Asee peer logo

Unconscious Bias in Peer Ratings of International Students’ Contributions to First-Year Design Projects

Download Paper |


2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Empathy and Human-Centered Design 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

visit author page

Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) and Director for the Engineering Plus program. She has served as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the CEAE Department, as well as the ABET assessment coordinator. Professor Bielefeldt was also the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where students learned about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Peer ratings are often used to help award individual grades from team projects. It is therefore important to understand the extent to which these peer ratings may be influenced by unconscious or implicit bias. Unconscious bias during peer ratings is perhaps more likely to occur among first-year students who may have previously had limited interactions with diverse groups, in particular international students. To explore this issue, about 600 student peer ratings in the Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness (CATME) system were examined. The students were participating in a team bridge design project in a first-year civil engineering course. Teams worked together for 3 to 5 weeks and submitted a single written report. After the project was completed, students rated themselves and their peers in CATME. Male and female students were rated similarly overall, as were Hispanic and majority students. However, international students from Middle East countries and China had lower adjustment factor ratings than majority peers. The largest differences were in the “contributing” category. Middle Eastern students were equally likely to have designed the ‘best bridge’ on their teams. This is counter evidence to the lower contributing score awarded to Middle Eastern students by their peers and implies that bias may have been present in the peer ratings. In addition, it was found that male Middle Eastern students rated females lower than males. The results imply that first-year courses that include team design projects should spend time discussing unconscious bias and cultural styles. Faculty should also consider these issues when using peer ratings to assign students individual grades from team projects.

Bielefeldt, A. R. (2020, June), Unconscious Bias in Peer Ratings of International Students’ Contributions to First-Year Design Projects Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35407

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: © 2020 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