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Why Pedagogy Matters: Faculty Narratives

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Recruitment and Retention Topics

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1611.1 - 12.1611.15



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Paper Authors


Susan Lord University of San Diego

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Susan M. Lord received a B.S. from Cornell University and the M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. She is currently Associate Professor and Coordinator of Electrical Engineering at the University of San Diego. Her teaching and research interests include electronics, optoelectronics, materials science, first year engineering courses, as well as feminist and liberative pedagogies. Dr. Lord served as General Co-Chair of the 2006 Frontiers in Education Conference. She has been awarded an NSF CAREER and ILI grants. Dr. Lord’s industrial experience includes AT&T Bell Laboratories, General Motors Laboratories, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and SPAWAR Systems Center.

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Michelle Camacho University of San Diego

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Michelle Madsen Camacho received her Ph.D. in Social Sciences (an interdisciplinary concentration in Social/Cultural Anthropology and Sociology) from UC Irvine in 2000. She was a Fulbright Scholar to Bolivia and was a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow at Cornell University. She held two postdoctoral positions at UCSD, A Researcher-in-Residence at the Center for US.-Mexican Studies and A Faculty Fellow in the Department of Ethnic Studies. She is currently Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of San Diego. Her research and teaching engages critical analyses of gender, race/ethnicity, and social class in understanding inequalities in transnational and local contexts.

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Why Pedagogy Matters: Faculty Narratives


Some authors have argued that a feminist pedagogy in engineering courses could invigorate engineering curricula and improve classroom climates, particularly for women and other underrepresented students. Feminist pedagogy is especially concerned with the hierarchical dimensions embedded in the learning context which can create “chilly climates”, limiting educational possibilities. Few formal studies have been conducted, however, investigating the actual practices utilized by engineering faculty within the classroom. Using qualitative data from 26 engineering faculty members employed at four-year universities, we examine how engineering educators conceptualize effective teaching methods. Their beliefs about effective teaching are compared with existing literature about alternative approaches to effective teaching, theorized by “feminist pedagogy” researchers.

The data suggests that engineering educators in our sample exhibit a range of beliefs about how to achieve effective teaching. Some strongly condemn a “lecture-only” approach for reasons that clearly overlap with a feminist pedagogical model. Feminist pedagogy experts place an overt, and reflexive, emphasis on context in order to address relations of power embedded in the classroom structure. Because “climate” is an elusive and tricky topic to tackle in engineering education, our data incorporates voices from a range of professors to present a few perspectives and practices that address this important issue.

1. Introduction

While undergraduate engineering programs nationwide have made considerable strides to encourage greater numbers of women and minorities in the field, researchers are increasingly interested in identifying the variables that specifically relate to retention of students. The so- called, “leaky pipeline”1 example (students “switch” out of engineering to other majors) remains important to consider: why do students leave engineering programs? One variable identified by some researchers, such as Seymour and Hewitt,2 points to faculty practices in the classroom. Few studies, however, have sought to critically examine the methods used by,3,4 and cognitive beliefs of, faculty who employ them. How do faculty conceive of effective teaching? Do these conceptualizations take into consideration student attrition rates? Feminist pedagogy explicitly addresses the need to achieve a “more hospitable place” for all students.5 How can this body of literature contribute to contemporary discussions in engineering education? Is it a useful paradigm to inform curricular change? The value of feminist pedagogy to engineering education lies in its explicit focus on creating a student-centered classroom context as a tool to enhance the learning process. In this work, we explore the specific tactics used to achieve this goal.

We begin the paper with a brief review of the tenets of feminist pedagogy. We then explore the relationship between engineering education and feminist approaches to teaching. Next, we describe our research method and data analysis from our study of how engineering faculty describe effective teaching approaches. We conclude with a brief discussion of the implications of pedagogy for engineering education.


Lord, S., & Camacho, M. (2007, June), Why Pedagogy Matters: Faculty Narratives Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2567

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