S4-CT5-4 - Towards a Framework for Equity in Engineering Classrooms

2. Research-to-Practice Work In Progress
Stephen Secules1 , Stephanie Masta2
1 Florida International University
2 Purdue University

This work-in-progress paper addresses a need for resources for engineering instructors to understand equity in engineering classrooms. Much of the broadening participation literature points back to the undergraduate engineering classroom as a primary space where marginalizing culture is created and experienced. Engineering instructors are at the front lines of this marginalization and have a direct role in either recreating or disrupting it, yet comparatively less research has been done on how best to promote equity and transform instructional practice.

One prominent approach to promoting equity in engineering classrooms is to disseminate "best practices", an approach drawn from medical and legal traditions that is meant to simplify and routinize procedures for practitioners. Within educational contexts, these best practices are implied to work in any context and to reduce the instructor role to fulfilling these simple rules (e.g., using multiple audio and visual representations to ensure accessibility for disabled students and language learners, using think-pair-share participation to engage more students than those with raised hands, creating word problem scenarios with a wide variety of gender and racial representations). While these are useful strategies, the negative aspects of a best practices approach to equity include that 1) by drawing on existing practices they can be limited and unimaginative, 2) when some practices do not apply to an instructor’s context the list of best practices can be abandoned rather than adapted, and 3) best practices bypass the instructor process of understanding their own educational contexts and thinking about how to proactively shift culture and pedagogy in ways that take on even more ambitious goals.

An alternative approach is introducing theory on equity and inclusion (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy, intersectionality, liberatory pedagogy). These theories can help guide the thinking of instructors who engage with them, and in that they are broader ways of conceiving of education rather than a list of rules, they therefore transcend specific settings. The specific theories on equity and inclusion also stem from political and activist traditions, and thus they have the power to critique and challenge the status quo of educational, disciplinary, and institutional norms that exist in the current system of engineering education. Therefore critical social theory holds great transformative potential for educational culture. Nevertheless, simply disseminating the theoretical literature on equity and inclusion does not help instructors negotiate the practical applications of the theory to specific contextual details, including population, institution, and content area.

This paper represents a call for more useful knowledge and frameworks that help engineering instructors understand the nuances of equity in engineering classrooms. We present a working framework that draws on multiple theoretical and practical dimensions of engineering classrooms, rather than a single dimension (e.g., gender on teams). As part of a larger research effort aimed at creating resources for equity in engineering classrooms, we also hope to find a learning progression and useful forms for resources for engineering faculty to understand and grow in their role promoting equity.