Catalyzing Scientific Inquiry and Engineering through Wearable Intersubjective Sensation Devices

8/01/2017-7/31/2020

PI: R. Benjamin Shapiro
University of Colorado at Boulder
Award Details

This project will investigate how to improve young people’s science skills, and to increase their perceptions of science as a pro-social field, through the design and enactment of a new science education approach that emphasizes curiosity about and investigation of animal perception and behavior. Project researchers will investigate how middle schoolers’ curiosities about, empathy with, and desire to care for domestic animals can motivate scientific inquiry and engineering design. To support this learning, the research team will develop new wearable augmented reality technologies that enhance human perception by permitting access to the sensory experiences of different animal species. Students will customize these technologies based upon their scientific investigations, as well as use them as tools within subsequent investigative cycles. This project will connect science education to students’ everyday interactions with domestic animals, potentially broadening participation in science and engineering to students who identify as being fond of animals but do not yet see themselves as scientists. The participants in this research will primarily be students in rural schools, who are underserved by current STEM resources.

The research team will create wearable and home-installable technologies that enable youth and their families to investigate animal behavior and biology, either by collecting data about animal activity, or by enabling participants to sense the world as their domestic animals do. For instance, dog owners could conduct experiments to determine the frequency ranges of their dogs’ hearing, use their findings to customize wearable earmuffs that enable themselves to hear only those ranges, and then wear those earmuffs in order to understand — and empathize with — how their behavior may be shaped by those sensory experiences. Scientific inquiry will also be central to design challenges, such as to design and build objects that maximally engage domestic animals (e.g., ease of learning, duration of engagement) and then use scientific data collection and analysis methods to measure how well different designs work, using evaluation outcomes to iteratively improve upon them. The intellectual merit of this work will be to explore the potential of the new, to-be-created genre of wearables and augmented reality technologies for intersubjective sensation, to motivate, contextualize, and facilitate students’ science and engineering education. This work will deepen knowledge of how personally-relevant subject matter can motivate science and engineering learning, as well as generate foundational empirical findings about how care and empathy can be connected to science education. The broader impacts of this work will be both local and national. Locally, over 60 youth will learn about science and engineering through participation in project activities. At least 4 teachers will participate as well, and by doing so, learn about new teaching methods that could enhance their students’ learning. Nationally, the impact will be to develop documentation, both in academic publications and in a free curriculum, that illustrates methods and their potential impacts on student learning and motivation.

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