In March 2012 we ran I’m an Engineer for the first time. We’ve had engineers take part in the sister I’m a Scientist event so running a version specifically for engineers was an obvious move.
Before the event started we had some unknowns, despite considering ourselves well versed in running online engagement events. Would engineers want to take part? Would we be able to recruit Maths and D&T teachers? What questions would students ask?
When it came to evaluation time these were some of the key questions to answer. We’ve collected feedback from teachers, students and engineers. We’ve used their responses and data from the site to evaluate the event, and have written up our findings in the report below.
Here’s a summary of what we found:
Did engineers want to take part?
Yes. By the end of the first three months we had over 165 engineers apply for the 30 places. The mix was good too. 34% were female, 50% said they had been working for just 10 years or less, and 2/3rds worked in industry. The last figure differentiates them from our scientists of whom 2/3rds work in academia – see page 18 for more details.
Could we recruit Maths and D&T teachers?
Recruiting Maths and D&T teachers wasn’t so easy. We worked with DATA and NCETM. We had a good response from Maths teachers, but D&T teachers were more difficult to reach – see page 25.
What questions did students ask?
In I’m an Engineer we found that students were more interested in engineering as a job than as a discipline – see page 11. Over 50% of questions were about careers and workdays. 22% were specifically about some kind of engineering, often about the zone theme or the engineers’ work. Other popular questions were more personal ones. Students can’t define what engineering is in the same way that they can understand science in the school environment, so a lot more questions asked what engineering actually is and what engineers do.
Did the engineers enjoy it?
Yes. All the engineers that filled in the feedback survey would take part again and recommend it to their colleagues – see page 21. Engineers have their outlook on life changed. Lt Emma Bould from the Royal Navy was forced to confront the no-holds-barred reality that students view a warship more as an aggressive than defensive tool. “How many people have you killed?”. Matt Maddock realised that his pre-event fears of taking part were groundless and exhorted his fellow engineers to do more explaining about the world through public engagement.
Did the students benefit?
Yes. 87% of students that registered on the site actively participated by asking a question, taking part in a live chat, leaving a comment or voting. This is similar to I’m a Scientist, but still impresses us every time. Teachers found their students are now more aware of how Maths, D&T and Science studies relate to the real world. 94% of students who gave us feedback said they learnt new things about engineering – see page 27.
Did we meet our objectives?
We met two of our objectives, and the third was set too high initially as we hadn’t yet properly analysed data from I’m a Scientist as a benchmark to compare I’m an Engineer to.
Did I’m a Engineer work?
Yes. Engineers emerge from the two weeks in a state of exhilaration, energised by the questions and chats. Students are buzzing at the realisation that they can ask whatever they like and get an answer from a real person, from someone who isn’t a teacher.
Now it’s time to start chapter 2 and make the event sustainable and give hundreds more engineers and thousands more students the chance to get talking.