The new special focus issue I spearheaded for IEEE Transactions on Education just arrived in my mailbox! It arrived alongside a number of other prestigious journals on engineering and higher education.
This issue is dedicated to helping increase social and cultural diversity in engineering fields relevant to IEEE, including electrical, electronics, and computer engineering. As a result of my work on this issue, I was appointed as an Associate Editor of the journal and I have a second special focus issue underway.
To give you a bit of information on it–the November 2018 issue on socio-cultural diversity–I’m sharing an early draft of our guest editorial. You’ll find the draft below, after the list of article titles. You can visit the journal’s homepage or follow the links I’ve provided to download individual articles. Our guest editorial statement is free, but many of the others will require you to purchase the article or log in via a university library website that pays for access. Please contact me if you need help accessing articles.
Fostering diversity and supporting diverse students has always been a focus of mine. I’m proud to have been associated with Hampton University, a Historically Black University in southeast Virginia, and to have been appointed Full Professor there in 2014. I try to bring what I learned there into the work I do here in Europe every day.
I’m also proud to have done research to increase understanding of how diverse students experience engineering education. I did much of this work at Dublin Institute of Technology, and I’m extending the impact of that work today through my current appointment as a Marie Curie Research Fellow at University College London (UCL), by publishing articles and special focus issues.
UCL has a proud history of inclusivity, having admitted women and people from diverse races and religions long before most institutions did so. My amazing colleagues in UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education (CEE)–including Jan Peters, Emanuela Tilley, and John Mitchell–worked with the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK to produce a groundbreaking report titled “Designing Inclusion into Engineering Education.” Techniques they developed have far wider applicability than just engineering, so please download a copy.
Articles in the Special Focus Issue
- Guest Editorial Special Issue on Increasing the Socio-Cultural Diversity of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Related Fields
- The Impact of Digital Technology on Female Students’ Learning Experience in Partition-Rooms: Conditioned by Social Context
- Using Mobile Application Development and 3-D Modeling to Encourage Minority Male Interest in Computing and Engineering
- Persistence, Resilience and Mathematics in Engineering Transfer Capital
- Do Female Motives for Enrolling Vary According to STEM Profile?
- Gendered Interests in Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering: Intersections With Career Outcome Expectations
- Equal But Not Equitable: Self-Reported Data Obscures Gendered Differences in Project Teams
- Gendered Risks of Team-Based Learning: A Model of Inequitable Task Allocation in Project-Based Learning
- Analysis of Students’ Ratings of Teaching Quality to Understand the Role of Gender and Socio-Economic Diversity in Higher Education
- The Impact of Gender on Conference Authorship in Audio Engineering: Analysis Using a New Data Collection Method
Description by guest editors
Universities and colleges struggle to find the best approaches for achieving diversity throughout their campus environments. Even after successfully recruiting diverse populations, challenges arise in providing appropriate support and developing engagement opportunities that help enable students’ success. Some students from minority populations may not have had schooling that was as well funded as their peers from the mainstream. They may arrive differently equipped, but not any less capable, than their peers. In this special focus issue, we asked: How do we support their efforts to succeed? How do we help faculty understand the challenges diverse students face? How can we affect change in the teaching methods they encounter?
This issue of the IEEE Transactions on Education (ToE) makes exciting contributions to the literature on teaching in fields including electrical and electronics engineering, computer engineering, and computer science. This issue represents an effort to positively influence engineering scholarship, engineering education, and engineering practice. It helps stake new territory for ToE with regard to format as well as the diversity of authors, topics, editors, and reviewers.
Regarding the presentation of content, this is ToE’s third issue to provide structured abstracts. This feature makes content more searchable and it also makes the questions guiding each study more explicit. The most noteworthy contributions and findings are identified clearly and succinctly, prior to the full text. These features help readers locate relevant content and more easily understand how the pieces fit together.
Even more importantly, this issue provides a platform for voices and perspectives from around the globe to explore facets of diversity relevant to IEEE. Although engineering education research (EER) on diversity has focused greatly on gender aspects, we aimed to explore many different aspects of diversity in this issue. All contributors provide concepts and techniques to foster equity and equality in engineering education.
The topics, authors, editors, and reviewers represent ever-widening diversity—geographically, socially, ethnically, racially, religiously, and otherwise. Our call for papers defined diversity broadly, in an effort to increase inclusion and equity in engineering classrooms and labs as well as in engineering publications. A primary intention has been to improve the participation rates of people from under-represented groups—particularly in computer science, electrical and electronic engineering, computer engineering, software engineering, and biomedical engineering—and to support their ongoing success in these fields.
The guest editors have lived and worked in multiple countries across Africa, Europe, and North America and were keen to involve diverse individuals throughout the publication process. We were acutely aware that many readers and authors of many US-based journals had lacked exposure to much of the work in EER being conducted outside the US. Citation analysis of 4321 publications across four prominent platforms—the Journal of Engineering Education (JEE), the European Journal of Engineering Education (EJEE), and conferences of both the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) and European Society of Engineering Education (SEFI)—had shown ASEE and JEE citations “are dominated by sources with US affiliations.” SEFI and EJEE reflected wider diversity in that “while US sources are frequently cited, European and other authors are also well represented (Williams, Wankat, & Neto, 2016, p. 190).” Thus, Williams et al demonstrated, “in citation terms, European EER is relatively global but US EER is not (p. 190).”
In response, the guest editors encouraged researchers active in the US to submit articles and they also worked to solicit manuscripts from around the world. They aimed to provide “complementary perspectives” as encouraged by Borrego and Bernhard (2013), whose study compared EER that originated in the US with EER from Northern and Central Europe. They found the latter tends to explore “authentic, complex problems, while U.S. approaches emphasize empirical evidence” (p. 14). They also found “disciplinary boundaries and legitimacy are more salient issues in the U.S., while the Northern and Central European Bildung philosophy integrates across disciplines toward development of the whole person” (p. 14). Informing this edition’s intent, Borrego and Bernhard asserted, “Understanding and valuing complementary perspectives is critical to growth and internationalization of EER” (p. 14).
Adopting a global perspective, this issue promotes research, advocacy, and action geared toward achieving equity. Authors have considered many facets of diversity, including race, ethnicity, economic status, religious affiliation, age, and multiple understandings of the term gender. Subsequent issues of IEEE ToE will extend this work by, for instance, featuring technologies developed to support learning in IEEE fields for people with physical disabilities. Supporting a range of approaches to diversity, this current issue features empirical research on engineering/STEM pedagogies, paying particular attention to their level of inclusivity for students and teachers from minority groups.
Research from Saudi Arabia that is included in this issue contributes new understanding of women’s experiences studying engineering there. The nation has only recently offered engineering programs in-country that are open to women; some of the engineering teachers are female, but many who deliver courses are male. Digital technologies, Mariam Elhussein and colleagues explain, are intended to bridge the divide in classrooms where women sit on one side of a glass partition while observing male teachers who deliver content. Technologies do not always achieve the desired aims, because female students explained during focus group discussions that they sometimes keep their digital devices off to avoid illuminating their faces and revealing their identities—a taboo in their culture. The study, authored by Mariam Elhussein, Dilek Düştegör, Naya Nagy, and Amani Alghamdi, is entitled “The Impact of Digital Technology on Female Students’ Learning Experience in Partition-Rooms: Conditioned by Social Context.”
Contributing new understanding regarding racially diverse learners in the US, Jumoke Ladeji-Osias et al. describe outcomes of an ongoing school program to engage black male youths in engineering and computing. These authors describe a program, running both after-school and during summers, wherein students develop mobile apps and build 3D-printed models to ignite their interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Having participated for two years, students reported more positive ideas about STEM and increased interest in attending university and entering a career in either science or app development. Unfortunately, participants did not show corresponding interest in taking science courses in school. The research team of Jumoke Ladeji-Osias, LaDawn Partlow, and Edward Dillo submitted this study, titled “Using Mobile Application Development and 3D Modeling to Encourage Minority Male Interest in Computing and Engineering.”
Contributing new understanding regarding socially and economically diverse learners who enter engineering via two-year colleges in the US, Simon Winberg and colleagues discovered a correlation between math performance in two-year colleges and persistence to graduation in the four-year degree. Such research can help educators to better advise students and recruit those likely to complete degrees. The authors mined data from institutional databases to analyze and compare the performance of transfer and non-transfer students. By calculating and comparing averages, frequencies of passes and failures, withdrawals and repeats, the authors identified factors associated with persistence-to-graduation in Bachelor of Science ECM programs. The study helps confirm prior research showing many minority students who transfer to four-year engineering programs demonstrate high levels of persistence, focus and commitment, resilience to overcome challenges, and they also had high grades at their two-year institution, cumulative and in mathematics. This study, by Simon Winberg, Christine Winberg, and Penelope Engel-Hills, is titled “Persistence, Resilience and Mathematics in Engineering Transfer Capital.”
Reporting from Spain, Noelia Olmedo-Torre et al. assess what attracts women to join STEM and select specific branches of engineering. The team collected survey data from more than 1000 women (graduates and current students) representing six different institutions of higher education. About 40% were in computing, communications, electrical and electronic engineering (CCEEE) and the rest in other STEM (non-CCEEE) fields where women are greatly under-represented. Women in CCEEE were significantly less motivated by “the possibility of working on projects ” and “the possibility of working as part of a team” than those outside CCEEE. This study also reveals women’s perceptions of why others avoid CCEEE majors. The article was submitted by Noelia Olmedo-Torre, Fermín Sánchez Carracedo, Núria Salán Ballesteros, David López, Antoni Perez-Poch, and Mireia López-Beltrán and it asks, “Do Female Motives for Enrolling Vary According to STEM Profile?”
In a similar study from the US, Geoff Potvin et al. worked together to assess how gender relates to an individual’s level of interest in electrical, computer, and biomedical engineering and to identify how these interests relate to students’ expectations of careers in each branch. They analyzed data collected from women and compared these data with people who had not identified themselves as women. The female group showed more interest in bioengineering/biomedical engineering and less interest in electrical and computer engineering. They associated the career outcome of “helping others” but not “supervising others” with bioengineering and/or biomedical engineering more strongly than non-female students did. Overall, students in this study associated inventing and designing things as well as “developing new knowledge and skills” with electrical engineering, whereas they envisioned inventing and designing things but not “working with people” in computer engineering. The research team was comprised of Geoff Potvin, Catherine McGough, Lisa Benson, Hank Boone, Jacqueline Doylek, Allison Godwin, Adam Kirn, Beverly Ma, Jacqueline Rohde, Monique Ross, and Dina Verdin, who worked together to assess “Gendered Interests in Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering: Intersections With Career Outcome Expectations.”
Two articles identify gender bias evident in team projects in engineering classrooms, that tends to go undetected and/or unreported by students. First, in a small-scale study with clear relevance in engineering classrooms around the globe, Laura Hirshfield’s US-based analysis shows that when students self-report regarding team performance and team dynamics, they may fail to see and/or report differences that have to do with the way they interact and allocate tasks. Although individuals submitted team assessments and interviews describing effective collaboration and a lack of gender bias in allocating roles, self-reports did not match the author’s observations nor the data she collected via interviews. Dynamics and assignments reflected visible gender bias, the author reports, yet male and female students reported the same levels of confidence and said they were similarly satisfied with their teams. To achieve greater equity, the author urges readers to look deeper and consider forms of stereotyping and gender bias that influence students’ experiences. Laura Hirshfield’s article is titled “Equal But Not Equitable: Self-Reported Data Obscures Gendered Differences in Project Teams.”
Similarly, authors Robin R. Fowler and Magel P. Su identified “Gendered Risks of Team-Based Learning: A Model of Inequitable Task Allocation in Project-Based Learning.” In this second article, we see that the jobs that are assigned by the team to its various members often fall along gender lines–sometimes because of assumptions made by team members and sometimes because individuals want to play it safe and promise things they know they can deliver well. This can hinder the diversity of experience they get and how well-rounded their skills ultimately become by way of the project.
Two of the papers in this issue focus on educators’ experiences. Reporting from India, Anika Gupta et al. have analyzed the ratings male and female students assign to their teachers as measures of the teaching quality. They identified statistically significant differences in the ratings given—differences that correspond to the teachers’ gender and socio-economic status. In addition to bias regarding socio-economic status, this research team also found same-gender and cross-gender biases that yielded statistically different scores for teaching. The team gathered over 100,000 complete surveys—comparing groups from (a) civil engineering, (b) computer science and engineering, (c) electrical engineering, (d) humanities and social sciences, and (e) mathematics. Similar to the study by Potvin et al., these results illustrate student perceptions of various majors. In this case, statistics showed that interaction between a student’s gender and socio-economic status and those characteristics of the teacher influenced the student’s evaluation of the teacher. As student evaluations are used to inform faculty promotion and retention decisions, it is reasonable to question the validity of the data they provide. The paper was submitted by Anika Gupta, Deepak Garg, and Parteek Kumar and is titled “Analysis of Students’ Ratings of Teaching Quality to Understand the Role of Gender and Socio-Economic Diversity in Higher Education.”
Kat Young and colleagues have assessed participation in audio engineering conferences, a field that remains strongly male-dominated. Their work provides a new tool for determining the gender of participants who do not report their own data, such as in cases where they are listed as authors in various publications and conference proceedings. The techniques presented in this paper consider that not all individuals identify in a binary way. As such, this manuscript contributes new knowledge related to LGTBQ+ and how to determine what gender an author would ascribe to their self in instances where they have not been asked to provide that data. The team analyzed four aspects of data from 20 conferences—looking at conference topic, presentation type, position in the author byline, and the number of authors involved. Data revealed a low representation of non-male authors at conferences on audio engineering as well as the significant variance in conference topic by gender, and the distinct lack of gender diversity across invited presentations. This paper is titled “The Impact of Gender on Conference Authorship in Audio Engineering: Analysis Using a New Data Collection Method” and it was submitted by Kat Young, Michael Lovedee-Turner, Jude Brereton, and Helena Daffern.
Prior research has shown that including diverse perspectives on STEM teams enables more robust and innovative designs (Hunt et al, 2018) and that cross-disciplinary teaming that can facilitate pooling of diverse perspectives is difficult to achieve in practice (Edmondson & Harvey, 2017). A challenge for engineering educators is to ensure the perspectives of diverse individuals we now recruit are fully heard—that all participants have the opportunity to have their contributions considered and valued. Many instructors have had little or no training on pedagogical approaches within STEM. Even well-intentioned instructors may not understand how team formation and management of teams can help reinforce peer teamwork, and they may not recognize that poorly managed and conducted can deplete the confidence of women and others outside the classroom’s mainstream. Instructors who are accustomed to assigning team projects may not be providing guidance and support and thus may ultimately throw students together, simply expecting them to be collaborative, equitable, and productive but not explaining how to achieve this. As a result, students may not perceive group work as a recipe for success, but rather an obstacle course suited to the fittest.
In this special issue of ToE, authors have presented insights generated through the study of student learning experiences. Some authors have introduced innovative methods to measure the impacts of new pedagogical approaches within institutions. Several have investigated pitfalls that could detract from the effectiveness and inclusiveness of teams. Others increased understanding of gender-identification procedures for researchers—this group also exposed perpetual underlying biases in the speaker-invitation process that all IEEE disciplines may benefit from assessing.
Diversity and inclusion are not a post-processing task tacked on in a course or mentioned in a lecture. A well-thought-out, integrated plan that places value on the different perspective of students from diverse backgrounds, genders and life-experiences. Educators are beginning to foster a sense of belonging by adopting techniques for “cohort building” among diverse groups of students. This can help bridge the gulf many students experience when they move from secondary school into higher education. Such techniques can help ensure diverse students’ expectations are met, so students do not find themselves isolated or alone.
The guest editors hope you enjoy this special issue of IEEE Transactions on Education and are able to incorporate some of the methods presented here—to help create a generation of future leaders and innovators. The editors encourage readers to review emerging calls for action in diversity recently published by The Power Electronics Industry Collaborative (PEIC), ASEE, and SEFI.
In this issue, editors channeled their efforts towards achieving fairness and holistic well being, and toward fostering a community of engineers who can address global challenges, act with vision and confidence, and develop effective and robust responses to engineering problems. When students are prepared with superior STEM skills and equipped with life-skills, they will be able to build their own interest-related cohorts and will be able to seek out the resources they need, without being afraid to ask for them. A more diverse group will be prepared to address global challenges.
—Shannon Chance, Laura Bottomley, Karen Panetta, and Bill Williams
Borrego, M., & Bernhard, J. (2011). The emergence of engineering education research as an internationally connected field of inquiry. Journal of Engineering Education, 100(1), 14-47.
Edmondson, A. C., & Harvey, J. F. (2017). Cross-boundary teaming for innovation: Integrating research on teams and knowledge in organizations. Human Resource Management Review.
Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S., & Yee, L. (2018). Delivering through diversity. McKinsey & Company Report. Retrieved April, 3, 2018.
Williams, B., Wankat, P. C., & Neto, P. (2018). Not so global: a bibliometric look at engineering education research. European Journal of Engineering Education, 43(2), 190-200.