.17239/jo owr-2017.09.02.03
Coertjens, L., Vanthournout, G., Lindblom-Ylänne, S., & Postareff, L. (2016). Understanding individual differences in approaches to learning across courses: A mixed method approach. Learning and Individual Differences, 51, 69–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2016.07.003
Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Costello, A. B., & Osborne, J. W. (2005). Best practices in exploratory factor analysis: Four recommendations for getting the most from your analysis. Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation, 10(7).
de Kleijn, R. A. M., Mainhard, M. T., Meijer, P. C., Pilot, A., & Brekelmans, M. (2012). Master’s thesis supervision: Relations between perceptions of the supervisor-student relationship, final grade, perceived supervisor contribution to learning and student satisfaction. Studies in Higher Education, 37(8), 925–939. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2011.556717
de Kleijn, R. A. M., Meijer, P. C., Pilot, A., & Brekelmans, M. (2014). The relation between feedback perceptions and the supervisor-student relationship in master’s thesis projects. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(4), 336–349. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2013.860109
de Winter, J. C. F., & Dodou, D. (2012). Factor recovery by principal axis factoring and maximum likelihood factor analysis as a function of factor pattern and sample size. Journal of Applied Statistics, 39(4), 695–710. https://doi.org/10.1080/02664763.2011.610445
Diseth, Å. (2011). Self-efficacy, goal orientations and learning strategies as mediators between preceding and subsequent academic achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 21(2), 191–195. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2011.01.003
Diseth, Å., & Martinsen, Ø. (2003). Approaches to learning, cognitive style, and motives as predictors of academic achievement. Educational Psychology, 23(2), 195–207. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443410303225
Eisinga, R., Grotenhuis, M. Te, & Pelzer, B. (2013). The reliability of a two-item scale: Pearson, Cronbach, or Spearman-Brown? International Journal of Public Health, 58(4), 637–642. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00038-012-0416-3
Ellis, R., Taylor, C. E., & Drury, H. (2006). University student conceptions of learning science through writing. Australian Journal of Education, 50(I), 6–29.
Ellis, R., Taylor, C. E., Drury, H., Ellis, R. A., Taylor, C. E., Drury, H., Ellis, R. A., Taylor, C. E., & Drury, H. (2007). Learning science through writing : associations with prior conceptions of writing and perceptions of a writing program. Higher Education Research & Development, 26(3), 297–311. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360701494310
Entwistle, N. (1991). Approaches to learning and perceptions of the learning environment. Higher Education, 22, 201–204.
Entwistle, N., & McCune, V. (2004). The conceptual bases of study strategy inventories. Educational Psychology Review, 16(4), 325–345. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-004-0003-0
Entwistle, N., McCune, V., & Hounsell, J. (2002). Approaches to studying and perceptions of university teaching-learning environments: concepts, measures and preliminary findings. In Occasional report 1. ELT Project. https://doi.org/10.3181/00379727-144-37694
Entwistle, N., McCune, V., & Hounsell, J. (2003). Investigating ways of enhancing university teaching-learning environments: Measuring students’ approaches to studying and perceptions of teaching. Powerful Learning Environments: Unravelling Basic Components and Dimensions., January.
Entwistle, N., McCune, V., & Scheja, M. (2006). Student Learning in Context: Understanding the Phenomenon and the Person. In Instructional Psychology: Past, Present, and Future Trends.
Entwistle, N., & Peterson, E. (2004). Conceptions of learning and knowledge in higher education: Relationships with study behaviour and influences of learning environments. International Journal of Educational Research, 41(6), 407–428. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2005.08.009
Finnish National Board on Research Integrity. (2019). Guidelines for ethical review in human sciences. Publications of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity 3/2019. https://tenk.fi/en/advice-and-materials/guidelines-ethical-review-human-sciences
Fraser, B. (1998). The Birth of a New Journal: Editor’s Introduction. Learning Environments Research, 1(1), 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009994030661
George, D., & Mallery, P. (2010). SPSS for Windows Step by Step: A Simple Guide and Reference Fourth Edition. In Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Gijbels, D., Van De Watering, G., Dochy, F., & Van Den Bossche, P. (2005). The relationship between students’ approaches to learning and the assessment of learning outcomes. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 20(4), 327–341. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03173560
Green, W. (2007). Write on or write off ? An exploration of Asian international students ’ approaches to essay writing at an Australian university. Higher Education Research & Development, 26(3), 329–344. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360701494336
Hailikari, T., & Parpala, A. (2014). What impedes or enhances my studying? The interrelation between approaches to learning, factors influencing study progress and earned credits. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(September), 812–824. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2014.934348
Hermann, K. J., Bager-Elsborg, A., & McCune, V. (2017). Investigating the relationships between approaches to learning, learner identities and academic achievement in higher education. Higher Education, 74(3), 385–400. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-016-9999-6
Herrmann, K. J., Bager-Elsborg, A., & Parpala, A. (2017). Measuring perceptions of the learning environment and approaches to learning: validation of the learn questionnaire. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 61(5), 526–539. https://doi.org/10.1080/00313831.2016.1172497
Hetthong, R., & Teo, A. (2013). Does writing self-efficacy correlate with and predict writing performance ? International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.7575/ijalel.v.2n.1p.157
Hyytinen, H., Haarala-Muhonen, A., & Räisänen, M. (2019). How do self-regulation and self-efficacy beliefs associate with law students’ experiences of teaching and learning? Uniped, 42(01), 74–90. https://doi.org/10.18261/issn.1893-8981-2019-01-06
Hyytinen, H., Toom, A., & Postareff, L. (2018). Unraveling the complex relationship in critical thinking, approaches to learning and self-efficacy beliefs among first-year educational science students. In Learning and Individual Differences (Vol. 67). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2018.08.004
Kember, D., Leung, D. Y. P., & McNaught, C. (2008). A workshop activity to demonstrate that approaches to learning are influenced by the teaching and learning environment. Active Learning in Higher Education, 9(1), 43–56. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787407086745
Lane, J., Lane, A. M., & Kyprianou, A. (2006). Self-efficacy, self-esteem and their impact on academic performance. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 32(3), 247–256. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2004.32.3.247
Lavelle, E. (1993). Development and validation of an inventory to assess processes in college composition. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 63(3), 489–499. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8279.1993.tb01073.x
Lavelle, E. (2001). Brief report: writing styles of college students. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 32(1), 60–67. https://doi.org/10.1080/10790195.2001.10850127
Lavelle, E. (2007). Approaches to writing. Studies in Writing, 20(2007), 219–230. https://doi.org/10.1108/s1572-6304(2007)0000020015
Lavelle, E., & Bushrow, K. (2007). Writing approaches of graduate students. International Journal of Experimental Educational Pscyhology, 27(6), 807–822.
Lavelle, E., & Guarino, A. J. (2003). A Multidimensional Approach to Understanding College Writing Processes. Educational Psychology, 23(3), 295–305. https://doi.org/10.1080/0144341032000060138
Lavelle, E., & Zuercher, N. (2013). The writing approaches of university students. Higher Education, 42(3), 373–391. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1017967314724
Lindblom-Ylänne, S., & Lonka, K. (1999). Individual ways of interacting with the learning environment - Are they related to study success? Learning and Instruction, 9(1), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0959-4752(98)00025-5
Lindblom-Ylänne, S., Parpala, A., & Postareff, L. (2018). What constitutes the surface approach to learning in the light of new empirical evidence? Studies in Higher Education, 0(0), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2018.1482267
Linnenbrink, E. A., & Pintrich, P. R. (2003). The role of self-efficacy beliefs in student engagement and learning in the classroom. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 19(2), 119–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573560308223
Lonka, K., Chow, A., Keskinen, J., Hakkarainen, K., Sandström, N., & Pyhältö, K. (2014). How to measure PhD students’ conceptions of academic writing-and are they related to well-being. Journal of Writing Research, 5(3), 245–269. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.673.9922&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Lonka, K., Sharafi, P., Karlgren, K., Masiello, I., Nieminen, J., Birgegård, G., & Josephson, A. (2008). MED NORD--A tool for measuring medical students’ well-being and study orientations. Medical Teacher, 30(1), 72–79. https://doi.org/10.1080/01421590701769555
Marsh, H. W., Hau, K. T., Balla, J. R., & Grayson, D. (1998). Is more ever too much? The number of indicators per factor in confirmatory factor analysis. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 33(2), 181–220. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327906mbr3302_1
Marton, F., & Säljö, R. (1976). On qualitative differences in learning: I - Oucome and process. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 4–11.
Mendoza, L., Lehtonen, T., Lindblom-Ylänne, S., & Hyytinen, H. (2022). Exploring first-year university students’ learning journals: Conceptions of second language self-concept and self-efficacy for academic writing. System, 106(November 2020), 102759. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2022.102759
Meyer, J. H. F. (1991). Study orchestration: the manifestation, interpretation and consequences of contextualised approaches to studying. Higher Education, 22(3), 297–316. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00132293
Meyer, J. H. F. (2000). The modelling of “dissonant” study orchestration in higher education. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 15(1), 5–18. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03173163
Parpala, A., Katajavuori, N., Haarala-muhonen, A., & Asikainen, H. (2021). How did students with different learning profiles experience ‘ normal ’ and online teaching situation during COVID-19 spring? Social Sciences, 10(337), 1–11. https://doi.org/https://www.mdpi.com/2076-0760/10/9/337
Parpala, A., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2012). Using a research instrument for developing quality at the university. Quality in Higher Education, 18(3), 313–328. https://doi.org/10.1080/13538322.2012.733493
Parpala, A., Lindblom-Ylänne, S., Komulainen, E., Litmanen, T., & Hirsto, L. (2010). Students’ approaches to learning and their experiences of the teaching-learning environment in different disciplines. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(2), 269–282. https://doi.org/10.1348/000709909X476946
Parpala, A., Mattsson, M., Herrmann, K. J., Bager-Elsborg, A., & Hailikari, T. (2021). Detecting the variability in student learning in different disciplines—a person-oriented approach. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 0(0), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/00313831.2021.1958256
Petrić, B. (2007). Rhetorical functions of citations in high- and low-rated master’s theses. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 6(3), 238–253. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2007.09.002
Phan, H. P. (2011). Interrelations between self-efficacy and learning approaches: A developmental approach. Educational Psychology, 31(2), 225–246. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443410.2010.545050
Pintrich, P. R., & DeGroot, E. V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1), 33–40. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.199
Postareff, L., Mattsson, M., & Parpala, A. (2018). The effect of perceptions of the teaching-learning environment on the variation in approaches to learning – Between-student differences and within-student variation. Learning and Individual Differences, 68(December 2017), 96–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2018.10.006
Prosser, M., & Trigwell, K. (1997). Relations between perceptions of the teaching environment and approaches to teaching. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 67(1), 25–35. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8279.1997.tb01224.x
Prosser, M., & Webb, C. (1994). Relating the process of undergraduate essay writing to the finished product. Studies in Higher Education, 19(2), 125–138. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079412331381987
Renninger, S., & Hidi, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111-127,. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep4102
Richardson, J. T. E. (2005). Students’ perceptions of academic quality and approaches to studying in distance education. British Educational Research Journal, 31(1), 7–27. https://doi.org/10.1080/0141192052000310001
Rytkönen, H., Parpala, A., Lindblom-Ylänne, S., Virtanen, V., & Postareff, L. (2012). Factors affecting bioscience students ’ academic achievement. Instructional Science, 40, 241–256. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-011-9176-3
Sakurai, Y., Parpala, A., Pyhältö, K., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2016). Engagement in learning: a comparison between Asian and European international university students. Compare, 46(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/03057925.2013.866837
Salmisto, A., Postareff, L., & Nokelainen, P. (2017). Relationships among civil engineering students’ approaches to learning, perceptions of the teaching-learning environment, and study success. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 143(4), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)EI.1943-5541.0000343
Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1987). Knowledge telling and knowledge transforming in written composition. In Advances in applied psycholinguistics: Reading, writing, and language learning. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1699
Smith, D., Campbell, J., & Brooker, R. (1999). The impact of students’ approaches to essay writing on the quality of their essays. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 24(3), 327–338. https://doi.org/10.1080/0260293990240306
Struyven, K., Dochy, F., Janssens, S., & Gielen, S. (2006). On the dynamics of students’ approaches to learning: The effects of the teaching/learning environment. Learning and Instruction, 16(4), 279–294. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2006.07.001
Trigwell, K., & Prosser, M. (1991). Improving the quality of student learning : the influence of learning context and student approaches to learning on learning outcomes. Higher Education, 22(1983), 251–266.
Trigwell, K., Prosser, M., & Waterhouse, F. (1999). Relations between teachers’ approaches to teaching and students’ approaches to learning. Higher Education, 37, 57–70. https://doi.org/10.1097/00007632-198509000-00010
Tuononen, T., & Parpala, A. (2021). The role of academic competences and learning processes in predicting Bachelor ’s and Master ’ s thesis grades. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 70(May 2020), 101001. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stueduc.2021.101001
Tuononen, T., Parpala, A., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2019). Graduates’ evaluations of usefulness of university education, and early career success–a longitudinal study of the transition to working life. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(4), 581–595. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1524000
Van Dinther, M., Dochy, F., & Segers, M. (2011). Factors affecting students’ self-efficacy in higher education. Educational Research Review, 6(2), 95–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2010.10.003
Vehviläinen, S. (2009). Student-initiated advice in academic supervision. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 42(2), 163–190. https://doi.org/10.1080/08351810902864560
Vehviläinen, S., & Löfström, E. (2014). ‘I wish I had a crystal ball’: discourses and potentials for developing academic supervising. Studies in Higher Education, 5079(June 2015), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2014.942272
Wagener, B. (2018). The importance of affects, self-regulation and relationships in the writing of a master’s thesis. Teaching in Higher Education, 23(2), 227–242. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2017.1379480
Wisker, G. (2019). Developing scientific thinking and research skills through the research thesis or dissertation. In Redefining Scientific Thinking for Higher Education: Higher-Order Thinking, Evidence-Based Reasoning and Research Skills (pp. 203–232). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-24215-2_9
Ylijoki, O.-H. (2003). Master’s thesis writing from a narrative approach. Studies in Higher Education, 26(1), 21–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070124067
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 Laura Mendoza, Sari Lindblom-Ylänne, Tuula Lehtonen, Heidi Hyytinen
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License.