skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on December 1, 2023

Title: The role of epistemological beliefs in STEM faculty’s decisions to use culturally relevant pedagogy at Hispanic-Serving Institutions
Abstract Background The growing understanding of the oppressive inequities that exist in postsecondary education has led to an increasing need for culturally relevant pedagogy. Researchers have found evidence that beliefs about the nature of knowledge predict pedagogical practices. Culturally relevant pedagogy supports students in ways that leverage students’ own cultures through three tenets: academic success, cultural competence, and sociopolitical consciousness. If STEM practitioners believe that their disciplines are culture-free, they may not enact culturally relevant pedagogy in their courses. We investigated how and in what forms 40 faculty from mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology departments at Hispanic-Serving Institutions enacted culturally relevant pedagogy. We used the framework of practical rationality to understand how epistemological beliefs about the nature of their discipline combined with their institutional context impacted instructors’ decision to enact practices aligning with the three tenets of culturally relevant pedagogy. Results In total, 35 instructors reported using practices that aligned with the academic success tenet, nine instructors with the cultural competence tenet, and one instructor with the sociopolitical consciousness tenet. Instructors expressed and even lauded their disciplines’ separation from culture while simultaneously expressing instructional decisions that aligned with culturally relevant pedagogy. Though never asked directly, six instructors made statements reflecting more » a “culture-free” belief about knowledge in their discipline such as “To me, mathematics has no color.” Five of those instructors also described altering their teaching in ways that aligned with the academic success tenet. The framework of practical rationality helped explain how the instructors’ individual obligation (to the needs of individual students) and interpersonal obligation (to the social environment of the classroom) played a role in those decisions. Conclusions Instructors’ ability to express two contradictory views may indicate that professional development does not have to change an instructor’s epistemological beliefs about their discipline to convince them of the value of enacting culturally relevant pedagogy. We propose departmental changes that could enable instructors to decide to cultivate students’ cultural competence and sociopolitical consciousness. Our findings highlight the need for future research investigating the impacts of culturally relevant pedagogical content knowledge on students’ experiences. « less
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
International Journal of STEM Education
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Despite recent interest and pressing need, we lack a clear model of culturally relevant, responsive, sensitive teaching in university STEM departments. Most culturally relevant efforts within STEM education address actions individual professors can take within their own classrooms and mentoring, rather than describing how to go about enacting cultural transformation at the departmental level. In this article, we propose the application of the Ladson-Billings model of culturally relevant pedagogy to promote an inclusive culture within undergraduate STEM departments. The model consists of three components: academic success, cultural competence and integrity, and critical consciousness. We define each component and describe what it looks like and how it can be used to guide departmental transformation, including examples in biology, physics, mathematics, and computer science departments at our own institution. This model can help guide faculty committed to creating departments where all kinds of STEM students can thrive, provided they are willing to work hard.
  2. In a time when the United States is faced with continued racism and social unrest, it is more important than ever to prepare teachers who can advocate for marginalized students and social justice. This article describes the evolution of a seminar course called Theory and Reality: Practicum in Math and Science Teaching in High-Need Schools within the context of a predominately White teacher-preparation program. Guided by scholars of culturally relevant education and our professional and personal journeys as equity-focused teacher educators, we sought to design experiences to prepare preservice science and mathematics teachers to teach in high-poverty or underfunded schools. Specifically, the course was intended to (1) develop an understanding of pedagogical practices and educational strategies for successful teaching in a high-need school setting, especially in mathematics and science classrooms, and (2) cultivate both cultural self-awareness and cross-cultural consciousness in one’s ability to adapt to the high-need environment in a culturally responsive way. We describe the evolutionary rationale for changes made to course assignments and readings to promote cultural competence and early advocacy skills for teacher candidates interested in teaching in schools facing poverty. We highlight preservice teachers’ reflections that evidence their early conceptualizations of teaching in a high-need schoolmore »context and how assignments promoted their relationship-building and advocacy skills for marginalized students.« less
  3. Introduction and Theoretical Frameworks Our study draws upon several theoretical foundations to investigate and explain the educational experiences of Black students majoring in ME, CpE, and EE: intersectionality, critical race theory, and community cultural wealth theory. Intersectionality explains how gender operates together with race, not independently, to produce multiple, overlapping forms of discrimination and social inequality (Crenshaw, 1989; Collins, 2013). Critical race theory recognizes the unique experiences of marginalized groups and strives to identify the micro- and macro-institutional sources of discrimination and prejudice (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). Community cultural wealth integrates an asset-based perspective to our analysis of engineering education to assist in the identification of factors that contribute to the success of engineering students (Yosso, 2005). These three theoretical frameworks are buttressed by our use of Racial Identity Theory, which expands understanding about the significance and meaning associated with students’ sense of group membership. Sellers and colleagues (1997) introduced the Multidimensional Model of Racial Identity (MMRI), in which they indicated that racial identity refers to the “significance and meaning that African Americans place on race in defining themselves” (p. 19). The development of this model was based on the reality that individuals vary greatly in the extent to whichmore »they attach meaning to being a member of the Black racial group. Sellers et al. (1997) posited that there are four components of racial identity: 1. Racial salience: “the extent to which one’s race is a relevant part of one’s self-concept at a particular moment or in a particular situation” (p. 24). 2. Racial centrality: “the extent to which a person normatively defines himself or herself with regard to race” (p. 25). 3. Racial regard: “a person’s affective or evaluative judgment of his or her race in terms of positive-negative valence” (p. 26). This element consists of public regard and private regard. 4. Racial ideology: “composed of the individual’s beliefs, opinions and attitudes with respect to the way he or she feels that the members of the race should act” (p. 27). The resulting 56-item inventory, the Multidimensional Inventory of Black Identity (MIBI), provides a robust measure of Black identity that can be used across multiple contexts. Research Questions Our 3-year, mixed-method study of Black students in computer (CpE), electrical (EE) and mechanical engineering (ME) aims to identify institutional policies and practices that contribute to the retention and attrition of Black students in electrical, computer, and mechanical engineering. Our four study institutions include historically Black institutions as well as predominantly white institutions, all of which are in the top 15 nationally in the number of Black engineering graduates. We are using a transformative mixed-methods design to answer the following overarching research questions: 1. Why do Black men and women choose and persist in, or leave, EE, CpE, and ME? 2. What are the academic trajectories of Black men and women in EE, CpE, and ME? 3. In what way do these pathways vary by gender or institution? 4. What institutional policies and practices promote greater retention of Black engineering students? Methods This study of Black students in CpE, EE, and ME reports initial results from in-depth interviews at one HBCU and one PWI. We asked students about a variety of topics, including their sense of belonging on campus and in the major, experiences with discrimination, the impact of race on their experiences, and experiences with microaggressions. For this paper, we draw on two methodological approaches that allowed us to move beyond a traditional, linear approach to in-depth interviews, allowing for more diverse experiences and narratives to emerge. First, we used an identity circle to gain a better understanding of the relative importance to the participants of racial identity, as compared to other identities. The identity circle is a series of three concentric circles, surrounding an “inner core” representing one’s “core self.” Participants were asked to place various identities from a provided list that included demographic, family-related, and school-related identities on the identity circle to reflect the relative importance of the different identities to participants’ current engineering education experiences. Second, participants were asked to complete an 8-item survey which measured the “centrality” of racial identity as defined by Sellers et al. (1997). Following Enders’ (2018) reflection on the MMRI and Nigrescence Theory, we chose to use the measure of racial centrality as it is generally more stable across situations and best “describes the place race holds in the hierarchy of identities an individual possesses and answers the question ‘How important is race to me in my life?’” (p. 518). Participants completed the MIBI items at the end of the interview to allow us to learn more about the participants’ identification with their racial group, to avoid biasing their responses to the Identity Circle, and to avoid potentially creating a stereotype threat at the beginning of the interview. This paper focuses on the results of the MIBI survey and the identity circles to investigate whether these measures were correlated. Recognizing that Blackness (race) is not monolithic, we were interested in knowing the extent to which the participants considered their Black identity as central to their engineering education experiences. Combined with discussion about the identity circles, this approach allowed us to learn more about how other elements of identity may shape the participants’ educational experiences and outcomes and revealed possible differences in how participants may enact various points of their identity. Findings For this paper, we focus on the results for five HBCU students and 27 PWI students who completed the MIBI and identity circle. The overall MIBI average for HBCU students was 43 (out of a possible 56) and the overall MIBI scores ranged from 36-51; the overall MIBI average for the PWI students was 40; the overall MIBI scores for the PWI students ranged from 24-51. Twenty-one students placed race in the inner circle, indicating that race was central to their identity. Five placed race on the second, middle circle; three placed race on the third, outer circle. Three students did not place race on their identity circle. For our cross-case qualitative analysis, we will choose cases across the two institutions that represent low, medium and high MIBI scores and different ranges of centrality of race to identity, as expressed in the identity circles. Our final analysis will include descriptive quotes from these in-depth interviews to further elucidate the significance of race to the participants’ identities and engineering education experiences. The results will provide context for our larger study of a total of 60 Black students in engineering at our four study institutions. Theoretically, our study represents a new application of Racial Identity Theory and will provide a unique opportunity to apply the theories of intersectionality, critical race theory, and community cultural wealth theory. Methodologically, our findings provide insights into the utility of combining our two qualitative research tools, the MIBI centrality scale and the identity circle, to better understand the influence of race on the education experiences of Black students in engineering.« less
  4. In this paper, we synthesize existing literature on Culturally Relevant Science Teaching (CRST), more specifically the third tenet of CRST-developing students' sociopolitical or critical consciousness. While there is research on this third tenet, our review of the literature reveals that this tenet is understudied and underutilized. We offer our conceptual framework and an illustrative example to demonstrate how teachers can practically implement the third tenet of CRST to engage and empower students in science. We hope that the ideas and examples shared in this piece will help teachers foster students' sense of sociopolitical consciousness and advocacy within the walls of the classroom and beyond. We also urge researchers to continue producing research on this important topic so that practitioners can use this information to develop students' sociopolitical/critical awareness, reflections, and actions.
  5. In response to the well-documented themes of unique challenges URM doctoral student experience (tokenism, stereotyping, microaggressions, etc.), faculty mentoring remains an especially critical resource to change the trajectory for URM students in graduate education. The purpose of this study is to examine the first two years of change in institutional culture which will increase the number of URM doctoral students who pursue the STEM professoriate. The primary research question asked is “Can a focus on developing and mentoring faculty catalyze change in the culture and practices of their doctoral programs to increase faculty diversity?” Based on the idea that faculty are drivers of lasting institutional change, three diverse public universities collaborate to adapt and implement an institutional change project, called “AGEP-NC Alliance: A Change Model for Doctoral to Faculty Diversity in STEM,” that prioritizes cultural frameworks for deep change in postsecondary education (Gumpertz et al., 2019). Key model components include faculty learning communities; use of national faculty mentoring networks; and use of institutional diversity data. Culturally relevant mentoring is among several approaches of interest to STEM reformers to shift the focus to institutional-level change and not student deficiencies. Operationalized as “cultural integrity,” the approach calls upon students’ racial and ethnicmore »backgrounds as assets for reform in pedagogies and learning activities, while valuing those backgrounds as critical ingredients for acquiring academic capital and career success (Tierney, 1999). Kezar’s (2018) cultural framework for institutional change emphasizes knowledge formation in context as well as analysis of espoused meaning and values organizational members maintain. The researchers present the AGEP-NC Alliance as a narrative, rich case study and collaborative mentoring model, an approach allowing participant researchers to detail sustained data use in collaborative social interaction (Patton, 1990). Results will be shared that highlight faculty as cultural change agents, and organizational learning as a cultural process. Preliminary results show evidence of institutional change at several levels from classroom and laboratory practices to key departmental policies.« less