Engaging parents with engineers

In November 2017, we ran a zone for the parents, carers and families of students in I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer. We want to help them discover more about engineering careers.

Why we did it

Research and surveys consistently point towards the strong influence of parental attitudes on children’s careers choices and aspirations¹²³⁴. For professions such as engineering, where knowledge of what it’s really like is generally low, parents can fall back on limiting old-fashioned stereotypes of who can become an engineer, often unconsciously biasing their children away from considering the industry.

Our brilliant lineup of engineering types

In the Future Transport Zone, parents log in, find out what working in engineering is like from the profiles of a diverse group of engineers, and ask their own questions about careers. They could then see that engineering is a profession for all kinds of children.

We also wanted to find out, if given the opportunity, parents and family members would engage more formally with the online event. We’ve often heard anecdotally that students in IAS and IAE talk about their engagement with scientists and engineers around the dinner table. If given the opportunity, would parents be intrigued enough to take a look themselves and ask their own questions alongside the children?

What happened?

A question from a parent to Craig, researcher in the Transportation Research Group, University of Southampton

Locations of people going to futuretransport.imanengineer.org.uk

79 users linked to 20 schools created accounts

69 questions asked  – 54 approved and 15 duplicates

100 answers from 14 engineers and researchers

3 evening drop in live chats where parents and students logged in to chat with engineers (5 other chats had just engineers logging in)

4,570 visits to the site, including 1,173 views of engineer profiles

This level of engagement was below what we had expected for the zone. Given that 130 schools and 4,878 students took part across I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer UK in November, it was reasonable to expect around 5% (240) of those students would have at least one parent interested enough to log in.

However, the 79 user accounts are solid evidence of students and parents logging in at home, and there were thousands of views of information about the engineers and their careers. So what have we found out?

What we’ve learned

1. We need to get more schools committed to promoting the zone

Four weeks before the event we provided teachers with copy for newsletters, flyers to photocopy and take home, ideas for using the zone in homework and we printed the zone URL on every student’s log in card.

During the event, we asked all teachers in IAE and IAS to tell us if and how they had informed parents. 30 teachers responded, of which 25 had told parents or were planning to. This represents 20% of the schools taking part.

The most popular method, used by 14 of 25 teachers, was photocopying the template flyer about the event and sending it home. Only 6 of 25 teachers posted something in the school newsletter and set logging in as homework.

Lack of time was cited as the main issue by the 5 teachers who hadn’t been able to inform parents.

Taking this 20% of confirmed active schools as a baseline we need to get at least 60% of schools informing their parents about a future zone. We might need to build parental engagement into the event as standard and work at making it as easy as possible for teachers to reach parents.

2. Some parents want to find out what engineering is like alongside their children

There were several questions in ASK clearly from parents, evenly spread between questions on the theme and those about careers. In a live chat, a family sat down together, with the student typing questions on their parents behalf.

Click to read the answers

After the event, we interviewed a parent who had taken part alongside his daughter. He said that he specifically wanted to know about the engineers’ views on how friendly the industry was to women because his other daughter was studying to become a mechanical engineer. He also said he had expected the engineers online to be undergraduates but was pleasantly surprised to find a group of experienced engineers to read about.

What’s next?

I have to say that I think this is a wonderful idea to include parents – Teacher

Parents might engage more if they were speaking to the same people as their children were in class – Teacher

The way forward for parental engagement with the event isn’t yet completely clear. Teachers approve of the idea. Parents do take the opportunity to look at the engineers and ask questions. Students want to engage more with the site beyond their classroom experience. If the aim is to engage parents more with STEM careers then when running the zone again we need to make sure they know about the opportunity.

In future, we could:

  • require teachers to confirm how they will promote a family focused zone before the event.
  • capture information about visitors to the site who visit but don’t create an account to see who’s using it that way.
  • not run a dedicated zone. Instead encourage students in all zones to submit questions from their parents, and run one or two evening live chats.
  • give parents access to Careers Zone, where they can find out about a wide range of STEM careers alongside their children.

To start with, we’ll be trialing an evening live chat open to family in school zones during the March 2018 event.

  1. Bandura A; Barbaranelli C; Caprara GV; Pastorelli C (2001) “Self-Efficacy Beliefs as Shapers of Children’s Aspirations and Career Trajectories” Child Development
  2. Schoon, I; Ross, A; Martin, P (2007) “Science related careers: aspirations and outcomes in two British cohort studies” Equal Opportunities International 
  3. ASPIRES Project Final Report (2013) “ASPIRES: young people’s science and careers aspirations, age 10-14”
  4. “Poor advice stunting young people’s career aspirations” Retrieved 28 February 2018
Posted on January 28, 2018 by in Evaluation. Comments Off on Engaging parents with engineers