Asee peer logo

Problem-based Learning as a Tool in Addressing Gender Bias

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division: Curricular Programs

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1255.1 - 26.1255.9



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Claire Lynne McCullough P.E. University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

visit author page

Dr. McCullough received her bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Vanderbilt, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Tennessee, respectively, and is a registered professional engineer in the state of Alabama. She is a member of I.E.E.E., Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi, and Eta Kappa Nu. She is currently a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, and teaches courses in such areas as Computer Ethics, Controls, and Engineering Design. Dr. McCullough has over 30 years' experience in engineering practice and education, including industrial experience at the Tennessee Valley Authority and the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command. Her research interests include Image and Data Fusion, Automatic Target Recognition, and Bioinformatics. She is a member of the ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission, and is on the board of the Women in Engineering Division of ASEE.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Problem Based Learning as a Tool in Addressing Gender BiasAbstract –It was the hope and belief of the author that the gender bias in engineering andcomputer fields observed first-hand in the beginning of her career, over thirty years ago, wouldhave been eradicated long before 2014. However, an Implicit Association assignment addressingthe Gender Gap in multiple recent semesters of a Computer Ethics class produced results whichthe author found both surprising and disturbing in the biases reflected, and justified, by currentstudents. In addition to the Implicit Association results, which showed a larger strong associationof men with science than in the general population, the comments from the students were evenmore troubling. Student comments, cited anonymously to protect student privacy included,“Girls just aren’t interested in stuff like computers,” “Women’s brains can’t handle the advancedmath—it’s a right brain, left brain thing,” and “Women are better at nurturing than at technicalthings.” As a strategy in dealing with this, Problem Based Learning (PBL) was used as the basisof a more extensive, team-based project in the Spring 2014 iteration of the class. Problem BasedLearning is particularly applicable to problems which are complex and ill-posed—certainly anapt description of gender bias in STEM fields. The three-week assignment included apreliminary assessment, a group research project, an evaluation of team members, and a follow-up assessment to determine whether the project had changed any student attitudes. The teamproject required research including, but not limited to, demographics, government studies, socialscience studies, etc.; interviews with local businesses and women currently in technical fields;and relevant current events. While results from a single class in a single semester cannot provideany definitive results, and while group results were mixed, individual results appear promising.The paper will discuss specifics of the reasons for the PBL approach, a brief description of thecharacteristics of Problem Based Learning, details of the multi-part assignment, results from theSpring 2014 class, and proposed refinements for future iterations.

McCullough, C. L. (2015, June), Problem-based Learning as a Tool in Addressing Gender Bias Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24592

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015