Purdue University Graduate School
2023.7.24 Ahmed Butt_v2_final.pdf (1.56 MB)

The Role of Digital Nudges in Engineering Students’ Engagement with an Educational Mobile Application

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posted on 2023-07-24, 15:57 authored by Ahmed Ashraf ButtAhmed Ashraf Butt

 The proliferation of digital educational applications (apps) has revolutionized the pedagogical landscape for students and instructors, both within and beyond the confines of traditional classrooms. Educational apps offer a variety of features that can help students learn more effectively, including personalized instruction and real-time feedback. However, some studies have found that students may not be engaging with the apps regularly or for extended periods of time. This lack of engagement can limit the apps’ potential to improve student learning. Consequently, researchers have investigated methods to enhance students’ app engagement, including the use of digital nudges. Digital nudging is a strategy that proposes utilizing small, non-intrusive cues that capitalize on individuals’ cognitive biases to influence their behavior.

This dissertation makes a significant contribution to ongoing efforts by examining the effectiveness of nudge-based digital interventions in improving students’ engagement with the CourseMIRROR educational app. CourseMIRROR is an educational mobile app that prompts students to reflect on the interesting and confusing aspects of lectures throughout a semester. The CourseMIRROR app uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithms to 1) scaffold the students while generating reflections and 2) summarize the students’ submitted reflections. This study focuses on designing digital nudges to improve students’ cognitive and behavioral engagement with specific features of the app that are crucial to achieving its primary purposes. These primary purposes include 1) facilitating students to submit reflections, 2) enabling students to view the reflection summary interface, and 3) scaffolding students to write in-depth and comprehensive reflections. The study consists of three experiments investigating the effectiveness of these digital nudges for improving student engagement with the CourseMIRROR app. 

For this dissertation, I conducted three experiments by implementing the CourseMIRROR app in multiple sections of a first-year engineering course at Purdue University over a semester. Experiment 1 investigated the impact of social comparison nudge and neutral reminder nudge to increase students’ reflection submissions by using the app. Students were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: social comparison nudge, neutral reminder nudge, or baseline (no nudge). The social comparison nudge involved reminding and showing peers’ behavior through their reflection submissions, and the neutral reminder nudge involved sending automated reminders to students to submit their reflections. The results indicated that social comparison and neutral reminder nudges were effective in increasing reflection submissions compared to the baseline condition. However, the social comparison nudge was slightly more effective in improving the number of reflection submissions than the neutral reminder nudge. Also, the nudge interventions became effective in increasing the reflection submissions by refocusing the students’ attention as time progressed in the semester. 

Experiment 2 explored the impact of summary reminder nudges and interface nudges to increase students’ visits to the reflection summary interface in the app. Students were randomly assigned to summary reminder nudge, interface nudge, or baseline conditions. The summary reminder nudge involved reminding students to visit the reflection summary interface in the app. The interface nudge involved making the summary available lecture more prominent to draw students’ attention to the reflection summary interface. The result revealed that summary reminder and interface nudges did not significantly improve the number of students’ visits to the reflection summary interface. Also, for all conditions, students’ visits to reflection summary interface decreased over time as time progressed. 

Experiment 3 examined the impact of scaffolding and throttling mindless nudges on promoting more comprehensive and lengthier reflection submissions. Students were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: scaffolding nudge, throttling mindless nudge, or baseline. The scaffolding nudge involved providing students with real-time feedback to guide their reflection writing, while the throttling mindless nudge involved giving a pause to re-think if they want to move forward to the next question or revise their reflection in the application. Overall, the results showed that scaffolding and throttling mindless nudges effectively promoted more comprehensive and lengthier reflection submissions over the semester and within each time. However, students’ reflections in all conditions remained either consistent or decreased in reflection text length and specificity score over time in a semester.  

The study’s results indicate that digital nudges can effectively enhance students’ engagement with educational applications, especially in reflection activities using CourseMIRROR. These findings provide valuable insights into designing and implementing digital nudges in educational apps and evaluating their impact on student engagement. Future research should build on these results to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the potential of digital nudges to support student engagement in educational technology settings.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Muhsin Menekse

Additional Committee Member 2

Mathew Ohland

Additional Committee Member 3

Sean Brophy

Additional Committee Member 4

Saira Anwar

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