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The Effect of Skewed Gender Composition on Student Participation in Undergraduate Engineering Project Teams

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

WIED Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1449.1 - 22.1449.13



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Paper Authors


Lorelle A. Meadows University of Michigan

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Dr. Lorelle Meadows is Director of Academic Programs in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. In this role, she holds primary responsibility for the design, management and delivery of the first year program to undergraduate students. She also serves as a catalyst for coordination among the engineering programs encompassed by the Office of Undergraduate Education, including the Center for Entrepreneurship, the International Programs Office and the Multidisciplinary Design program. In this role within the college, she also has responsibility for the development of programs to address the challenges and opportunities associated with the development of a vibrant and diverse engineering community at Michigan. She has been instrumental in the design and implementation of faculty development programs, dual degree and transfer student initiatives, and K-12 outreach development, and serves as the coordinating member of the college’s Diversity and Outreach Council.

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Denise Sekaquaptewa University of Michigan

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Dr. Sekaquaptewa is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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Can consistently being in the gender minority have a detrimental effect on active participation and learning among female engineering students?Working in small groups on course projects is a common experience for undergraduates.Because there are significantly fewer female than male engineering students, the composition ofsmall groups of engineering students assigned to complete group projects is likely to be skewedtowards male-dominant membership. In this project, we investigate the effect of being in thegender minority in group projects on active participation and learning in a required introductoryengineering course.A large body of social science research has demonstrated that gender stereotypes exist purportingthan men have more ability than women in math and science fields, including engineering.Laboratory studies on the topic of stereotype threat have demonstrated the significantdetrimental effect of these stereotypes on women’s math and science test performance andmotivation to pursue math and science-related education and careers. Among the situational cuesfound to induce stereotype threat is underrepresentation of one’s social group (e.g., gender orrace) in one’s academic environment. Indeed, the detrimental effects of “solo status” for womenis compounded by testing in a stereotypic domain, such that women who are giving an academicperformance among a group of men in a domain in which women are negatively stereotyped areparticularly vulnerable.In this research we connect stereotype threat research to evidence showing that activeparticipation in educational activities enhances learning. Active participation researchdemonstrates that taking an active role in collaborative work, and having the opportunity toexplain the topic to another in one’s own words optimize learning and understanding. Thus, tothe extent women in science and engineering are inhibited by stereotype threat and solo status,their learning outcomes may be diminished due to lowered active participation.Using video records of 175 final group design project presentations (3-6 students per group), wehave performed a systematic investigation of student’s active participation, i.e., the roles adoptedby male and female students as a function of gender composition of the group. Independentjudges viewing each videotaped presentation classified roles adopted by participants. Parametersthat were collected include presentation content type (on a spectrum from technical to non-technical), student roles in the mechanics of the presentation (e.g., as explaining technicalaspects or simply introducing others), and perceptions of leadership, effectiveness and expertiseas rated by the independent judges. These data were combined with ancillary data consisting ofstudent demographics, pre-college preparation indicators, overall GPA and course grade, as wellas information about the course section including the gender composition of the lead faculty andthe section. In addition, we administered a survey instrument to a subset of the sample (N = 223)at the end of the Winter 2010 term. The questionnaire was designed to assess student perceptionsof their own and their teammate’s active or passive participation in the group project, their levelof satisfaction with the role and perception of the learning experience, social psychologicalfactors related to role adoption, and persistence and motivation. We test the hypothesis thatfemale students adopt a less active role in groups that are male dominated, which in turn affectstheir learning outcomes. This paper shares the preliminary results of this analysis.Limited References:Diekman, A. B., & Eagly, A. H. (2000). Stereotypes as dynamic constructs: Women and men of the past, the present, and the future. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1171- 1188.Inzlicht, M., & Ben-Zeev, T. (2000). A threatening intellectual environment: Why females are susceptible to experiencing problem-solving deficits in the presence of males. Psychological Sci, 11, 365-371.Marx, D. M., & Roman, J. S. (2002) Female role models: Protecting women’s math test performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1183-1193.Murphy, M. C., Steele, C. M., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Signaling threat: How situational cues affect women in math, science, and engineering settings. Psychological Science, 18, 879-885.Nosek, B. A., Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2002). Math = male, me = female, therefore math ≠ me. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 44-59.Prince, M (2004) “Does Active Learning Really Work? A Review of the Research,” Journal of Engineering Education, p. 223-231.Quinn, D. M., & Spencer, S. J. (2001). The interference of stereotype threat with women’s generation of mathematical problem-solving strategies. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 55-71.Smith, M.K., W.B. Wood, W.K. Adams, C. Wieman, J.K. Knight, N. Guild and T. Su (2009) “Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions,” Science, 323, p.122-124.Sekaquaptewa, D., & Thompson, M. (2002). The differential effects of solo status on members of high- and low-status groups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 694-707.Sekaquaptewa, D., & Thompson, M. (2003). Solo status, stereotype threat, and performance expectancies: Their effects on women’s performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 68-74.Steele, C. M., Spencer, S. J., & Aronson, J. (2002). Contending with group image: The psychology of stereotype and social identity threat. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 379-440). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-28.

Meadows, L. A., & Sekaquaptewa, D. (2011, June), The Effect of Skewed Gender Composition on Student Participation in Undergraduate Engineering Project Teams Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18957

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