Improving and Sustaining Inclusive Classroom Environments in Engineering

Jessica M. Vaden
Graduate Student
University of Pittsburgh

Women and underrepresented students in STEM are more likely to encounter gender and racially stigmatizing experiences which undermine achievement and impact student persistence, even among those with strong academic backgrounds. Previous research has shown that instructors whose classrooms promote inclusivity and belonging can help improve student performance. We also recognize that to promote inclusivity in education there needs to be a shared vision among faculty as well. The research on the benefits of creating inclusive classrooms is evident, however faculty may have difficulty operationalizing them due in part to a lack of tangible guidance. Creating these environments can also be difficult for engineering faculty because most of the content is technical. This study is addressing this gap through developing and providing pragmatic, proven, and trusted strategies for engineering faculty who are seeking to create inclusive classroom environments for all students. This study is informed by and aligned with the Theory of Change model developed by Henderson, Beach, and Finkelstein. The model notes four categories of change strategies for higher education: disseminating curriculum and pedagogy, developing reflective teachers, enacting policy, and developing a shared vision among teachers and stakeholders. With this theory of change, this study is broadly aiming to find the most effective strategies to promote an inclusive classroom and examining how learning communities foster and support those classrooms. The research tasks for this study are aligned with the four categories and they include: developing and piloting a menu of inclusive classroom strategies and decision matrix to support prioritization, evaluating the effectiveness of the strategies through student and faculty assessments, and disseminating the strategies menu across institutions. To help support these efforts, inclusive classroom focused learning communities were developed at each partner institution to provide support for faculty participants.In the first semester of this project, the inclusive classroom strategies menu was created and developed through the assessment of peer-reviewed literature and university teaching and learning center websites. The strategies were organized by timing of the semester and by the Aspire Alliance inclusive framework domains (Identity, Intercultural, and Relational). The faculty and student surveys were also developed and piloted to receive feedback on strategy implementation, the learning communities, and student classroom experiences. The preliminary results showed that the strategies could have had a positive impact on classroom environment, however, more semesters and data will help strengthen this observation. Results also showed that faculty implemented a wide variety of strategies, and all the Aspire Alliance domains were represented.As these tasks are being completed, the inclusive strategies menu will be refined and will continue to be implemented in classrooms participating in the study. After further study, the strategies will be shared across diversity, equity, and inclusion engineering networks to serve as a model for creating inclusive engineering classrooms. We recognize the need to develop a formal toolkit in which faculty can easily review and adopt inclusive strategies into their teaching. This study is the impetus of the journey to that fully realized toolkit that can be used across all engineering classrooms.


April A. Dukes, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Kristen Parrish, Arizona State University, Arizona; Amy Hermundstad Nave, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado; Amy Landis, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado; Melissa M. Bilec, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania