A survey was distributed to the entire undergraduate student body at a large public university on students’ experiences in Project Lead The Way, a popular middle school and high school technology and engineering program. The survey included demographic questions including academic major, questions on which PLTW classes the students took in high school, and Likert-type ratings of those experiences.Of the responses to the survey (n=575), slightly fewer than half (n=252) indicated that they had participated in PLTW classes in high school. Approximately half of the respondents were majoring in engineering, one quarter in engineering technology, and the rest were distributed among the other colleges of the university. The most popular engineering majors indicated were mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, civil engineering, and aeronautics and astronautics engineering. The most popular engineering technology majors were mechanical engineering technology,electrical and computer engineering technology, and computer graphics technology. 89%of the respondents were Caucasian, and 75% were male.Respondents were generally positive about the program, indicating that they looked forward to the classes, felt that the classes gave them a better appreciation of engineering and technology, and that the classes influenced their choice of major. Differences between the responses of engineering versus technology majors, those majors combined versus all other majors, and male respondents versus female respondents were generally small and not statistically significant.The survey also included an open response portion, where participants were asked if there was anything else they wanted to share about their PLTW experience. Many participants indicated that their experience helped them in choosing a college major and preparing them for college and helped them to learn and think like an engineer. Many participants also described their PLTW experience as “fun,” but although such comments are clearly positive, they do not advance our understanding of PLTW, because students have different ideas about what makes an activity fun. Further, if PLTW were “fun” at the expense of achieving important learning objectives, it would be a disservice. Participants were frustrated by the lack of college credit for their PLTW courses, poor teaching, and feeling like they were better prepared for technology coursework than engineering.The popularity of Project Lead the Way and the resources committed to the program nationally make it urgent that we develop a greater understanding of who this program is reaching and what outcomes result from participation. Further, it will be important to explore the mechanisms by which PLTW achieves those outcomes, which will help guide other pre-college engineering programs. Further research in the area is planned, and will benefit from the findings of this earlier survey.
2012, ASEE, PLTW
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