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Exploring the impact of belonging on computer science enrollment using virtual reality




Gaddy, Vidya, author
Ortega, Francisco R., advisor
Beveridge, J. Ross, committee member
Sharp, Julia, committee member
Interrante, Victoria, committee member

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Student enrollment in STEM fields of study is critical for the future. Improving our understanding of what motivates young people to engage with material like computer programming is an essential aspect of increasing enrollment. Interest in a topic like Computer Science (CS) begins with a sense of belonging in the field. That essential sense of belonging tends to be quite evasive because it lacks a concrete definition. In this research, the goal was to dissect the main attributes associated with a sense of belonging and highlight the attributes that are key to a student's decision to enroll in CS. The attributes determined to be vital contributors to a sense of belonging were self-efficacy, family background, goal orientation, and demographic characteristics. In order to find which of these factors associated with belonging were most important, a Virtual Reality (VR) simulation and survey were designed. A simple simulated environment was used which had participants embody an avatar that was described as an undeclared first-year college student. While in the simulation, participants were prompted to listen to an audio message from the advising office which asked them if they would like to enroll in a CS course. In the pilot study (N=10), family background was the focus, randomizing avatar gender as well as the control condition and the family background condition between participants. The feedback received from participants informed all the improvements made to the main experiment. For the main experiment (N=24), there were four slightly different audio messages each highlighting one of the four factors associated with belonging in CS. Each participant listened to all four audio messages and answered survey questions about their response to the audio. A Likert Scaled survey was used to determine how likely the participants were to enroll in the CS course given each audio prompt. Results indicated that there was a strong positive reaction to the audio message highlighting goal orientation (p < 0.05) and a strong negative reaction to the audio highlighting demographic characteristics (p < 0.05). The responses toward family background and self-efficacy were more neutral. These results demonstrate that people are attracted to CS when they believe it will help them achieve their future goals in life. But perhaps more importantly, a person's demographic characteristics alone being highlighted will not be enough to increase enrollment in the field of CS.


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computer science enrollment
virtual reality
computer science education
human-computer interaction


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