Who Touches the Robots?

In many team robotics programs, there's a problem with girls not getting equal hands-on time with the robots, and it’s not because girls prefer it that way, according to a Dartmouth study. Researchers observed that “boys were often taking the lead of robot setup, whereas girls would look on from behind.” They surveyed 55 participants at a robotics event, asking them about their roles on the teams. Here’s what they found:

Boys report that they get much more time hands-on building robots than girls do. Conversely, girls report that they spend much more time doing tasks like research and poster-making than boys do. 

Importantly, this segregation is not due to boys enjoying robot-building more or girls enjoying research more.  On the contrary, in a separate survey of 50 students who built robots using a Dartmouth-designed curriculum, boys and girls reported almost identical enjoyment of the hardware assembly phase, ranking it a little over four stars out of five.  They also reported almost identical enjoyment of the research phase. 

The Dartmouth report expresses concern that “students can be pigeonholed into certain responsibilities and ultimately not be exposed to all that the program, and STEM itself, have to offer.”  They recommend that roles be assigned and that they rotate regularly among members of teams.  Grants from Gizmo Garden  solves the problem another way, by helping to provide enough equipment that every student works on their own robot, thus receiving an equal opportunity.

The Dartmouth report was written by Thayer School of Engineering students Emily Rogers, Aaron Lewin, Sean Howe, Alyssa Schmid, Eloise Dietz, and Osamu Fukuyama, under the supervision of Professor Vicki May, and is unpublished.