Using situated learning and pro-social approaches to improve gender equality in engineering education

    Project Details

    Description of project aims

    Prior to lecturing I was an engineer, and, with the United Kingdom having only 14.5% female engineers (EngineeringUK 2018), I often worked in all-male teams. Luckily, I was never a victim of explicit discrimination, but I did encounter unconscious bias: equipment stored on shelves beyond reach, “man” portable instruments too heavy for me, and adjustments requiring long reach. Through my recent research into unconscious gender bias, I have found that this is prevalent, particularly in product design (Criado-Perez 2019). Undoubtedly, many products, for example virtual-reality headsets and personal protective equipment, would have been better if engineered by more diverse teams, but with few women studying engineering (EngineeringUK 2020), this is a self-perpetuating problem. I reflected on ways to change this (Gray 2021) which, in addition to the oft-cited use of role models and gender-equitable environments, included delivering situated learning with a focus on industry-relevant projects with pro-social bias (Gray 2022). My hypothesis is that, by getting students to collaboratively work on projects which combine emphasis on design for diversity, with equal awards for tacit, creative, and technical skills, awareness of gender inequality is raised, and engineering becomes more attractive to women. I would like to perform action research to test this with a small non-probability sample: my 2022-23 engineering classes. I plan to deliver a formative group-project activity then, on completion, qualitatively survey students’ reactions, and analyse their critique, in particular their observations on the gender-focused elements. Whilst acknowledging that this research would not be generalisable to other populations of engineering students, findings could initiate further action or research. A similar pre-research activity, to modify a wheelbarrow for more diverse use (Gray 2022), appeared to raise awareness, with students commenting that “it really made you think about others and their needs” and “the struggles a lack of equality can create”.

    Professional Standards for Lecturers in Scotland’s Colleges specifically addressed by this research: 1.1.4, 2.2.5, 2.2.6, 3.2.2
    Short titleGender equality in engineering education
    Effective start/end date22/10/2230/06/23

    UN Sustainable Development Goals

    In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

    • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
    • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities


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