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Friday, June 20 • 9:30am - 10:00am
CON10.02 – The Gender Gap and Physics Identity: Instructional Strategies that Work (Room A239)

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A persistent gender and minority gap in the STEM fields—particularly in both conceptual understanding and retention in programs—has concerned educators and policy makers for decades. Though women make up the majority of undergraduate students, in our particular context of physics, they represent only 20% of undergraduate degrees.  We found that in a study of 790 students from our institution, physics *identity* plays a significant role, distinct from prior knowledge, in mediating the gender gap in conceptual understanding and intention to continue in a physics program. This result suggests the optimistic viewpoint that interventions that help students develop their physics (or STEM) identity could yield important gains, opening STEM fields to a wider diversity of perspectives and viewpoints.

But how can an instructor foster identity development in the context of a large first year class?  The community of practice model is a well-validated framework shown to foster identity growth. Highly interactive courses that help students to work together in a positive environment show many of the characteristics of this approach.  Could the well documented positive gains in learning achieved by highly interactive courses compared to traditional lecture be a result not only of successful engagement of students in the material but in successful engagement of students in developing their STEM identity?  Previous work based on stand-alone single institution studies yielded contradictory results suggesting that not all interactive approaches are equally effective at overcoming the gender gap.  Here we use three different models of equity to complete a meta-analysis of results from 26 classes from 9 institutions to answer this question, examining pretest and posttest measures of fundamental conceptual understanding. We found that while collaborative, community-building instructional strategies did not completely eliminate the conceptual understanding gender gap, courses that applied community-building teaching strategies reduced the direct gender gap (p = .025, d = 1.27), normalized gender gap (p < .001, d = 1.24), and gender gap effect size (p = .009, d = .63) in only one term. Contrary to a zero-sum perspective on the gender gap, we found that increased equity through community-building instructional strategies benefited both genders.  This presentation will include an overview of both identity mediation and meta-analysis studies, as well as practical approaches that instructors can adopt to help their students build a community of practice in their first-year STEM course.

Friday June 20, 2014 9:30am - 10:00am EDT
A239 McArthur Hall

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