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A Reflective Evaluation of a Pre-College Engineering Curriculum to Promote Inclusion in Informal Learning Environments

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 3 Slot 1 Technical Session 1

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Kayla R. Maxey Purdue University at West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Kayla is a doctoral student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research interest includes the influence of informal engineering learning experiences on diverse students’ attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions of engineering, and the relationship between students’ interests and the practices and cultures of engineering. Her current work at the FACE lab is on teaching strategies for K-12 STEM educators integrating engineering design and the development of engineering skills of K-12 learners.

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Morgan M. Hynes Purdue University at West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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Dr. Morgan Hynes is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University and Director of the FACE Lab research group at Purdue. In his research, Hynes explores the use of engineering to integrate academic subjects in K-12 classrooms. Specific research interests include design metacognition among learners of all ages; the knowledge base for teaching K-12 STEM through engineering; the relationships among the attitudes, beliefs, motivation, cognitive skills, and engineering skills of K-16 engineering learners; and teaching engineering.

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Introduction Within the United States, pre-college (K-12) students spend approximately 80% of their day outside of school [1]. During the remaining 20% of their day, students in United States public schools spend the least amount of time receiving science-related instruction in comparison to reading and math [2]. In addition, other disciplines like technology and engineering may not be available to students during their school day. As a result, the accessibility and quality of science, technology, and engineering instruction is dependent on the available school’s resources, which positions students from various racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, ability, and/or gender diverse backgrounds at a disadvantage. Therefore, out-of-school engineering programming is an important supplement to formal STEM education, especially when targeting the engagement of students from communities historically under-represented. While some STEM outreach programs have gained national recognition like Black Girls Code, NSBE’s Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK), STEM NOLA, and INTech Camps for Girls to name a few, there are hundreds of STEM outreach programs targeting students from various racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, ability, and/or gender diverse backgrounds at a disadvantage developing across the nation. The goals of these programs include increasing the accessibility to opportunities where students can develop skills, behaviors, and mindsets relevant to a variety of STEM discipline. Through students’ participation, we expect them to internalize "…a set of attitudes and behaviors by which an individual supposedly may adapt his or her conduct to that of the "mainstream" setting he or she seeks to enter". The program design shapes what it means to be an engineer for many pre-college students [3]. As a result, it positions informal engineering programs in the STEM education ecosystem to define who belongs and what counts in engineering education.

This paper challenges cultural ideologies through critical reflection that may become embedded in engineering programs that may impact the inclusion of students from diverse racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, ability, and/or gender backgrounds. This paper includes critical reflections of two members of the research and instructional team about their experiences designing, facilitating, and refining a pre-college engineering summer camp targeting students from diverse racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, ability, and/or gender backgrounds. The reflections provide a structure to interrogate the cultural narratives about engineering embedded in the program design. The goal is to identify and assess the cultural narratives of engineering transmitted by the programming to students attending the intervention to better understand a culture of inclusion. We present an overview of the program design, explore embedded assumptions and manifested practices that define what it means to be an engineer, and propose some guiding questions that can critically interrogate inclusion within informal engineering programming.

Theoretical Framework The theoretical foundation of this study is cultural production theory. Cultural production theory focuses on “local meaning produced by groups in everyday practice, their connection to larger social structures, and the possibility, no matter how slim of challenging the status quo” [4, p. 5]. The analysis of the culture of engineering perpetuated by the out-of-school learning experience allows for creation and refinement of practices constructed and reconstructed by student engagement that includes communities historically marginalized [4]. The program design of out-of-school experience acts as constraints that bounds the normative patterns of the engineering profession being interpreted by students. As a result, the cultural narratives privileged in the program design and facilitation define who belongs and what counts, which may cause the exclusion of the students we intend to support with the programming.

Methods The summer engineering makerspace experience is a design-based research project where the program undergoes iterative design, develop, and test cycles each summer to improve the interventions effectiveness. Because of this continuous improvement process, our design-based research intends to achieve three objectives: (1) identify key elements of the intervention, (2) deepen the researcher’s understanding of phenomena, and (3) utilizes prior research to describe and justify the intervention’s design [5]. We used the design-based research method to develop the engineering makerspace experience and collect student data in the form of video recordings, project artifacts, interviews, interests and perception survey to evaluate the effectiveness of the experience. The Authors’ previous work provides additional details about the design-based research process [6].

Expanding on the Authors’ previous work, this paper uses critical reflections from two members of the research and instructional team as a method to test how the program’s design empowers students from diverse racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, ability, and/or gender diverse backgrounds to find personally meaningful connections to engineering [6], [13]-[14]. As a result, our critical reflective practice aims to support an iterative interrogation of the status quo cultural ideologies (e.g. technocracy, meritocracy, de-political, and gendering) about engineering embedded in our programming [7] - [12]. To interrogate the embedded narratives about the culture of engineering in our program, we developed a set of guiding questions to identify normative behaviors, practices, and beliefs; assess the implications of these practices on students attending the engineering experience; and evaluate broader impacts for future program improvements and design [13]-[14].

Results To investigate the productions of the engineering culture embedded in the out-of-school learning experience, we answered guiding questions to target the way we described ourselves (past histories), the way we label our efforts (intentions), and the patterns in our actions (program design and practices) that describe the expectations of engineers [15]. In our analysis, we discovered gaps in program design and facilitation practices that reinforced status quo narratives about the culture of engineering. These gaps included developing programming that is accessibility for students with different cognitive or physical abilities; the value placed on hands-on activities that privileges technical competency; and approaches acknowledging the assets of students to combat meritocratic ideologies. Because of these gaps, our current programming requires design refinement to be more accessible to all students in the room. In addition, we uncovered areas in the program design where our intentions align with our desire to create an inclusive environment. These findings included diverse demographic representation of facilitators; valuing students’ personal interest and diverse pathways to solutions; and the mechanisms of recognition. To promote engineering as a profession for all students, we can focus program design activities on our areas of opportunities.

Discussion The purpose of investigation the productions of culture in engineering embedded within our informal engineering experience is to identify how our histories, intentions, and practices encourage or prohibit the engagement of students from diverse backgrounds. By using the analytical lens of cultural production theory to evaluate our critical reflections of the program, we learned that although our program supported students through recognition of diverse abilities, it also constrained their engagement. In this context, we constrained student engagement because of limited available modifications to support students with diverse cognitive or physical abilities. By using the guiding questions proposed in this paper, informal STEM educators and facilitators can take part in reflective practices to ensure the programming design meets the intentions of encouraging the persistence of target student populations.

References [1] R. Stevens, J. Bransford, and A. Stevens, “The LIFE Center’s lifelong and lifewide diagram,” 2005. [Online] Available: [Accessed Sep 6, 2019]. [2] Horizon Research, The National Survey of Science & Mathematics Education.[Online] Available. [Accessed Sep 6, 2019]. [3] D. Riley, A. E. Slaton, and A. Pawley, “Social justice and inclusion: Women and minorities in engineering,” in Cambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research, A. Johri and B. M. Olds, Eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 335-356. [4] E. C. Parsons and H. B. Carlone, “Culture and science education in the 21st century: Extending and making the cultural box more inclusive,” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 34-39, 1-11, 2013. [5] P. Cobb, J. Confrey, A. DiSessa, R. Lehrer, and L. Schauble, “Design Experiments in Educational Research,” Educational Researcher, vol. 32, no. 9, p. 9–13, January 2003. [6] Authors, 2017. [7] D. Riley, “Engineering and social justice,” in Engineers, technology, and society, C. Baillie, Ed. California: Morgan & Claypool, 2008, pp. 1-152. [8] A. E. Slaton, “Meritocracy, technocracy, democracy: Understandings of racial and gender equity in American engineering education,” International Perspectives on Engineering Education, vol. 20, pp. 171-189, 2015. [9] S. Secules, “Putting diversity in perspective: A critical cultural historical context for representation in engineering,” in Proceedings of 2017 American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference, Columbus, OH, USA, June 24-28, 2017. [10] E. A. Cech and T. J. Waidzunas, “Navigating the heteronormativity of engineering: The experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students,” Engineering Studies, vol. 3. No. 1, pp. 1-14, Feb 2011. [11] C. E. Foor, S. E. Walden, and D. A. Trytten, “‘I wish that I belonged more in this whole engineering group:’ Achieving individual diversity,” Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 96, no. 2, pp. 103-113, 2007. [12] R. Hughes, “An investigation into the longitudinal identity trajectories of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 181-213, 2015. [13] B. Larrivee, “Transforming teaching practice: Becoming the critical reflective teacher,” Reflective Practice, vol. 1, no. 3, 2000. [14] Ghaye, T, Teaching and learning through reflective practice: A practical guide for positive action. New York: Routledge, 2011. [15] H. Carlone and A. Johnson, “Unpacking ‘culture’ in cultural studies of science education: Cultural difference versus cultural production,” Ethnography and Education, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 151-173, July 2012.

Maxey, K. R., & Hynes, M. M. (2021, January), A Reflective Evaluation of a Pre-College Engineering Curriculum to Promote Inclusion in Informal Learning Environments Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day .

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