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Motivation and Gender Dynamics in High School Engineering Groups

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2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 29, 2018

Start Date

April 29, 2018

End Date

May 2, 2018

Conference Session

Gender Track - Technical Session III

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Gender

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Paper Authors


Julie Robinson University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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Julie Robinson earned her Ed.D. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2018. She was an elementary school teacher for over twenty years and is currently an assistant professor in the Teaching and Learning Department at the University of North Dakota's College of Education and Human Development. Dr. Robinson teaches courses in elementary science methods for pre-service teachers. Her research agenda focuses on gender dynamics in STEM education and instructional approaches that promote equity in science and engineering.

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Martina Nieswandt University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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Martina Nieswandt is an Associate Professor of Science Education and Interim Associate Dean for Research and Engagement in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focuses on the relationship between motivation, affects and learning associated with K-16 science concepts and various instructional contexts (e.g., small groups, project-based learning) utilizing mixed-methods approaches.

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Elizabeth McEneaney University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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Dr. McEneaney is Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst. She is a former high school mathematics and science teacher, and earned a Ph.D. in Sociology from Stanford University. An associate editor for the Journal of Curriculum Studies, she has research interests in equity and access to STEM Education, and the influence of globalization on STEM curricula.

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Research indicates that various societal, educational, familial, and identity-related factors affect girls’ STEM motivation disproportionately to boys, particularly in engineering. A lack of prior experiences with building and tinkering, low teacher self-efficacy in engineering pedagogical content knowledge, and a lack of real world connections can all have a significant impact on girls’ participation and motivation on engineering tasks. Situated in self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000a, 2000b) and the stereotype inoculation model (Dasgupta, 2011), this qualitative study explores how the motivational conditions of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are manifested in the behaviors of students working in small groups on a series of engineering design tasks within their science class, with a focus on how the group’s gender composition affects these behaviors and potentially modifies or reinforces other variables affecting girls’ enactments of motivation. Participants include six small groups of high school students, representing varying gender compositions, from three biology classes in two rural New England schools. Thematic analysis of both classroom observations and focus group interview responses indicates that manifestations of autonomy differ along gender lines, with girls showing more task-oriented and facilitative behaviors and boys exhibiting more exploratory and directive behaviors. Competence and relatedness, in contrast, appear to manifest differently between groups of varying gender composition, with female majority groups showing more cohesion and whole group problem-solving and collaboration than those with gender parity. Student reflections about their experiences with the engineering tasks, however, showed significant differences between the genders regardless of group composition or enacted behaviors. Girls expressed low competence and task-value for the engineering tasks, while boys indicated much higher confidence and connection to prior experiences that supported their engineering competence. Implications from this study are two-fold: providing opportunities for collaborative group work and attention to gender composition will provide greater access for all students to the conditions required for motivation, particularly with regard to relatedness. In order to positively impact girls’ perceptions of competence, however, practitioners will need sufficient support and professional development in order to increase their own engineering self-efficacy so that they may better present engineering tasks in a manner that promotes equal access to all students and combats existing barriers that girls may bring with them into the STEM classroom.

Robinson, J., & Nieswandt, M., & McEneaney, E. (2018, April), Motivation and Gender Dynamics in High School Engineering Groups Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia.

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