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The purpose of this research paper is to present findings from an exploratory, qualitative study of high school students’ beliefs about smartness. The construct of smartness, which is deeply embedded into all levels of engineering education culture, reflects normative values and can act as a gatekeeper in engineering. Despite the decades of research to broaden participation in engineering education, very little research has explicitly explored the construct of smartness within the context of engineering education and its’ exclusionary implications. For this research paper, we focused on the beliefs of high school students as selection of a collegiate major is often chosen during high school and student beliefs about smartness have serious implications for who considers themselves smart enough (or not) to pursue an engineering degree. Although constructions of smartness intersect with race, class, gender, and other social identities, for this exploratory study we chose to investigate the role of gender in the construction of smartness. We utilized semi-structured, one-on-one interviews to explore 22 students’ beliefs about smartness with the aim of addressing the following research questions: 1) What do high school science and engineering students believe about smartness? and 2) How do the beliefs about smartness of these students who identify as male and female differ, if at all?
The major findings of this study are: 1) students’ beliefs about smartness are complex and divergent, 2) students’ beliefs about smartness are related to their interpretations of social indicators of smartness, their epistemic beliefs, and their mindset beliefs, and 3) students who identity as male and female socialized in the same academic environment do not construct smartness in distinctly different ways; however, they may be impacted by smartness very differently based on the stereotypes that exist in their environment. For scholars, a major implication of this research is that when studying smartness, epistemic beliefs, mindset beliefs, and interpretations of social indicators of smartness should all be considered. For the broader community, this contribution provides further evidence for our research agenda of drawing attention to how beliefs about smartness are complex and have exclusionary implications. Social dynamics and ultimately social identities (i.e., gender, race, class, etc.) are interconnected with the social construction of smartness, and therefore, we all must be mindful about how we contribute to the construction of smartness in our academic environments.
Kramer, A., & Dringenberg, E. (2021, January), Who is Smart? High School Science and Engineering Students’ Beliefs about Smartness Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36142
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