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Observing and Measuring Interest Development Among High School Students in an Out-of-School Robotics Competition

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Evaluation: Impact of Curriculum for PreK-12 Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Joseph E. Michaelis University of Wisconsin - Madison

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Joseph E Michaelis is a Ph.D. student in Educational Psychology in the Learning Sciences area at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. His research involves studying interest in STEM education, focusing on the impact of learning environments, feedback, and influence of social constructs and identities. This research includes developing inclusive learning environments that promote interest in pursuing STEM fields as a career to a broad range of students.

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Mitchell Nathan University of Wisconsin - Madison

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Mitchell J. Nathan is a professor of learning sciences in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prof. Nathan received his Ph.D. in experimental (cognitive) psychology. He also holds a B.S. in electrical and computer engineering, mathematics and history. He has worked in research and development in artificial intelligence, computer vision and robotic mobility, including: design and development of autonomous robotic arms and vehicles; sensor fusion; the development of expert systems and knowledge engineering interview techniques; and the representation of perceptual and real-world knowledge to support inference-making in dynamic environments. Nathan also has worked on computer-based tutoring environments for mathematics education that rely heavily on students' own comprehension processes for self-evaluation and self-directed learning (so-called unintelligent tutoring systems). Prof. Nathan has authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications, given more than 120 presentations at professional meetings, and has secured over $25M in research funds to investigate and improve STEM learning, reasoning and instruction. Among his projects, Dr. Nathan directed the IERI-funded STAAR Project, which studied the transition from arithmetic to algebraic reasoning, served as Co-PI for the NSF-funded AWAKEN Project, which documented how people learn and use engineering, and currently co-directs the National Center for Cognition and Mathematics Instruction. He is a faculty member for the Latin American School for Education, Cognitive and Neural Sciences. As part of his service to the nation, Dr. Nathan served on the National Academy of Engineering/National Research Council Committee on Integrated STEM Education, and is currently a planning committee member for the Space Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council workshop Sharing the Adventure with the Student: Exploring the Intersections of NASA Space Science and Education. At the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Nathan holds affiliate appointments in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, the Department of Psychology, and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. He is a member of the steering committee for the Delta Program (part of the national CIRTL Network), which promotes the development of a future national STEM faculty committed to implementing and advancing effective teaching practices for diverse student audiences. Prof. Nathan currently is Director of the Center on Education and Work and Director of the Postdoctoral Training Program in 
Mathematical Thinking, Learning, and Instruction. He is an inductee and executive board member of the University of Wisconsin’s Teaching Academy, which promotes excellence in teaching in higher education.

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A potential benefit of the proliferation of out-of-school STEM programs is increased interest in engineering, which targets the well-documented need for recruitment and retention of high quality entrants into the engineering workforce. Hidi and Renninger’s (2006) Four-Phase Model of Interest Development (FPMID) posits that development of a person’s interest requires proper support to trigger, develop, and maintain interest in a domain. According to FPMID, a student’s interest can be triggered temporarily by a highly engaging situation (situational interest), or from a personal predisposition to engage that is more enduring and intrinsically motivated (individual interest). Each developmental phase of interest requires appropriately matched forms of support and learning opportunities in order to maintain and foster a student’s developing interest. In this study we propose the use of Lave and Wegner’s (1991) Legitimate Peripheral Participation in Communities of Practice as a model for understanding the role that the socio-cultural environment plays in the development of an individual’s interest. Without differentiated support from the community, a person may regress in their interest in a domain, or lose interest entirely. Thus, to appropriately meet students’ needs, program developers need to understand the process of increasing and maintaining student interest and design programs to meet the interest development needs of students.

The goal of this paper is twofold. First, as an example of measuring program efficacy in developing interest in engineering, we report on the authors’ findings from the use of the Four-Phase Interest Development in Engineering Survey (FIDES 2.0) with high-school students in an out-of-school/after-school engineering program. Second, we provide a detailed description of the in situ process of interest maintenance and development as described by the FPMID through the lens of Legitimate Peripheral Participation for these after-school program participants.

Program efficacy was determined using FIDES 2.0, a reliable and validated instrument that assesses interest levels across a broad range of indicators. FIDES 2.0 was administered twice to 9th – 12th grade students (N=13) in an out-of-school robotics competition program in order to assess baseline interest and then accurately document changes in participants’ interest in engineering. Initial (Mean = 5.47, σ = 0.74, α = 0.81) and post-competition scale scores 20 weeks later (Mean = 5.79, σ = 0.67, α = 0.84) confirmed that FIDES 2.0 was a highly reliable instrument, and revealed a statistically significant gain in interest over 20 weeks, p = 0.04, as predicted.

Qualitative analyses from field observations, video analysis, and participant interviews, reveal how peer interactions maintained and developed interest as participants moved closer to full participation in the community of practice over the course of the robotics competition. By combining quantitative measurement of interest with longitudinal qualitative analysis of participant interactions, this research contributes to our empirical and theoretical understanding of the emergence, development, and maintenance of interest in after-school settings, with implications for how to best design such programs in order to broaden participation and engagement in engineering.

Michaelis, J. E., & Nathan, M. (2016, June), Observing and Measuring Interest Development Among High School Students in an Out-of-School Robotics Competition Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25814

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