This project set out with the intent of exploring the potential of an innovative research method for use in the evaluation of university outreach programs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of the targeted programs early in the project changed the target application somewhat, but not the overall purpose of the project. Applied instead to an in-house STEM program at a partner school and the move to online learning due to the suspension of face-to-face teaching due to the pandemic, the central research question for the project remained - can novel research methods provide access to useful and usable evaluative data on student attitudes towards their school subjects particularly in response to changes in their learning program?
This is an important question in the context of student equity in higher education. Many programs and interventions seeking to improve equitable participation in higher education — such as STEM outreach programs — do so by seeking to impact not only the skill development of young people, but also attitudes towards further study. Our capacity to understand changes in attitudinal factors, however, has been quite limited outside of large-scale research projects. The purpose of this project has been to address this data gap through the development of a 'light touch' data collection tool and the demonstration of the kinds of knowledge that such tools can provide.