Effects of Student Interests on Engagement and Performance in Biomechanics

in Journal of Applied Biomechanics
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  • 1 University of Pittsburgh

There is a need for pedagogical techniques that increase student engagement among underrepresented groups in engineering. Relating engineering content to student interests, particularly through biomechanics applications, shows promise toward engaging a diverse group of students. This study investigates the effects of student interests on engagement and performance in 10th grade students enrolled in a summer program for students underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. The authors assessed the effects of interest-tailored lectures on student engagement and performance in a 5-week program with bioengineering workshops, focusing on the delivery of biomechanics content. A total of 31 students received interest-tailored lectures (intervention) and 23 students received only generic lectures (control) in biomechanics. In addition, the authors assessed the effects of teaching method (lecture, classroom activities, and laboratory tours) on student engagement. The authors found interest-tailored lectures to significantly increase student engagement in lecture compared with generic lectures. Students that received interest-tailored lectures had an insignificant, but meaningful 5% increase in student performance. Students rated laboratory tours higher in engagement than other teaching methods. This study provides detailed examples that can directly assist student teaching and outreach in biomechanics. Furthermore, the pedagogical techniques in this study can be used to increase engagement of underrepresented students in engineering.

The National Science Foundation reports that 50% and 38% of the US population are women and minorities (Hispanic, Black, Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander), respectively.1 Yet, only 20% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering are earned by women, and 20% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering are earned by Hispanic, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native minorities.1 Low diversity in engineering has a negative impact on the relevance of engineered solutions. For example, little attention has been given to the safety of pregnant women with respect to the extent of motor vehicle crash research.2 Consequently, 60% of traumatic injuries during pregnancy occur from motor vehicle crashes.3 Furthermore, there is risk of unconscious bias from like-minded developers who are developing algorithms to infer population data. Specifically, estimated health measures of female and different ethnic populations are at increased risk of inaccurate representation.4 Thus, there is a need to increase diversity in the engineering fields to facilitate engineering solutions that are appropriate for our diverse population.

The current theoretical process of becoming a scientist or engineer (referred to as the Science Technology Engineering Mathematics [STEM] pipeline) does not consider multiple pathways or reflect the learning style of women and underrepresented minorities.5,6 The STEM pipeline is linear in nature with required benchmarks (eg, completing eighth grade algebra, completing high-school calculus, entering a STEM major), but fails to describe the pathway of nearly half of the individuals that become scientists or engineers.5 These failures are partly attributed to the pipeline not considering the role of motivation and individual experiences in pursuing a STEM degree.5,6 The pipeline ignores student engagement, which can be modeled as the product of student motivation and active learning experiences.7 Previous research has demonstrated success in engaging a diverse group of students in the STEM fields through student engagement techniques.6,8 Basing educational policies on a faulty pipeline leads to minimal growth in STEM professionals and limited diversity among those professionals,5 but student engagement techniques show potential to increase diversity of student representation.6 Therefore, increasing student engagement in engineering for young women and minorities is a promising method to grow diversity in the engineering fields. Below we outline the theory-based components, practice-related outcomes, and gaps in the literature on student engagement.

Student motivation, which is the product of students’ expectation of success and value in what is being learned, has been shown to contribute to students’ interest in earning STEM degrees.911 For example, high-school students who value and expect to succeed in science were more likely to rate STEM careers (scientist, engineer, and computer scientist) higher than non-STEM careers for future interests.9 Similarly, eighth grade students who expected to be in a science-related career and displayed high mathematical achievement were 2.6 times more likely to earn a STEM degree than students who did not expect to be in a science-related career and displayed lower mathematical achievement.11 Furthermore, students’ prior academic performance influences their expectations of success. Students with higher Scholastic Aptitude Test math scores, high-school percentiles, and first semester grade point averages in college are more likely to declare a STEM major and earn a degree in STEM.10 Therefore, student expectation of success and value in engineering can influence student motivation in pursuing an engineering degree.

The impact of students’ perceived value of STEM education has been overlooked. Students’ expectation of success and value in STEM are both critical components of student motivation, as student motivation does not occur if one of these components is absent.7 Yet, the majority of educational curriculums are only focused on increasing student expectation of success (eg, raising test scores and promoting advanced courses).11,12 This is surprising, given the impact of student expectation in STEM (ie, mathematical achievement level) and student value in STEM (ie, students expecting to be in science-related careers) is similar.11 A high expectation in STEM (regardless of value in STEM) or high value in STEM (regardless of expectation in STEM) were both associated with an additional 17% to 31% of students earning a bachelor’s degree in STEM.11 Thus, enhancing student value in engineering is a potential novel pathway to increase student motivation in pursuing an engineering degree.

Active learning occurs when the student’s mind is active in the learning process.7 Thus, many teaching pedagogies have been designed to involve student thinking in the learning process (active learning activities include the following: muddiest point,13 think-pair-share,14 flipped classroom,15 and guided hands-on activities16). From a cognitive psychology perspective, meaningful learning occurs when the student can build new information onto what they already know (ie, building upon their own schema of how the world works).7,17 Students remember information that is intuitive and meaningful, and transferring new information is feasible when students can create associations to connect new information to an existing schema.7 Thus, memory and transfer are critical components of active learning. Additional features contribute to memory (eg, iterations/practice) and transfer (eg, emotions toward learning) in active learning, but this study will focus on making meaningful and associated connections to student schemata.

Prior work has used basketball6 as well as arts and storytelling8 to engage students in STEM. While these studies created new pathways for students to engage in STEM activities, interests are personal and all students may not relate to basketball, arts, and storytelling. The field of biomechanics is unique, as this field bridges several STEM fields (biological science, exercise and sports science, health science, ergonomics and human factors, engineering and applied science),18 and can act as a link between students’ personal interests and student interest in STEM.6 Thus, an opportunity exists for instructors to engage underrepresented students in the STEM fields, particularly through biomechanics applications, by relating STEM content to student interests.6 Student interests may provide the necessary link to engage underrepresented students in engineering.

We propose to use student interests to increase student engagement and performance in biomechanics. Specifically, incorporating student interests into course content may assist students in making associations (ie, transferring) and meaningful connections (ie, remembering) with new biomechanics content to their existing schemata, thus, facilitating active learning. Alternatively, or in addition to, using student interests may increase their perceived value in the biomechanics content that is being learned, leading to increased motivation. Increases in student engagement have led to increases in student performance.19 Therefore, we believe targeting components of motivation and active learning will lead to an increase in student engagement, facilitating an increase in student performance (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

—Model of student engagement. Solid arrows represent student engagement connections that have been previously established in literature. Dashed arrows represent the potential connections between student interests and student engagement.

Citation: Journal of Applied Biomechanics 36, 5; 10.1123/jab.2020-0029

This study will investigate effects of personal student interests on student engagement. Personal student interests will consist of lecture content that has been tailored to the students’ specific interests (ie, interest-tailored lectures). We will test the hypothesis that interest-tailored lectures will increase student engagement and performance. In addition, this study will quantify student engagement by teaching method (lecture, classroom activities, and laboratory tours). Findings from this work will characterize the effects of student-specific content on student engagement and provide insight on student engagement across teaching methods.

Methods

Participants

Students underrepresented in the STEM fields were recruited to participate in a university STEM program (Supplementary Material 1 [available online]). This study assesses student engagement and performance data from two 10th grade cohorts that participated in the bioengineering workshops during 2016 and 2017. Only fully completed assessments were considered for data analysis, resulting in 23 and 31 student responses in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Approval was obtained by the institutional review board at the University of Pittsburgh (No. 18120147). Investigators obtained nonsensitive, deidentified data to protect persons whose data was investigated.

Bioengineering Workshops

The bioengineering workshops were 2 hours in duration, including a lecture and a hands-on activity. The environment of the bioengineering workshops was identical between the 2 cohorts. Specifically, lecture was delivered via lecture slides (PowerPoint; Microsoft® Corporation, Redmond, WA), and the lectures and hands-on activities were held in the same lecture and laboratory rooms. No additional incentives (eg, candy) were given to the students to obtain classroom participation. Each week of the bioengineering workshop focused on a different discipline within bioengineering (Table 1).

Table 1

The Focus of Each Week for the Bioengineering Workshops

WeekDiscipline
1Medical devices
2Neural engineering
3Tissue engineering
4Biomechanics
5Ethics

This study investigates student-specific content outcomes from the biomechanics week. This week exposed the students to biomechanical applications in the fields of ergonomics/occupational safety, sports performance, and orthopedics. In addition, the students toured 2 biomechanics laboratories, a motion capture laboratory and an orthopedic biomechanics laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. The motion capture laboratory was equipped with force plates (Bertec Corp, Columbus, OH), a motion capture system (Vicon Motion Systems Ltd, Oxford, United Kingdom), and electromyography with accelerometer sensors (Delsys Incorp, Natick, MA). The other lab was equipped with an Instron materials testing machine (Illinois Tool Works Inc, Norwood, MA), robotic actuators for simulating joints, and instruments for cadaveric tissue dissection to study tissue behavior. Identical laboratory tours were given to the 2016 and 2017 cohorts (no tours other weeks). Students in the 2017 cohort (intervention group) received interest-tailored lectures for the biomechanics week and generic lectures for the other weeks. Students in the 2016 cohort (control group) received generic lectures for all weeks of the program.

Interest-tailored Lectures

Interest-tailored biomechanics lectures contained the same content as the generic biomechanics lectures but were tailored to the interests of the 2017 cohort using visual aids (ie, text, images, video). The 2017 cohort completed a form, prior to participating in workshop content, to identify their interests (Supplementary Material 2 [available online]). This form asked students to list careers, sports, athletes, video games, celebrities, and other activities that were of interest to them. An average of 9 (range: 2–18) interests were reported by each student. From these forms, at least 2 interests of every student were included in the biomechanics lectures for the 2017 cohort. Student interests were used as visuals to aid in the explanation of biomechanical applications (Figure 2), importance of population-specific environments and products, functions of the musculoskeletal system, biomechanical instruments, and assessing biomechanical data (Table 2). For a few examples: recording studios with musical artists of different stature were used to show the importance of room layout (variability in microphone height) to reduce injury risk and increase task efficacy; visuals of Zac Efron and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson completing a tire flip were used to stress the importance of designing tasks that fit individual strength levels; a visual metaphor was provided relating the protection function of the military to the protection function of the musculoskeletal system; images of LeBron James running over a force plate and Kevin Hart standing on a force plate were used to discuss differences in ground reaction forces.

Figure 2
Figure 2

—An example of an interest-tailored slide on biomechanics applications. Images depicted in the slide were selected to apply content to student interests which include: tennis, aerospace engineering, video games, and health care occupations (bioengineering, nursing, physician, and anesthesiologist).

Citation: Journal of Applied Biomechanics 36, 5; 10.1123/jab.2020-0029

Table 2

Student Interests That Were Incorporated in the Biomechanics Lectures

CategoryStudent interests
CareersHealth care, military, computer programming, law, engineering, veterinarian, singing, film/acting, and architect
SportsBasketball, baseball/softball, football, tennis, hockey, track and field, swimming, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, and gymnastics
AthletesSerena Williams, Odell Beckham Jr, Kris Bryant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Sydney Leroux, Usain Bolt, Sidney Crosby, and Simone Biles
Video gamesCall of duty/Battlefield, and NBA 2 K
CelebritiesChance The Rapper, Zac Efron, Kodak Black, Kevin Hart, and The Rock
OtherWriting, drawing/art, music, and watching TV/Netflix/YouTube/movies

A total of 44 visual aids with known connections to student interests were incorporated into the interest-tailored lectures. In reference to the generic biomechanics lectures, 22 visual aids were replaced with student-specific interests (eg, changing an image of a storage facility with Chance The Rapper producing music to signify the production and storage function of the musculoskeletal system; and changing an image of Andrew McCutchen to Serena Williams when referencing sport biomechanics). Seven new visual aids were added to the interest-tailored biomechanics lectures (eg, images of additional careers that benefit from ergonomics and occupational safety), and 15 visual aids were not changed (eg, images related to the health care careers). Selection of student interests was based on (1) including a minimum of 2 interests per student and (2) selecting interests that were popular among several students (Supplementary Tables S1 and S2 [available online]).

To estimate differences between generic and interest-tailored lectures, the number of visual aids that linked to each student’s interests was examined (Supplementary Material 3 [available online]). A mean of 10 (SD = 6; range: 2–23) visual aids related to each student’s interests in 2017. The number of visual aids related to student interests in 2016 is unknown but was estimated to have a mean of 6 (SD = 5; range: 0–19).

Student Engagement Assessment

Student engagement surveys were completed by the intervention group. The surveys asked the students 4 questions on (1) interest in biomechanics, (2) engagement in lecture, (3) enjoyment in the hands-on activities, and (4) enjoyment in biomechanics lab tours. The students were asked to rate their agreement to the above statements using a 7-point Likert Scale. Likert responses were scored from −3 to 3 by an increment of 1 from strongly disagree to strongly agree (−3: strongly disagree, −2: disagree, −1: somewhat disagree, 0: neutral, 1: somewhat agree, 2: agree, 3: strongly agree). Students completed this survey twice, once at the beginning of the biomechanics week (pre interest-tailored lectures) and once at the end of the biomechanics week (post interest-tailored lectures) (Supplementary Material 4 [available online]).

Student Performance Assessment

The control and intervention groups completed the same biomechanics quiz to assess student performance. The biomechanics quiz consisted of matching, multiple choice, calculation, and open-ended questions. The students were also asked to complete a short essay on the importance of a biomechanics application of their choice. Students were scored on the percentage of points obtained (20 points possible). In addition, both cohorts completed a pretest at the beginning of the program (week 1) to assess their baseline knowledge of bioengineering.

Statistical Analysis

Descriptive statistics (mean, median, and SD) were reported for student engagement questions to characterize student engagement across lectures (generic, interest-tailored) and teaching methods (lectures, activities, and lab tours). Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were performed for the intervention cohort to assess whether a change in average response was observed using the student engagement survey for pre and post interest-tailored lectures. A Wilcoxon signed-rank test was performed for each survey question (excluding enjoyment in lab tours). Unpaired tests were performed on student performance between the control and intervention cohorts. A Wilcoxon rank-sum test was performed on the biomechanics quiz score and an independent t test was performed on the pretest score.

Results

Students in the study were primarily from minority ethnicities and represented females and males (Table 3). Slightly more students identified as male in the 2016 cohort and more students identified as female in the 2017 cohort. The majority of the students identified as Black in both cohorts.

Table 3

Demographics of the 2016 and 2017 Cohorts

YearMaleFemaleBlackWhiteAsian/IndianLatinxmultiracial
20161211183101
20171120241123

Note: Values indicate the number of students.

One student from the 2017 cohort did not complete the student engagement surveys. Thus, student engagement responses are assessed from 30 students. For pre interest-tailored lectures, the median student response was somewhat interested in biomechanics (Likert score = 1; mean = 0.70; SD = 1.34), somewhat engaged during lecture (Likert score = 1; mean = 0.87; SD = 1.41), and enjoyed the hands-on activities (Likert score = 2; mean = 1.43; SD = 1.41). Post interest-tailored lectures, the median student response was somewhat interested in biomechanics (Likert score = 1; mean = 0.80; SD = 1.61), engaged during lecture (Likert score = 2; mean = 1.73; SD = 1.05), enjoyed the hands-on activities (Likert score = 2; mean = 1.77; SD = 1.28), and strongly enjoyed the biomechanics lab tours (Likert score = 3; mean = 2.36; SD = 0.87) (Table 4). Thus, there was a noticeable increase in student engagement during lecture with interest-tailored lectures (median response change from somewhat engaged to engaged in lecture). A noticeable change was not observed in the student median response for interest in biomechanics and enjoyment in hands-on activities with interest-tailored lectures. The median student response enjoyed the biomechanics lab tours more than the hands-on activities.

Table 4

Mean [Median] (SD) Likert Scores for Student Engagement Questions

Student engagement surveyInterest in biomechanicsEngaged during lectureEnjoyment in activitiesEnjoyment in lab tours
Pre interest-tailored lectures0.70 [1] (1.34)0.87 [1] (1.41)1.43 [2] (1.41)NA
Post interest-tailored lecture0.80 [1] (1.61)1.73 [2] (1.05)1.77 [2] (1.28)2.36 [3] (0.87)

Abbreviation: NA, not applicable.

Interest-tailored lectures did not change interest in biomechanics (P = .306; W29 = 47). Half of the 2017 cohort did not change their interest in biomechanics. One-third of students (10 of 30) increased their interest, while one-sixth of students (5 of 30) decreased their interest in biomechanics (Figure 3A). Interest-tailored lectures significantly increased student engagement in lecture by 0.87 on the Likert scale (P < .001; W29 = 155), partially confirming our hypothesis. The majority of the 2017 students (60% or 18 of 30) found the interest-tailored lectures more engaging than the generic lectures. About 30% of the students (9 of 30) did not change their rating on lecture engagement, and 10% of students (3 of 30) showed a decrease in lecture engagement (Figure 3B). Interest-tailored lectures insignificantly increased enjoyment in the hands-on activities (0.33 on the Likert scale; P = .242; W29 = 56). Only 43% of students (13 of 30) found increased enjoyment in hands-on activities, whereas 27% (8 of 30) and 30% (9 of 30) had no change and decreased enjoyment in hands-on activities, respectively (Figure 3C).

Figure 3
Figure 3

—Student responses to interest in biomechanics (A), engagement during lecture (B), and enjoyment in activities (C) pre (left side of line) and post (right side of line) interest-tailored lectures. Line colors denote an increase (black), decrease (light gray), or no change (gray) in Likert score rating from pre to post interest-tailored lectures. Line permeability corresponds to the number of students with the same pre to post response, denoted in the plot legend.

Citation: Journal of Applied Biomechanics 36, 5; 10.1123/jab.2020-0029

Pretest scores were similar for students that received the generic lectures (scored 32% correct on pretest) and interest-tailored lectures (scored 32% correct on pretest) (P = .970; t42 = .038). Students that received interest-tailored lectures (scored 85%) scored 5% higher on the biomechanics quiz than the students that received generic lectures (scored 80%), but the change was not statistically significant (P = .165; X21,54 = 1.924) (Figure 4). Thus, our hypothesis is partially rejected (no significant increase in student performance).

Figure 4
Figure 4

—Pretest and biomechanics quiz scores for the students who received generic lectures (control group, black bars) and interest-tailored lectures (intervention group, white bars). Error bars denote SDs.

Citation: Journal of Applied Biomechanics 36, 5; 10.1123/jab.2020-0029

Discussion

This study assessed the effects of including personal interests into biomechanics course content on student engagement and performance in a 5-week bioengineering program. Personal interests (via interest-tailored lectures) were found to significantly increase student engagement during lecture. Including personal interests into the content increased student performance, but the increase was not significant. In addition, this study quantified student engagement by teaching method. Students showed the greatest engagement in laboratory tours compared with other teaching methods (lectures and hands-on activities, not statistically tested).

Utilizing students’ personal interests increased the overall student engagement during lecture. The majority of students in the 2017 cohort (60%) found the interest-tailored lectures more engaging than the generic lectures. For these students, student engagement may have been influenced from an increase in student motivation. Specifically, relating biomechanics content to the students’ interests may have increased their perceived value of what was being taught.7 Alternatively, or in addition to, building new biomechanics content onto their personal interests (ie, existing schemata) may have engaged them in the active learning process by facilitating the transfer and memory of new knowledge.7 Potentially, students may have had a greater interest toward the biomechanics content than the content of previous weeks. However, we do not believe this drove the increase in lecture engagement because students rated their engagement in lecture (1.73 on Likert scale) greater than their interest in biomechanics (0.80 on Likert scale), even after receiving interest-tailored lectures. Therefore, we believe utilizing students’ personal interests is a promising pedagogical technique to increase student engagement. High student engagement (ie, high motivation) in STEM is associated with students earning degrees in STEM.9,10 Thus, this technique can be used to target the interests of underrepresented students in engineering to increase diversity in the engineering fields.

Not all students showed an increase in lecture engagement with interest-tailored lectures. Of the 9 students that did not change their rating on lecture engagement, 8 of these students had also rated high engagement (Likert score of 2 or 3) during generic lectures. These students may be our “eager learners” who are typically engaged during class, regardless of how the content is delivered. Three students (10%) showed a decrease in lecture engagement. Two of these 3 students had above average incorporation of their interests into lecture (23%–27% of lecture), thus, we are unable to conclude the mechanism(s) of decreased lecture engagement (ie, lower levels of incorporated interests). Thus, this pedagogical technique may not improve student engagement for every student. Some students may prefer more traditional teaching environments. Our results are similar to a student perception study on the flipped classroom, where 20% of students found the flipped classroom to not meet their learning needs.20

Interest-tailored lectures did not increase student interest in biomechanics. The observed increases and decreases for interest in biomechanics may be due to an increase in student knowledge of biomechanics applications. That is, some students may have thought biomechanics aligned well with their interests until they learned more about the field. While other students may have not been as interested in biomechanics until they learned more about the field. Undergraduate students have similar experiences through internships that refine their personal interests to their career ambitions.21 While interest-tailored lectures did not increase overall student interest in biomechanics, this pedagogical technique may have assisted 50% of the 2017 cohort in refining their personal interests in biomechanics.

A slight increase (0.33 on Likert scale) in enjoyment in hands-on activities was observed with interest-tailored lectures, but the increase was not significant. A small increase in student enjoyment on hands-on activities is not surprising, as only the lectures were enhanced with personal student interests. Incorporating personal interests in other aspects of teaching (class activities, homework, etc) may further increase student engagement in these areas.

While statistically insignificant, students that received interest-tailored lectures scored 5% higher on the biomechanics quiz than students that received generic lectures. This agrees with the vast amount of literature that has reported improvements in student performance with increased student engagement.19 Although the observed increase did not reach statistical significance, a 5% increase can be a meaningful outcome in an assessment grade (half a letter grade or 0.5 grade point average boost). We have no evidence to support that differences in prior student knowledge influenced the higher quiz score in the interest-tailored group, because average pretest scores were equivalent between the 2 cohorts. While not assessed in this study, improving student performance can feedback into student engagement by improving the student expectancy of success.7,9,10

Students rated laboratory tours highest in engagement when compared with other teaching methods (ie, lectures and hands-on activities). Visiting laboratories that were using biomechanics for real-world applications likely enhanced their perceived value of biomechanics, increasing student motivation. Furthermore, field trips (or laboratory tours) provide a platform for students to create personally relevant connections to prior experiences and learning,22 facilitating active learning. Therefore, providing real-world exposure in parallel to STEM content can enhance student engagement.

Students may find interest-tailored lecture as engaging as hands-on activities. Students rated hands-on activities higher in enjoyment than engagement in lecture pre interest-tailored lectures (a difference of 0.56 on Likert scale). Post interest-tailored lectures, the difference in engagement ratings between hands-on activities and lecture was small (a difference of 0.04 on Likert scale) (Figure 5). Therefore, utilizing personal interests in lecture may raise student engagement to a similar level of engagement that is perceived during hands-on activities.

Figure 5
Figure 5

—Student responses (Likert score) for engagement in lecture (black bars) and enjoyment in activities (white bars) pre and post interest-tailored lectures. Error bars denote standard deviations.

Citation: Journal of Applied Biomechanics 36, 5; 10.1123/jab.2020-0029

Pedagogical techniques in this study can directly assist student engagement in biomechanics and can be adopted toward other STEM fields. This study provides procedures and examples on inserting student interests into STEM (specifically, biomechanics). Future questionnaires on student interests may benefit from a combination of multiple choice and open response questions. Students could be asked to select the sports, careers, and hobbies they are interested in (ie, multiple choice), while having an opportunity to list an additional response. This would give the instructor more control on the content presented and could increase the number of interest responses listed by each student, particularly for the students that listed only one or no interest(s) within a category. However, the open response for athletes and celebrities was necessary to provide examples that were relevant to the student (ie, not using persons the students did not know).

This is a secondary research study with limitations. The data analyzed were the data available (limited sample size) from a STEM summer program that altered the delivery of the biomechanics lectures for the benefit of the students. Student engagement measures were self-reported. Objective measures of student engagement (eg, number of students participating) are needed to support these findings. This study did not statistically test student engagement by teaching method (observations reported). This study did not directly assess components of student engagement (ie, motivation, active learning). Further research (eg, component specific questionnaires) is needed to delineate the connections between personal interests and the pathways to student engagement.

This study connected biomechanics content to personal interests (via interest-tailored lectures) and found this pedagogical technique to increase student engagement during lecture. The engagement rating during interest-tailored lectures was found to be similar to the level of student enjoyment during hands-on activities. Furthermore, students that received interest-tailored lectures had a meaningful improvement on student performance compared with the control, although the difference was not significant. When comparing student engagement across teaching method, students rated laboratory tours highest in engagement among other teaching methods (ie, lectures and activities). Real-world exposure via laboratory tours provides students a platform to create personally relevant connections. Thus, this study highlights the importance of creating personal connections to facilitate student engagement. This work has direct application to biomechanics education and outreach activities. Broadly, incorporating student interests into teaching methods is a promising pedagogical technique to grow the diversity of students entering the STEM fields.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Investing Now Program at the University of Pittsburgh. In particular, the authors would like to thank Ms Linda Demoise, Ms Heather Mordecki, and Dr Alaine Allen for their administrative support. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP 1247842). The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

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If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

Pliner, Beschorner, and Mahboobin are with the Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Dukes is with the Engineering Education Research Center, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA.

Pliner (emp95@pitt.edu) is corresponding author.
  • View in gallery

    —Model of student engagement. Solid arrows represent student engagement connections that have been previously established in literature. Dashed arrows represent the potential connections between student interests and student engagement.

  • View in gallery

    —An example of an interest-tailored slide on biomechanics applications. Images depicted in the slide were selected to apply content to student interests which include: tennis, aerospace engineering, video games, and health care occupations (bioengineering, nursing, physician, and anesthesiologist).

  • View in gallery

    —Student responses to interest in biomechanics (A), engagement during lecture (B), and enjoyment in activities (C) pre (left side of line) and post (right side of line) interest-tailored lectures. Line colors denote an increase (black), decrease (light gray), or no change (gray) in Likert score rating from pre to post interest-tailored lectures. Line permeability corresponds to the number of students with the same pre to post response, denoted in the plot legend.

  • View in gallery

    —Pretest and biomechanics quiz scores for the students who received generic lectures (control group, black bars) and interest-tailored lectures (intervention group, white bars). Error bars denote SDs.

  • View in gallery

    —Student responses (Likert score) for engagement in lecture (black bars) and enjoyment in activities (white bars) pre and post interest-tailored lectures. Error bars denote standard deviations.

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    • Export Citation
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