Word cloud that highlights the positive impact of this activity, as explained in paragraph three of the article. The highlighted or stand-out words are: miniproject, engineering, diveristy, project think, and design
Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)

Research into the effect of pro-social, focused group-assignments, on engineering students’ consideration of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)

Mrs. Lois Gray, UHI North, West and Hebrides 

In 2022-23 I was funded by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) to do some action research into using situated learning and pro-social approaches to improve gender equality in engineering education (Gray, 2023).  I am writing this blog to highlight some of my, rather surprising, findings.  I am an active member of the Women’s Engineering Society, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE’s) Women in Engineering network, championing their efforts to attract women into engineering courses and careers.  Having come from industry into academia myself, I appreciate the challenges women face in a patriarchal environment, and I have tried to be a supportive role model, as well as promoting engineering as a female-friendly career.  Thus, I incorporate Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) education in my teaching practice, and I have developed student assignments which are gender-sensitive (Gray, 2022, pp. 74-75).  However, discerning the explicit impact of this is difficult; certainly, female students achieve well and have few complaints about my modules, but this correlation doesn’t infer causality.    

Therefore, I welcomed a funded opportunity to research the impact of my EDI teaching.  I ran two mini-projects: one for Higher National Diploma (HND) students, studying Engineering Systems, and one for Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) students, studying one or more of electrical, electronic, mechanical, or energy engineering.   The students’ assignment was to improve an everyday product for a more diverse range of people to use more easily.   I assigned diverse groups to consider modifications, with the only restriction being that fantastical solutions were prohibited. Thus, I hoped to encourage both technical and artistic creativity, to cater for both masculine and feminine attributes (Smith, Rosenstein, and Nikolov, 2018).  The assignment included a pro-social aspect, to encourage female participation (Soutschek et al, 2017).  Participants were subsequently questioned, and their later consideration of EDI in their own engineering projects, was analysed.  

I had predicted some positive impact, but the findings still surprised me.  Firstly, I was shocked at how little students knew about EDI, prior to the activity.  Most students were employed in engineering industries, which, although predominantly male-dominated, had well-publicised EDI policies.  Yet, few appreciated how diversity affects products and processes (Perez,2020).   Secondly, I was surprised that the assignments had a significant correlation with students’ later positive consideration of diversity (Gray, 2023).  Finally, I did not expect many positive comments about the activities, as experience suggests that engineering students are generally reticent to participate in anything not explicitly relevant to their courses.  However, most comments were very positive, highlighting the value of this learning.   

I suppose what I have learnt from this research is encouraging.  It suggests that, even though we are still failing to attract sufficient women into engineering, the Engineering Council’s (2020, p.7) focus on inclusivity and our own efforts to disseminate EDI, are having a positive, measurable effect.   Overall, this should lead to a new generation of engineers having more consideration of diversity, in more equitable workplaces, and a better industry-employment experience than I had (Gray, 2021). 

 
References:  

Engineering Council (2020) The Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP). London: Engineering Council 

Gray, L. (2023) Using situated learning and pro-social approaches to improve gender equality in engineering education. Available at https://www.eis.org.uk/action-research-grants/arg-pro-social-approaches-gender-equality-engineer 

Gray, L. (2022) ‘Case Study 2.7 – Group Activity 1: Pulsimeter Mini-Project’ in Handbook for Creating a Gender- Sensitive Curriculum: Teaching and Learning Strategies. ed. by Kitchener, M. Oxford: Oxford Brookes University 

Gray, L. (2021) ‘Attracting women into engineering – a personal reflection’ in A book in celebration of International Women’s Day 2021. ed. by Walker, A. Inverness: UHI, 236 – 239 

Perez, C. (2020) Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. London: Vintage Publishing 

Smith, D., Rosenstein, J. and Nikolov, M. (2018) ‘The Different Words We Use to Describe Male and Female Leaders’ Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-different-words-we-use-to-describe-male-and-female-leaders  

Soutschek, A., Burke, C., Raja Beharelle, A., Schreiber, R., Weber,S., Karipidis, I., ten Velden, J., 

Weber, B., Haker, H., Kalenscher, T.and Tobler, P. (2017) ‘The dopaminergic reward system 

underpins gender differences in social preferences’ in Nature Human Behaviour 1(11), 819-827 

X (Twitter): Follow @LoisGray16, @UHI_NWH, @EISunion for more information about this research