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Exploring bias in mechanical engineering students' perceptions of classmates

TitleExploring bias in mechanical engineering students' perceptions of classmates
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsSalehi, S, Holmes, NG, Wieman, C
Date Publishedmar

Gender disparity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is an on-going challenge. Gender bias is one of the possible mechanisms leading to such disparities and has been extensively studied. Previous work showed that there was a gender bias in how students perceived the competence of their peers in undergraduate biology courses. We examined whether there was a similar gender bias in a mechanical engineering course. We conducted the study in two offerings of the course, which used different instructional practices. We found no gender bias in peer perceptions of competence in either of the offerings. However, we did see that the offerings' different instructional practices affected aspects of classroom climate, including: the number of peers who were perceived to be particularly knowledgeable, the richness of the associated network of connections between students, students' familiarity with each other, and their perceptions about the course environment. These results suggest that negative bias against female students in peer perception is not universal, either across institutions or across STEM fields, and that instructional methods may have an impact on classroom climate.