Facilitation Research for Engineering Design Education
This IMLS-funded study sought to examine the impact of educator-facilitation on engineering attitudes and self-efficacy of children in Design Challenges activities. Using a quasi-experimental design with statistically comparable pre- and post-experience groups, researchers collected observation, interview, and survey data to address the following research questions:
1. Do visitors’ perceptions of engineering activities improve as a result of the facilitated Design Challenges experience?
2. What aspects of the interactions between museum educators and Design Challenges visitors contribute to changes in visitors’ attitudes toward engineering and engineering self-efficacy?
a. Does the number of educator-facilitated interactions with visitors affect attitudes or engineering self-efficacy?
b. Does the point within the engineering design process at which the interactions occur affect attitudes or engineering self-efficacy?
c. Does the content/type of interaction affect attitudes or engineering self-efficacy?
3. What are the primary motivations for on-going participation in the activity?
4. What other factors influence the visitors’ perceived success during the engineering process?
Data were collected from a total of 304 family groups (152 pre-activity and 152 post-activity) with a focus child between the ages of 7 and 14. Across the entire post group, researchers observed over 1,000 interactions between visitors and facilitators at the Design Challenges activities.
A number of findings emerged from these rich data. Participants who had at least one encouraging check-in with an educator stayed 8 minutes longer, tested close to two additional designs, and had about four additional interactions with an educator, on average, than visitors who had no encouraging check-ins. All of these differences were statistically significant. Furthermore, each additional interaction with a facilitator offering encouragement or simply checking in was found to significantly increase self-efficacy scores by one-half point; that is, children with more encouragement from educators were more likely to say that they were capable of doing engineering design activities. This is particularly interesting as it provides additional support and context for a finding from an earlier study on educator interactions at Design Challenges (Kollmann & Reich, 2007). This also highlights the importance of encouragement for other museum educators who facilitate similar design-based activities. In addition, from inductive coding of the interview data, researchers also found that children who tested multiple designs were primarily motivated to do so because they wanted to improve their designs, and that parents usually rated their children’s success based on whether they felt their child had engaged in the engineering design process (not just the success of the child’s design). Future research could focus more on the topic of encouragement, such as parent facilitation and encouragement or visitor perceptions of encouragement from educators.