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Successes and Challenges in Supporting Undergraduate Peer Educators to Notice and Respond to Equity Considerations within Design Teams

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Undergraduate Peer Educators: Mentoring, Observing, Learning

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Tagged Topics

Diversity and ASEE Board of Directors

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Paper Authors


Chandra Anne Turpen University of Maryland, College Park

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Chandra Turpen is a Research Assistant Professor in the Physics Education Research Group at the University of Maryland, College Park's Department of Physics. She completed her PhD in Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder specializing in Physics Education Research. Chandra’s work involves designing and researching contexts for learning within higher education. In her research, Chandra draws from the perspectives of anthropology, cultural psychology, and the learning sciences. Through in-situ studies of classroom and institutional practice, Chandra focuses on the role of culture in science learning and educational change. Chandra pursues projects that have high potential for leveraging sustainable change in undergraduate STEM programs and makes these struggles for change a direct focus of her research efforts.

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Ayush Gupta University of Maryland, College Park

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Ayush Gupta is Assistant Research Professor in Physics and Keystone Instructor in the A. J. Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland. Broadly speaking he is interested in modeling learning and reasoning processes. In particular, he is attracted to micro-genetic and socio-cultural models of learning. He has been working on how learners' emotions are coupled with their conceptual and epistemological reasoning. Lately, he has been interested in engineering design thinking, how engineering students come to understand and practice design, and how engineering students think about ethics and social responsibility.

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Jennifer Radoff University of Maryland, College Park

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Jennifer Radoff is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland, College Park. She received her Ph.D. in Science Education from Tufts University. She studies the dynamics of disciplinary learning at the intersection of epistemology, affect, and identity, and is interested in how scientific engagement gets started and sustained in moments and how longer-term trajectories of engagement become stable for learners over time.

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Andrew Elby University of Maryland, College Park

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Andrew Elby's work focuses on student and teacher epistemologies and how they couple to other cognitive machinery and help to drive behavior in learning environments. His academic training was in Physics and Philosophy before he turned to science (particularly physics) education research. More recently, he has started exploring engineering students' entangled identities and epistemologies as influences upon their ethical reasoning across multiple contexts and also their teaching behaviors when they serve as undergraduate teaching assistants.

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Hannah Sabo


Gina Marie Quan University of Maryland, College Park

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Gina Quan is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Center for STEM Learning. She received her Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park and her B.A. in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include understanding community and identity formation, unpacking students’ relationships to design, and cultivating institutional change. Dr. Quan is also a founding member of the Access Network, a research-practice community dedicated to fostering supportive communities in undergraduate physics department.

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Previously, we reported on our efforts to adapt the Learning Assistant (LA) Model (Otero, et al, 2010) at our university. In our LA program, undergraduate peer educators or Learning Assistants (LAs) have 10-12 contact hours per week with students in a first-year engineering design course while concurrently participating in a 3-credit pedagogy seminar. Our pedagogy seminar integrates foundational education topics with topics especially relevant to engineering design (e.g. design thinking, engineering epistemology, teamwork and equity). In this paper, we discuss our efforts to support LAs in fostering equitable team dynamics and collaboration within the project-based design course. Tonso and others have shown that (a) inequities can “live” in mundane interactions such as those among students within design teams and (b) those inequities both reflect and (re)produce broader cultural patterns and narratives (e.g. Wolfe & Powell, 2009; Tonso, 1996, 2006a, 2006b; McLoughlin, 2005). With careful preparation and support, LAs could be well-positioned to notice and potentially disrupt inequitable patterns of participation within design teams. We document LAs’ resources for and challenges to noticing and responding to equity concerns in design teams. Using a design-based research approach (Cobb, 2000; Sandoval, 2014), we aim to study the effects of our seminar and refine its design. In this paper, we ask the following questions: How do LAs notice, diagnose, and consider responding to teamwork troubles within design teams? In role plays, how do LAs attempt to address teamwork troubles and what emotions are elicited? We analyze video-recordings of seminar discussions focusing specifically on three activities: (1) a discussion where LAs share successes and challenges in teaching, (2) an “exit ticket” assignment where LAs generate teamwork-focused teaching dilemmas, and (3) a role play activity where students “try on” various ways of responding to teamwork troubles. As students generated dilemmas from their classroom experiences, we found evidence of LAs noticing “overbearing students” and “quiet students” as potentially problematic for team dynamics, but were simultaneously very hesitant to consider intervening or commenting on these social dynamics. For many LAs, even the thought of intervening around social dynamics cued up emotions of fear or discomfort; there was fear of making the situation worse, of being misunderstood, or of not knowing how to act in the moment. Using tools from discourse analysis and interaction analysis (Jordan & Henderson, 1995), we identify the ways LAs notice and respond during role-play scenarios that may potentially disrupt inequitable participation within design teams. We argue that the LAs have resources for noticing inequities in teamwork, but we are not yet adequately preparing them to disrupt inequities in the ongoing work of design teams. Many LAs expressed skepticism towards social science research, and were critical of Tonso’s claims (2006a) in ways that we did not expect. In aiming to build awareness of the ways in which engineering culture can be oppressive, we, as instructors, did not fully anticipate the degree to which this pedagogy seminar would need to contend with epistemological elitism (Riley and Nieusma, 2017) and technocratic ideologies (Slaton, 2015) within engineering.

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McLoughlin, L. A. (2005). Spotlighting: Emergent Gender Bias in Undergraduate Engineering Education. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(4), p. 373–381

Otero, V., Pollock, S., & Finkelstein, N. (2010). A physics department’s role in preparing physics teachers: The Colorado Learning Assistant Model. American Journal of Physics, 78(11), p. 1218-1224.

Sandoval, W. (2014). Conjecture Mapping: An Approach to Systematic Educational Design Research. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(1), p. 18-36, Slaton, A. E. (2015). Meritocracy, Technocracy, Democracy: Understandings of racial and gender equity in American engineering education. In International Perspectives on Engineering Education (pp. 171-189). Springer International Publishing. Tonso, K.L. (1996). The Impact of Cultural Norms on Women. Journal of Engineering Education, 85(3), p. 217–225. Tonso, K. L. (2006a). Teams that Work: Campus Culture, Engineer Identity, and Social Interactions. Journal of Engineering Education, 95(1), p. 25-37.

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Wolfe, J. and Powell, E. (2009). Biases in Interpersonal Communication: How Engineering Students Perceive Gender Typical Speech Acts in Teamwork. Journal of Engineering Education, 98(1), p. 5–16

Turpen, C. A., & Gupta, A., & Radoff, J., & Elby, A., & Sabo, H., & Quan, G. M. (2018, June), Successes and Challenges in Supporting Undergraduate Peer Educators to Notice and Respond to Equity Considerations within Design Teams Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.

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