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Board 357: Pilot Study of the Impacts of a Robotics Curriculum on Student’s Subject-Related Identities and Understanding of Engineering

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Holly M Golecki University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

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Dr. Holly Golecki (she/her) is a Teaching Assistant Professor in Bioengineering at the University of
Illinois Urbana-Champaign and an Associate in the John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. She holds an appointment at the Carle-Illinois College of Medicine in the Department of Biomedical and Translational Sciences. She is also a core faculty member at the Institute for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in the College of Engineering. Holly studies biomaterials and soft robotics and their applications in the university classroom, in undergraduate research and in engaging K12 students in STEM. Holly received her BS/MS in Materials Science and Engineering from Drexel University and her PhD in Engineering Sciences from Harvard University.

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Elizabeth Ann McNeela University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

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Bioengineering undergraduate student interested in the effects of outreach programs and curriculums on engineering enrollment.

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Thomas Tran University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


Karin Jensen University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Karin Jensen, Ph.D. (she/her) is an assistant professor in biomedical engineering and engineering education research at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include student mental health and wellness, engineering student career pathways, and engagement of engineering faculty in engineering education research.

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Participation in educational robotics, tinkering, and making are common precursors to enrollment in engineering majors. Negative perceptions of robotics can inhibit some students from participating and later, pursuing engineering studies. Gender disparities persist across many engineering disciplines and are particularly high in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, with less than 20% of undergraduate degrees being awarded to women (ASEE By the Numbers 2021). K12 robotics programs have shown potential in increasing a student’s likelihood of enrolling in a mechanical or electrical major. By broadening the applications of robotics to human-centered designs and highlighting soft and biomaterials used in building robots, the field of soft robotics may be a platform to engage a diversity of students in K12 robotics and later, engineering majors. This paper presents a pilot study aimed at answering the research question: Can a soft robotics curriculum impact high school students’ attitudes and self-beliefs, and serve as a strategy to recruit women students to engineering majors traditionally dominated by men?

To answer this research question, a soft material robotics curriculum and quantitative survey were piloted at a public high school in a class of 20 students. The class was composed students of whom 50% identify as girls and 50% identify as boys. The pilot curriculum was delivered over four days. Students participated in pre- and post-surveys, having parental consent in accordance with Institutional Review Board requirements. Students collaboratively worked in pairs to complete the builds using elastomer and textile materials, building robotic components while being introduced to engineering terms, concepts, and design process workflow. Pre- and post- surveys were distributed to students, measuring changes in STEM identities, engineering agency beliefs, and career interest.

The results of this small pilot informed changes to the curriculum and quantitative survey tools for future use. Survey data analysis highlighted an increase in familiarity with soft robotics concepts, such as the material makeup being composed of “soft” materials for “human medical use.” There was also an increased understanding of specific engineering majors rather than the broader discipline. When asked to identify which major an individual may study to work on soft robots, participant answers exhibited a broader understanding of specific career paths after the curriculum. Preliminary analysis of the pilot study indicates our curriculum’s potential to introduce students to engineering and its related career paths. The pilot also provided insight to the method of surveying used and justified for us the use of a retrospective survey in a full scale planned study. This program may serve as a pathway to engage a diversity of students in robotics and engineering leveraging new materials and applications.

Golecki, H. M., & McNeela, E. A., & Tran, T., & Jensen, K. (2023, June), Board 357: Pilot Study of the Impacts of a Robotics Curriculum on Student’s Subject-Related Identities and Understanding of Engineering Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--42998

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