Fostering Inclusive Lab and Design Courses

Three students working at an electronics laboratory bench
Students working on a controls laboratory experiment

Across higher education, there has been an increased emphasis on creating inclusive classroom experiences for students. However, these efforts have largely been focused on traditional lecture-based courses.  While some of the evidence-based practices of these initiatives apply to lab and design-based courses, there are several unique situations in these courses that would benefit from a different approach.  For example, lab-based courses generally have longer in-class periods that require extended focus; use unique tools, equipment and software; and are required to complete activities that are very different from traditional homework.  In design or project-based classes, much of the project work happens in unstructured time outside of the classroom where team dynamics cannot be observed by instructional staff.  In both lab and design-based courses, students interact with their peers and instructional staff in very different ways.  Broadly experiential learning (labs and projects) is an essential part of STEM education, therefore, if we aim to have a diverse group of students succeed in STEM, then we also need for them to be included and active participants in all aspects of their education.

Our research question for this project is “In what ways are students inhibited from fully participating or achieving the learning objectives in lab or design courses in the GCoE?”  To answer this question, we plan to conduct a climate survey of students currently enrolled in lab or design-based courses in the GCoE.  From that data, we plan to identify three common barriers to participation and evidence-based practices that may reduce or remove those barriers for students.  Based on our experiences, these areas may include accessibility of equipment and team dynamics. Our method for this project will be participatory action research as we plan to have students and faculty working together to identify appropriate changes to courses.  In addition to specific classroom changes, we will begin to develop a tool for instructors to use to evaluate their own lab and design spaces as well as course structure to be more inclusive.