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Designing for Empathy in Museum-Based Settings to Support Learning Pathways to Engineering
July 19, 2021 @ 9:00 am - 10:00 am UTC+0
Women and girls continue to be underrepresented in engineering professions. One way of framing this underrepresentation is that pathways to engineering have not sufficiently supported all learners. However, promising research has suggested that girls’ interest and engagement in engineering may be supported by designing STEM activities around personally meaningful problems to support entry into STEM learning pathways. We present quantitative results from a museum-based study of activities that were designed to support girls’ (ages 7-14) engineering engagement by integrating narrative elements such as characters as end-users within activity designs. We found that when museum activities evoked empathy for characters within a user-centered design process, they supported a higher diversity of observed engineering practices as well as increased visitor dwell time (i.e., time spent with activities). These quantitative findings support the argument that designing for empathy in museum-based engineering design activities can support girls’ engagement in engineering and thus prepare them to enter learning pathways that expand their social networks to future engineering opportunities. This analysis also points to the need for further analysis of qualitative observations to identify specific activity design elements and materials that foster empathy as a driver for engineering with important implications for gender representation in engineering. Designing for empathy in museum-based engineering activities is critically important because understanding how to better do so may support a shift in how girls see themselves as the kind of people who can engage in engineering.