I'm an Engineer is a STEM engagement activity where school students and engineers meet and interact online. Students challenge the engineers over fast-paced, text-based, live online CHATs. They ASK them anything they want, and VOTE for their favourite to win Â£500 to be spent on further public engagement.
The project develops young people's awareness of STEM careers and helps to break down stereotypes around engineers and engineering.
It gives engineers an opportunity to improve their skills and confidence in communicating about their work and often gives them a renewed sense of enthusiasm and a fresh perspective towards their own work.
Deliver six I'm an Engineer zones across three events (June 2016, November 2016, March 2017), involving 30 engineers and 2,000 students. At least 30% of the students taking part are from Widening Participation schools.
We planned to involve 30 engineers representing a diverse range of engineering fields.
We planned to recruit approximately 50% female engineers and at least 10% engineers from a BAME background.
40,000 views of the zones by members of the public in the year after the grant ends.
Summary of activity:
All six zones were delivered. Three additional engineers (33 total) were involved after a decision to increase the number of engineers in each zone from five to six. More than 2,800 students from 78 schools took part.
Of the 33 engineers who took part, 17 were male and 16 were female. This is in line with our intention to recruit approximately half female participants. Eight engineers were from a BAME background (24%), exceeding our target.
Overall 2,810 students logged into the Ingenious funded zones, and 87% actively engaged with the event (measured as participation in one or more of ASK, CHAT or VOTE).
37% of active students in the six zones were from WP schools. This exceeds our target of 30%
Pages in the zones have already been viewed more than 37,000 times since June 2016. We expect this number to continue to grow.
We analyse student and engineer behaviour on the site using web-metrics.
Throughout the event we collect comments from students and engineers in live chats and ASK questions on the site.
We also visit participating schools during the event to observe classes and talk to teachers. Teachers often email us directly about their experiences and to offer feedback.
We ask students about their attitudes to engineering before and after the event via online surveys on their site profiles. Completion of this is self-selecting, and we offer incentives. We also send a post-event survey to all teachers.
Finally , we interview engineers about their experiences after the event and ask them to compete post event surveys.
We use all this to create reports for each zone, and an evaluation report at the end of the project. Read more at http://about.imanengineer.org.uk/category/zone-reports/
What went well:
1. I'm an Engineer gave thousands of young people the chance to ask their own questions to adults outside their school and family circles. Many students won't have any personal connections with people like the engineers in the event and all the types of experience and expertise they offer. Taking part contributes to students' personal development and awareness of careers and future opportunities. It gives young people access to knowledge and ideas they would not otherwise encounter.
2. After the event, 80% of students said they thought engineers have an interesting job. 76% of students reported an increase in awareness of the skills needed to be an engineer. 92% of teachers said their students had a more positive view of STEM subjects In addition, teachers frequently give spontaneous reports about how the event develops other skills.
"Using the available technology to teach the students about relevant careers but also developing relevant and direct questioning skills. Links to online behaviour" - Teacher, I'm an Engineer, 2016
3. 88% of engineers said they had improved their communications skills, and 98% wanted to do more outreach. 100% became more aware of the public's views towards engineering.
"I walked away from it energized. That made me go back to my work and put into practice the things I'd been saying - that there are lots questions to answer, that it's okay to make mistakes."- Engineer interview, 2016
What was learned:
1. Regarding evaluation, in March 2017 we started asking students for additional personal data. This seems to have had an impact on the amount of other data students give us - return rates for post-event questionnaires, in particular, seems to have reduced. We are developing better integration of the survey questions into the site through the chats as well as profiles.
2. A main challenge is partnering with engineering companies for future events. We have learnt that strong support from individuals or groups concerned with public engagement within a company is difficult to translate into commitment from a wider organisation which may not share their passion. This lesson has helped shape our developing funding strategy where we will offer people who have the resources to fund the project personally the chance to partner with us.
Top tips and advice for others
1. Listen to the group you're engaging with during the development, and running, of your activity. Our experience, and research (e.g. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/sce.21288/full) shows that trusting public audiences to be the starting point leads to impactful engagement with engineering.
2. Empower the people you're engaging. Giving them things to do and allowing them to be decision makers means people feel they own the activity, rather than being passive spectators
3. Make efforts to reach beyond the already engaged and identify the right audiences- a mixed comprehensive in a former seaside town will get more from your time than an independent girls school in London.
4. Make efforts to reach beyond the stereotypes of engineering. We've had a great response to people working in biomedicine and software, for example.
5 Think carefully about the message your engagement is really sending- campaigns pointing out to girls that only 8% of engineers are female will reinforce the impression that engineering isn't for women. Focus instead on equal representation and equal success. Be aware that the language you use and the images you present are key to the perceptions people form of the activity before they even start engaging.