Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Preliminary investigation of instructor effects on gender gap in introductory physics"

I did a quick read of this paper. Here's the abstract:

Gender differences in student learning in the introductory, calculus-based electricity and magnetism course were assessed by administering the Conceptual Survey of Electricity and Magnetism pre- and postcourse. As expected, male students outgained females in traditionally taught sections as well as sections that incorporated interactive engagement (IE) techniques. In two of the IE course sections, however, the gains of female students were comparable to those of male students. Classroom observations of the course sections involved were made over an extended period. In this paper, we characterize the observed instructor-student interactions using a framework from educational psychology referred to as wise schooling. Results suggest that instructor practices affect differential learning, and that wise schooling techniques may constitute an effective strategy for promoting gender equity in the physics classroom.

Without reading the references, I must say that I am a bit puzzled on what exactly is this "wise schooling". It appears to be more of a "mentoring" than teaching. And I hate to say this, but in some aspects, it borders on "political correctness".

Now, before you jump all over me on that, if you have read this blog for any considerable period of time, you would have clearly known by opinion on gender imbalance in physics, and what *I* have personally done to promote science, and especially physics, among girls and women. So I'm all for studies like this that not only can identify a potential source of the problem, but also recommends steps to remedy them. However, after reading this paper, I feel rather scared to say anything because I'm afraid I might inadvertently discourage the affirmation for the "domain belongingness". I'm also all for positive reinforcements, but at some point, when something isn't correct, you have to say it without any adornment and with no BS.

So, did I completely misread this paper?


1 comment:

SueW said...

Well. It certainly seems to me not unreasonable that the instructor might affect the students' learning, and that some instructors might be able to overcome the achievement gap between male and female students. That seems clear from the data. Exactly HOW the instructor is able to do this is much more difficult to determine, as it involves multiple factors that may very well be hard to measure (personality and so on).

Two things about this paper struck me - the proportion of women in their classes is much higher than mine (30% vs 20% - I am jealous), and they don't mention the gender of the instructor. As a female professor, I have always wondered if my gender made a difference to the success of my students; as I am now retiring after 30 years of teaching I suppose I will never know. But it seemed like an obvious variable to include, and I am wondering why they didn't include it.