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June 22, 2020
June 22, 2020
June 26, 2021
Educational Research and Methods
Title: Using Participatory Action Research (PAR) for Formative Assessment of a STEM Summer Bridge Program
Paper type: Work-in-Progress
Research, Academics and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP) is a six-week summer bridge program offered to incoming female engineering students at UMass Lowell. First implemented in 2018, RAMP enrolled 22 students its first year and 15 students the following year. The goals of this program are to increase the enrollment, retention, and success of female engineering students as they enter the College of Engineering, continue with their studies, and graduate into the workforce. The objectives are to encourage research participation, improve student content knowledge in gateway courses such as Calculus, and improve their sense of belonging, preparedness, and self-efficacy.
Towards these goals and objectives, we utilized Participatory Action Research (PAR) to construct a series of formative assessments prioritizing the views and participation of the RAMP students themselves. PAR was selected as a research and assessment strategy due to its emphasis on student participation and empowerment linked with action for positive change. Online surveys and four focus groups involved the students in topics on (i) what they were excited about doing and learning in RAMP; (ii) how to keep their engineering career in orbit; (iii) what surprised them about RAMP and suggestions for change; and (iv) a tree values exercise that had them identify their core values and the skills needed to support and grow them.
Analysis of the assessment data from these activities in 2018 showed that the RAMP students had set a combination of academic, social and professional goals for themselves and emphasized the need to have social connections to get used to life on campus. To keep their career in orbit, they expressed the need for guidance or reference points and highlighted the value in developing connections with professors and establishing professional connections outside of academe. They maintained that a balanced life with time for family and friends as being very important to keep them in orbit in school. As core values, they identified in order of importance, happiness, growth, intelligence challenge, family and love. Several academic and non-academic portions of the RAMP program were then aligned so as to help them anchor these values, and were also incorporated into the design of the 2019 RAMP program. For example, rather than have a researcher lead the focus groups, we trained two students who participated in the 2018 RAMP program to be facilitators, thus increasing student involvement and leadership, and also creating more possibilities for peer mentorship.
There are few reports that mention using PAR as a strategy for formative assessment in engineering bridge programs and reviews have stressed the need for effective formative assessment to bring about positive changes in future iterations of these programs (Ashley et al. 2017: 13). Based on our findings using PAR in the UMass Lowell RAMP program, we will identify the insights learned from this type of formative assessment and explain why this participatory and empowering approach is especially helpful for addressing inequities faced by women in engineering education.
Ashley, M., Cooper, K., Cala, J.M., Brownell, S.E. (2017). Building better bridges into STEM: A synthesis of 25 years of literature on STEM summer bridge programs. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16:es3, 1-18.
Tripathy, S. T., & Chandra, K., & Reichlen, D. (2020, June), Participatory Action Research (PAR) as Formative Assessment of a STEM Summer Bridge Program Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--33957
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