In 2014, we received a People Award from Wellcome Trust to engage school students with biomedical engineering through 8 zones of the I'm an Engineer online outreach competition.
1. To run eight zones on biomedical themes over three years, each with five engineers and 330 students
2. To get 40 biomedical engineers engaging with secondary students
- At least 75% to be involved in live chats and answering questions
- At least 75% to say they enjoyed the experience and would recommend to colleagues
- At least 60% to say they are likely to do more public engagement than before
- At least 60% to acknowledge an improvement in communication skills
3. To engage over 2,500 secondary students in biomedical engineering
- At least 75% of the students actively engage with the event:
- At least 75% of students think engineering is interesting after taking part
- At least 75% of teachers would recommend to colleagues
4. Stimulate debate and discussion around biomedical areas of engineering
5.To distribute £4,000 in prize money to be spent on further public engagement
6.To evaluate the project to measure if our aims and objectives are being met
Summary of activity:
We ran 8 zones, distributed across four events, including five engineers and an average of 391 students in each.
• 2 zones in I’m an Engineer June 2014: Food Zone, and Health Zone
• 2 zones in I’m an Engineer June 2015: Artificial Body Zone and Hospitals Zone
• 2 zone in I’m an Engineer March 2016: Food Zone, Surgery Zone
• 2 zones in I’m an Engineer June 2016: Health Zone, and Water Zone
40 engineers who took part, 48% were female and 15% were from black or minority ethnics.
– 100% of the engineers answered ASK questions and 95% were involved in live chats.
– 100% of those who responded to a post event survey said they enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to colleagues
– 100% of respondents said they wanted to do more public engagement after taking part.
– 95% of respondents agreed that they had improved their communication skills in the event.
In total 3,128 students logged in to the biomedical engineering zones.
– 84% of the students actively engage in ASK, CHAT or VOTE.
– Most students already had a high opinion of engineering jobs – 71% thought they were interesting before the event. However, this increased to 84% after the event, and the proportion who said they were ‘Very interesting’ increased from 31% to 42%.
– We made the teacher survey shorter and no longer ask about recommendations to colleague. However, 95% of the teachers who filled in the survey said they were satisfied with the event, and 77% were “very satisfied”.
. Students received 3,110 answers to their 1,614 questions approved on biomedical topics and what it’s like to be a biomedical engineer. For example: ‘Will we be able to 3D print human organs?’, ‘Is it possible to repair people through engineering?’, ‘Is there lots of maths involved in your work?’
In total, there were 127 live chats between students and engineers
We distributed £4,000 prize money to 8 winning engineers. We give the winners a year to use their money and to date four engineers have reported how they’ve used a total of £2,000 funding to develop their own workshops, visit schools in UK and Ireland, and build websites.
We produced individual reports for each zone, read them here: http://about.imanengineer.org.uk/category/zone-reports/wt/
In 2015 we produced an interim report that helped us keep track of our progress: https://about.imanengineer.org.uk/2015/09/10/im-a-biomedical-engineer-interim-report/
We also produced a final report on the project to be published on our site.
We evaluated the zones in four main ways:
1. Online surveys All teachers and engineers are asked to complete post event surveys. Students are asked to do a pre and post event survey. They answer an attitudinal question when they register and after they've taken part, asking how interesting they think engineering is, so we can track any attitudinal change.
2. Question coding We run semantic analyses of questions and live chats in the zones to see what students are asking.
3. Site metrics We are able to tell exactly how students and engineers are interacting on the site. This allows us to give indications of levels of engagement.
4. Post event interviews We interviewed engineers who had participated to find out in more depth what the experience was like for them.
What went well:
1.Over 600 more students logged in than was anticipated. This reflects the increasing demand for the I’m an Engineer event over the last 3 years. The biomedical zones were also popular with teachers and had an average of 391 students per zone, higher than the average for I’m an Engineer as a whole (374).
2.Being online we can reach those who are currently underserved by STEM outreach activities, and over the course of this Award we developed our approach to involving these schools. In the biomedical engineering zones, WP schools made up 10% of those offered places.
3.After taking part, the proportion of school students across the four events who said they thought engineering jobs were interesting increased from 71% to 84%. The proportion of students who said they were considering being an engineer rose from 24% before the event to 33% after taking part.
Students also gained a realistic perception of engineering and saw how diverse the types of engineer are. We asked them what they had learned during the event: 91% said they knew more about the types of tasks that engineers do, and 84% said they knew more about the types of projects that engineers work on.
4. All the engineers who filled in our survey (n=49) after the events including the biomedical zones said they enjoyed taking part, they would recommend participating to a colleague and they want to do more public engagement after taking part.
Engineers also agreed that they had improved their communications skills and enjoyed talking to students and finding out what they think of engineering. They praised the online format, as it gave them the opportunity to be themselves and engage with the students in a different way than they would have done face to face:
What was learned:
1.Biomedical engineering is a popular area with teachers and students.
2. We originally expected just 20% of the engineers to be from academia, based on previous experiences in I’m an Engineer events. In the event, 60% of the 40 engineers taking part were working in academia (compared to 23% in other IAE zones) and 5 of this group (13%) were also working in industry whilst doing research.
3. Students have a positive perception of engineering and I'm an Engineer improves it further.
Top tips and advice for others
1. This popularity certainly points towards an appeal for biomedical engineering within the varied landscape of engineering. Advocates for engineering should be aware that highlighting biomedical engineering could be a way to engage those who are turned off by the stereotypical view of engineering as dealing only with buildings and mechanics.
2. This may reflect that many biomedical engineers motivated to do outreach are at the ‘cutting edge’ and that industry-university partnerships are widespread in the field. To reach more industry based people will take more effort than those at universities
3. Look for ways to provide chances for interaction with the real people doing the research or work that you want students to engage with.