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Immersion for Inclusion: Virtual Reality as a Novel Approach to Developing Faculty

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Faculty Development Round Table

Tagged Division

Faculty Development Constituent Committee

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Brooke Charae Coley Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

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Brooke Coley, PhD is an Assistant Professor in Engineering at the Polytechnic School of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Dr. Coley is Principal Investigator of the Shifting Perceptions, Attitudes and Cultures in Engineering (SPACE) Lab that aspires to elevate the experiences of marginalized populations, dismantle systematic injustices, and transform the way inclusion is cultivated in engineering through the implementation of novel technologies and methodologies in engineering education. Intrigued by the intersections of engineering education, mental health and social justice, Dr. Coley’s primary research interest focuses on virtual reality as a tool for developing empathetic and inclusive mindsets among engineering faculty. She is also interested in hidden populations in engineering education and innovation for more inclusive pedagogies.

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To start thinking about inclusion in a different way, we must start asking different questions such as how might we cultivate more welcoming and inclusive environments if the numbers of diverse engineering faculty were to never increase? This work approaches critical research questions through this lens. The long-term goal of this project is to identify how we might cultivate inclusive engineering cultures in the absence of critical masses of people traditionally underrepresented in engineering. One potentially transformative way of doing this is by shifting the mindsets of faculty to be more inclusive. Historically, the scholarship, service and grant dollars of engineering faculty have out prioritized efforts to cultivate inclusion, which seldom make the list of explicit tenure requirements. This devalued significance of inclusion is a fundamental barrier to transformative change. Essentially, faculty are placed in classrooms with little to no information regarding their perceptions, attitudes and behaviors toward inclusion or their ability to empathize with people outside of themselves. Institutions advocate explicit and intentional messages around inclusion, and yet, there is little institutional infrastructure to ensure and/or facilitate that faculty also espouse inclusion and empathy as core values. One obvious way to incentivize faculty to prioritize responsibility for cultivating a culture of inclusion would be to have explicit metrics around inclusivity embedded into the tenure and promotion process. However, until that becomes a reality, the institution must find creative ways to move the needle by providing continuous opportunities for faculty to develop by being exposed to and engaged in inclusive and empathetic awareness promoting activities. Additionally, faculty have not been held accountable for their roles in contributing to the cultivation of inclusive cultures and have had minimal exposure to trainings with the potential for sustained impact or ability to shift mindset. It is imperative that we begin engaging the engineers in the environment as a means of identifying solutions to the challenge of inclusive cultures. This work uses an immersive virtual reality (IVR) experience to study faculty from a host of institutions in efforts to ascertain whether exposure to experiences of marginalization commonly encountered in engineering can serve as a means of increasing awareness. It is logical that a shift in awareness might facilitate a shift in mindset which could potentially impact adopted behaviors. Through this experience, faculty will address attitudes and stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. Overall, this work stands to make key advances in the understanding of whether such exposures can promote learning around empathy and inclusiveness with particular implications for faculty training and development, an area of critical importance though understudied.

Coley, B. C. (2019, June), Immersion for Inclusion: Virtual Reality as a Novel Approach to Developing Faculty Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32917

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