T5-STEM1-5 - Assessing interest and confidence as components of student motivation in informal STEM learning

1. Innovative Practice Work In Progress
Mark Blair1 , Stephen Frezza1
1 Gannon University

This WIP paper submission focuses on the development and deployment of assessment of informal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education conducted in various pre-college settings.

Informal STEM Learning (ISL) is “learning [that] occurs across the lifespan and in places and spaces beyond schools or the school day” -NSF. ISL is most often designed to develop interest and confidence among pre-college students in the STEM fields. These are increasingly valued activities, so consequently assessment of these informal activities is becoming a topic of increasing research.

The objective of this research is to assess how K-12 students develop interest and/or confidence through engagement in ISL activities. The current work has followed an educational outreach group that has conducted STEM outreach for five years. Previous data collection efforts focused on a robotics and python-based programming class and involved 20 students and 9 observers between the ages of 16 to 18. The primary contribution of this study centers around instrument development to measure the level of interest and confidence developed through STEM learning activities.

Data Collection

To date, we have developed a paper-based questionnaire, after performing literature review on similar stem activities, to collect the data from pre-college students and a correlated observation instrument for the facilitators of the STEM activities. A seven-point Likert-scale is used (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree) to measure the student’s assessment of STEM activities. The observation instrument divided into two parts: learner’s assessment data, and  instructor/observer assessment data.

The primary weaknesses of this self-reported data are its reliability and context. It was unclear whether students were thoughtfully answering questions. Additionally, no data was collected on students’ prior experience or disposition toward STEM to provide context to their reported confidence and interest. Even with gains in these areas, there is still no guarantee these gains result in further engagement in these fields.

The proposed solution will ask more information about the students’ historical experience and interest in the STEM fields as well as add a behavioral component to the evaluation. Participants will be part of a five-week course focused on robotics. Students will take short daily surveys as well as a beginning and exit survey. QR codes will be used to track students though the five-week course without collecting any personal information other than gender. A second QR code will be assigned to each student giving them access to additional online STEM resources, assistance, and activities. Results will be assessed in a faceted fashion. The research will focus on the change in initial interest (I) and confidence (C). The effect of outreach is ΔI + ΔC. Visits to the website using the QR code are considered reciprocal engagement behavior (E); therefore, E = ΔI + ΔC. This type of dynamic data may answer more questions, such as which is more important to engendering engagement: interest or confidence? The paper and presentation will report on 1) instrument development, 2) initial findings of the research