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

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Abstract

This paper looks at a potential, partial solution to the ongoing problem of attracting women into engineering education, and of optimising the inclusivity and diversity of these courses. As a female electronics designer for twenty years, I am familiar with implicit discrimination, patriarchy, and the impact of these on products and practices. Research shows that situated-learning develops tacit skills such as innovation, critical-thinking, confidence, collaboration, and empathy. My intention, thus, was to gauge the effect of introducing authentic, real-life, pro-social projects into higher education engineering courses, at UHI North Highland. Small teams of SCQF levels 8 and 9 project students were tasked with recommending improvements to every-day engineering systems, to cater for more diverse customers. Through discussion, survey, and formal assessment, I measured participant and non-participant awareness of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), in both learner groups. Notably, learners commented that they enjoyed working in diverse teams on interactive tasks. With 95% of these learners being employed in engineering industries, it was rather shocking to find that many were unaware of the implications of poor EDI, prior to these projects. Although the population sample was too small for generalisation, 68.4% of participants noted a positive influence on their consideration of EDI, suggesting moderate correlation. I therefore conclude that running collaborative, situated-learning projects with Higher Education engineering students promotes EDI, and is engaging and fun for learners, without inordinately endorsing unattractive, positive discrimination.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherEducational Institute of Scotland
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2023

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