How can we make STEM classes more equitable?
Dr. Cissy Ballen, PhD, assistant professor at Auburn University, is a discipline-based education researcher working hard to find answers to this question. Turns out, university education is all too familiar with the student-deficit model, which focuses on shortcomings of students coming into a classroom. Instead, Dr. Ballen's group uses the framework of the course-deficit model, which posits that class conditions favor certain student groups over others. Using the course-deficit model enables Dr. Ballen's team to study performance and participation gaps in order to increase equity across student groups across STEM.
Building off the work of Koester and colleagues (2016), Dr. Ballen's team found that in their student samples across two science colleges, female students only under-performed male students on exams in courses that had high-stakes examinations. But, why is this? Ballen and colleagues further explored mediating variables, such as ACT and text-anxiety, unveiling more gendered differences between outcomes. Importantly, these gender gaps are mitigated when educators minimize the risk associated with high stakes examinations (like exams worth 50% of final course grade being reduced to less than 40% of the final course grade). Ballen's work has also shown that class size can be another factor influencing gender dynamics in the classroom, where female students in larger classes are less likely to voluntarily interact with their professor in class. She implores us to consider the weight of these ideas beyond the university classroom.
Lindsay MacMillan, Biology TA and graduate student, came to Dr. Ballen's talk because she was interested in becoming a better educator. "I liked that [Dr. Ballen] talked about the student versus the course deficit. We need to be thinking about how to change course structure, not the student." Dr. Ballen's outlook asked the audience to consider that classroom experiences are consequential and that they shape perceptions of ability to complete coursework. MacMillan responded, "Equity in the classroom seems increasingly important. It's under out control as educators in the classroom, even if its not always present in society. So we should help make things right."
Dr. Cissy Ballen presents her work to the UAB ROSE community.