This Complete Evidence-based Practice article is primarily focused on the impact an introductory engineering makerspace course had on enrolled first-year student’s interest in engineering. National retention rates for engineering undergraduate degrees continue to be well below expectations. A major contributing factor is the nature of many first- and second-year gateway courses resulting in an undesirably large number of students leaving the program. If student experiences can be implemented in the first year that augments their interest in engineering such that it offsets the discouragement resulting from certain early course experiences, then students will be more likely to persist through degree in engineering.
Contemporary research has shown that there are individual constructs that not only play an influential role in retention but are even more meaningful than the question of aptitude and/or work ethic. Thus, if these factors can be effectively accounted for, then retention rates can be improved without lowering academic standards. One barrier in particular, often referred to in literature as interest (in engineering), has been the focus of pedagogy for a makerspace-based, introductory engineering course (ENGR 111) that all first-year engineering students at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering (SSoE) at the University of Louisville must take.
The interest barrier, defined in this paper as “student beliefs related to the significance and/or usefulness of engineering”, inherently includes student perception(s) related to the level of pleasure experienced in conducting engineering-related tasks or activities. Research has identified interest as the most significant retention impediment for SSoE students; specifically, an increase in interest predicted which students remained in engineering. Yet the significance of the interest question extends well beyond SSoE to engineering programs all over the country.
First-year engineering makerspace courses can have a positive impact on first-year interest in engineering. Not only do makerspaces offer chances for young students to engage in engineering endeavors in creative ways, but makerspaces have shown great potential in addressing broader goals of education, such as the augmentation of first-year engineering student retention. Much of the research on makerspace impacts and practices have focused on K-12 and informal education. Little is known about how a well-designed, makerspace-based engineering course can address barriers to first-year students’ persistence in engineering, such as the interest in engineering barrier focused on in this paper.
Research also suggest that the makerspace movement provides a beneficial opportunity for student development of interests and identity. The structure of ENGR 111 provides a context and potential for addressing motivational barriers, such as interest in engineering, in a manner that traditional classrooms cannot do. Likewise, ENGR 111 provides students the situational means to experience problem solving in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional course structure. While research in college retention has focused on integration into the university, research in engineering retention has focused more on integration into the engineering culture; thereby making ENGR 111 an ideal mechanism for addressing the first-year interest barrier. This study employed a post measure of students, asking about their individual interest in engineering and how impactful their ENGR 111 course experience was on their response to the interest query. This paper reports on the results and outcomes.
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