June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
26.778.1 - 26.778.26
First-year Student Assumptions on Diversity in Engineering EducationIn engineering education, we are seeing an increasing trend towards greater diversity in theclassroom. This diversity comes in a variety of forms including: age, gender, ethnicity, and othersocial identities, and extends to both the student and instructor population at many NorthAmerican universities. Though there is much work in investigating the features of diverselearning environments, there is limited work in the area that bridges student assumptions in first-year engineering and diversity in the classroom. The need to investigate this area becomesincreasingly important as instructors try to design and understand strategies for creating inclusivelearning environments.Fostering an inclusive learning environment is a goal of engineering educators, especially at thefirst-year level. As students enter university, they bring with them a wealth of learning andexperience that may reflect their diverse backgrounds. Similarly, faculty may also bring newknowledge into their role as instructors, often borne from their international experiences. Withpotentially such differences in knowledge and perspective, the potential for learning barriers toaffect the inclusivity of classroom instruction is high. As a first step towards investigating theeffects of diversity on the interface between students, instructors and the learning environment, agroup of instructors at a large North American institution has initiated a study on studentassumptions.The research study attempts to tabulate and investigate relationships between pre-conceived first-year student assumptions –if they exist– and actual data on diversity in a multiple sections of anengineering course at a North American university. The approach used is to anonymously andrandomly survey approx. 400 first-year engineering students, asking them to self-report anyassumptions they may have about faculty in general and also their learning environment.Specifically, a survey was administered shortly after classes began, asking participants to reflecton any assumptions they may have had about the characteristics and level of diversity theyexpected to see in their engineering classrooms. This, and other information, was used to gaugewhether students had a particular mindset of what their class, including their professor, would“look like”. The participants were also asked to self-report the gender of any engineeringinfluencers that may have affected the student’s decision to pursue engineering in the first place.All of these data were codified into theme areas and compared to existing information about thediversity of our student body.Preliminary data suggest that students are highly-confident, expect a culturally-diverse but“nerdy” learning population, while expecting generally homogenous, non-diverse instructors.The goal is to better understand the mindset of our students, including up-to-date assumptionsthey bring so that as educators we can better design their learning environments to reducemisconceptions in the classroom. An outcome of this project includes a set of theme areas thatcan form the foundation for future studies that attempt to design and mitigate learning barriers indiverse engineering classrooms -- for the purpose of creating more inclusive learningenvironments for all students.
Variawa, C., & Freeman, S. F., & Schulte Grahame, K., & Jaeger-Helton, K., & Pfluger, C., & Whalen, R. (2015, June), First-year Student Assumptions on Diversity in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24115
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