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Title: What I Wish My Instructor Knew: Navigating COVID-19 as an Underrepresented Student - Evidence Based Research
In March 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic forced universities across the United States to immediately stop face-to-face activities and transition to virtual instruction. While this transition was not easy for anyone, the shift to online learning was especially difficult for STEM courses, particularly engineering, which has a strong practical/laboratory component. Additionally, underrepresented students (URMs) in engineering experienced a range of difficulties during this transition. The purpose of this paper is to highlight underrepresented engineering students’ experiences as a result of COVID-19. In particular, we aim to highlight stories shared by participants who indicated a desire to share their experience with their instructor. In order to better understand these experiences, research participants were asked to share a story, using the novel data collection platform SenseMaker, based on the following prompt: Imagine you are chatting with a friend or family member about the evolving COVID-19 crisis. Tell them about something you have experienced recently as an engineering student. Conducting a SenseMaker study involves four iterative steps: 1) Initiation is the process of designing signifiers, testing, and deploying the instrument; 2) Story Collection is the process of collecting data through narratives; 3) Sense-making is the process of exploring and analyzing patterns of the collection of narratives; and 4) Response is the process of amplifying positive stories and dampening negative stories to nudge the system to an adjacent possible (Van der Merwe et al. 2019). Unlike traditional surveys or other qualitative data collection methods, SenseMaker encourages participants to think more critically about the stories they share by inviting them to make sense of their story using a series of triads and dyads. After completing their narrative, participants were asked a series of triadic, dyadic, and sentiment-based multiple-choice questions (MCQ) relevant to their story. For one MCQ, in particular, participants were required to answer was “If you could do so without fear of judgment or retaliation, who would you share this story with?” and were given the following options: 1) Family 2) Instructor 3) Peers 4) Prefer not to answer 5) Other. A third of the participants indicated that they would share their story with their instructor. Therefore, we further explored this particular question. Additionally, this paper aims to highlight this subset of students whose primary motivation for their actions were based on Necessity. High-level qualitative findings from the data show that students valued Grit and Perseverance, recent experiences influenced their Sense of Purpose, and their decisions were majorly made based on Intuition. Chi-squared tests showed that there were not any significant differences between race and the desire to share with their instructor, however, there were significant differences when factoring in gender suggesting that gender has a large impact on the complexity of navigating school during this time. Lastly, ~50% of participants reported feeling negative or extremely negative about their experiences, ~30% reported feeling neutral, and ~20% reported feeling positive or extremely positive about their experiences. In the study, a total of 500 micro-narratives from underrepresented engineering students were collected from June – July 2020. Undergraduate and graduate students were recruited for participation through the researchers’ personal networks, social media, and through organizations like NSBE. Participants had the option to indicate who is able to read their stories 1) Everyone 2) Researchers Only, or 3) No one. This work presents qualitative stories of those who granted permission for everyone to read.  more » « less
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National Science Foundation
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