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How Male Students Talk About the Female Student Experience on Teams

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Student Perceptions and Perspectives

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors

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Megan Keough University of Michigan


Laura Hirshfield University of Michigan

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Laura Hirshfield is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lecturer and researcher at the University of Michigan. She received her B.S. from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. from Purdue University, both in chemical engineering. She then transitioned into the engineering education field with postdoctoral positions at Oregon State University, Olin College of Engineering and University of Michigan. Her research interests lie in investigating and assessing student experiences to assure all students have access to equitable opportunities to successfully transition to professional practice.

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Robin Fowler University of Michigan

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Robin Fowler is a lecturer in the Program in Technical Communication at the University of Michigan. She enjoys serving as a "communication coach" to students throughout the curriculum, and she's especially excited to work with first year and senior students, as well as engineering project teams, as they navigate the more open-ended communication decisions involved in describing the products of open-ended design scenarios.

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This complete research paper presents findings from a qualitative research study of gendered teamwork experiences in a first-year project-based course. Team-based courses are common in engineering curricula, especially in design courses in the first and final years. Teamwork itself is an important core competency in engineering; in addition, team-based pedagogies have been shown to increase motivation for learning material, increase retention of class concepts, and increase retention of students in the discipline. However, research notes that team experiences can be inequitable, with students taking on different workloads, or different tasks or roles; at times, these choices can be aligned with traditional gender stereotypes, such as male students doing the building or female students doing the writing or notetaking. To combat gender-based inequities in particular, faculty sometimes adopt a strategy of avoiding “stranding” anyone based on gender. In other words, they attempt to avoid isolating any student of an identity that is underrepresented in engineering; in our male-dominated STEM field, that means not isolating women on teams, for example. However, previous research found an unexpected pattern in student satisfaction with their teams: women who were stranded on teams reported being happier with their first-year team experiences than women who were paired with one or more other women.

Motivated by this finding, a qualitative research study commenced, with interviews conducted with engineering students to discuss their experiences in a first-year team course project. Students were asked about their team dynamics and tasks they took on in the project, and how their gender identity and their teammates’ gender identities may have impacted their experiences. Fifteen interviews were conducted with female students and five were with male students; prior work has reported the findings from the female student interviews, and here, we discuss an analysis of the male student interviews, contrasted against and contextualized within the experience reported in the interviews with female students. In these conversations, the male students talked about both how they viewed their experience, as a male engineering student, but also how they perceived the experiences of their female teammates, discussing their perceptions of how gender seemed to related to the tasks, roles, or control that students took in the project. The male students also expressed beliefs that appeared to be mutually exclusive: recognizing that women do face more barriers and challenges in an engineering program, while also perceiving that their own teammates’ experiences were unaffected by their gender.

* Note that in this paper we interviewed students who self-identified as having a binary gender identity (male, female); we are not assuming that gender identity is binary, but we did not interview students who expressed non-binary identification or attributed a non-binary gender to their teammates.

Keough, M., & Hirshfield, L., & Fowler, R. (2021, July), How Male Students Talk About the Female Student Experience on Teams Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37256

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