Assessing Competition in Engineering

December 15th, 2014 | RESEARCH

This pilot study was funded by the Museum of Science’s Women in Science Committee to examine the impact of competition on children participating in Design Challenges engineering experiences, and in particular, to see what effect, if any, the competitive design of these engineering activities had on girl participants. The research questions for this study included: 1. How does competition affect participants' engagement in engineering activities? 1.a Does this differ for boys and girls? 2. How does competition affect participants' desire to take part in future engineering activities? 2.a. Does this differ for boys and girls? 3. How does competition affect participants' self-efficacy? 3.a. Does this differ for boys and girls? To answer these questions, the Echo Based Bobsleds activity was performed in one of two formats at Design Challenges – a competitive or a non-competitive setup – where the non-competitive setup was modified so that a leaderboard was removed and bobsled records were not posted for other visitors to see. For both of these scenarios, data were collected through observations, interviews, and surveys from adults and children. Overarching findings indicate that the addition of a competitive element, in this case, a leaderboard, did not affect how children engaged in this particular engineering activity. Children tested comparable numbers of designs, stayed for similar lengths of time, rated the activity in a similar manner, and gave similar reasons for why they stopped or continued participating in the challenge. These findings were also found when analyzing engagement within gender group comparisons for both scenarios. Furthermore, when looking at survey responses for participants’ interest in future engineering activities or ratings of engineering self-efficacy, no differences were seen between groups participating in the competitive or non-competitive design or within gender-group comparisons for each format. All together these findings suggest there are no ill-effects from having a leaderboard and fostering a competitive environment within this design-based activity space. Nonetheless, this study points to possibilities for future research because follow-up interviews suggest that depending on the activity format, slight differences exist in how and, at times, why participants compared themselves to others, along with differences in how they talked about their engineering self-efficacy. Moreover, a future study with a larger sample would provide more statistical power for detecting differences between groups or could investigate how other Design Challenge activities may affect participants in unique ways.



Team Members

Museum of Science, Boston, Contributor
Marta Beyer, Author, Museum of Science, Boston
Ryan Auster, Author, Museum of Science, Boston


Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Families | General Public | Middle School Children (11-13)
Discipline: Engineering
Resource Type: Reference Materials | Report
Environment Type: Making and Tinkering Programs | Museum and Science Center Programs | Public Programs