Gender Dynamics in Small Group within a Student-Centered Physics Course: An Exploratory Single Case Study
Akubo, Mark Okpanachi (author)
Southerland, Sherry A., 1962- (professor directing dissertation)
Cottle, Paul (university representative)
Perez-Felkner, Lara (committee member)
Jones, Ithel (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Education (degree granting college)
School of Teacher Education (degree granting department)
The underrepresentation of women in STEM more generally and in physics specifically has been well established (e.g., Hyater-Adams, Fracchiolla, Finkelstein, & Hinko, 2018; Johnson, Ong, Ko, Smith, & Hodari, (2017); Lock & Hazari, 2016), and the field remains challenged by the negative consequences of this underrepresentation. Women's limited access to STEM jobs is one of such consequences. A number of curricular and pedagogical innovations have shown success in better supporting student learning, and some such as SCALE-UP or (Studio Physics which is similar to SCALE-UP but with more space capacity) have been found to narrow the learning gaps between men and women. SCALE-UP is an acronym for student-centered active learning environment for undergraduate physics. Both SCALE-UP and Studio Physics are considered to be a designed learning environment and pedagogical innovation which redefines teaching or the role of an instructor as well as students in the class and course (Beichner, Saul, Abbott, Morse, Deardorff, Allain, & Risley, 2007). Although there is extensive work on Studio Physics as an innovative pedagogical approach that shows promise in supporting learning for diverse students across gender, race, and ethnicity (Beichner et al., 2007), more research is needed to understand this innovative classroom and pedagogy from the angles of gender dynamics in a small group, with the goal of exploring gender equity in small groups within the classroom. In pursuit of this question, previous studies in this context have relied on documenting learning gains (e.g., Gaffney, Richards, Kustusch, Ding, & Beichner, 2008). For this, instructors and researchers use students' pre and posttests scores obtained through instruments such as the conceptual survey on electricity and magnetism (CSEM). Unfortunately, this approach can mask a number of underlying problems in terms of whose voice is heard in the classroom and whose ideas are taken up in small group work—questions that are often at the heart of recent work focused on equity in STEM classrooms. The benefits of fostering equitable participation in sense-making entails that students across gender (focus of the research presented here) will be supported to adequately prepare for subsequent courses and positioned for career opportunities in STEM (White & Cottle, 2011). The research reported here centered on a purposefully selected small group consisting of one woman and two men. I explored the woman's experiences in the small group. This exploratory single case study (Merriam, 1998) had a two-fold purpose — to identify and describe patterns in gender dynamics, and to understand what meanings students ascribed to the gender interactions. Using socio-cultural theory and discourse analysis as theoretical lenses, I analyzed interactions of the heterogenous group across 20 episodes of discourses, and interviewed the participants in a focus group. In my analysis of discourses, I searched for findings in the forms of emergent themes that reveal gender dynamics while in a focus group interview, I had the goal of knowing the meanings they ascribed to the interactions. In relation to gender dynamics, these findings suggest that the woman (Kay) orchestrated all the active positive gender interactions occurring in this group and she did this by fostering collaborative work in the small group during discourses. The TA was effective in supporting positive gender interactions, but was not successful at alleviating negative gender interactions that were occurring. In contrast, the men were asymmetrically involved in both the positive and negative gender interactions, and subtle negative gender dynamics were the predominant form of negative gender interaction. Also, the subtle negative gender interactions occurred in association with the active positive gender interactions; the former almost always after the latter in order of association. Multiple factors explain this sequence of association; • the order of non-verbal and verbal discourses in an episode • how David took up his peers' contributions • Isaac's role as Kay's Ally, and • the timing and type of instructional move by an instructor. In addition, participants differed in the meanings they attributed to — presentation of small group work to whole class, learning, the verification lab, and how they framed the discourses. However, they agreed on the importance of the tools they used, the role of the TA, and their own roles as spontaneous. The participants were generally productive in their epistemological framing of the tasks. The different meanings are important because they deepen the insights into the gender dynamics and offer new ones into the participants' physics identities and epistemological framing as it relates to the discursive participation and tasks. In this way, this work offers possible interconnections among gender dynamics (with implications for gender equity), epistemological framing, and physics identity.
Epistemological Framing, Gender Dynamics, Gender Equity, Physics Identity, SCALE-UP, Small Group
July 7, 2021.
A Dissertation submitted to the School of Teacher Education in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Sherry A. Southerland, Professor Directing Dissertation; Paul Cottle, University Representative; Lara Perez-Felkner, Committee Member; Ithel Jones, Committee Member.
Florida State University