Work in Progress: Structured teamwork for learning equity in first-year engineering design

Emma Tevaarwerk DeCosta, Kathleen Carmichael, Lisa M. Davidson, Ordel Brown, Elise Gruneisen

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Engineering programs have long struggled to create inclusive and equitable learning environments, and many engineering administrators remain skeptical about the benefits of such initiatives [1]. Thus, most of such work has been spearheaded by administrative groups such as departments of Diversity and Inclusion and Gender Studies who typically seek to promote equity through changes to broader institutional culture [2-4]. Student classroom experiences, however, remain relatively neglected and thus such efforts rarely inspire STEM faculty buy-in. Consequently, students from historically underrepresented groups, especially students perceived to have lower social capital than their peers, may still face disparities in their classroom experiences, disparities that may include exclusion from high-profile team roles [5-9]. Recent research indicates that first-year, team-based design courses represent a unique opportunity to address such disparities and providing early collaborative learning experiences supports the success of students from underrepresented groups in engineering [10-13]. While lectures and readings may provide teams with basic tools for team and project management, these correlate team success with the creation of a high-quality final design [14]. Such tools may inadvertently cue students to distribute work according to stereotypical social roles in the belief that by having team members play to their strengths, they are doing what is best for the team [15]. Such task distribution may limit new learning across team members, exclude historically underrepresented students from high profile team tasks (such as design and fabrication) [16], and thus promote the entrenchment of implicit biases. This study leverages a cooperative learning approach [23] to teamwork and learning in a first-year engineering design course at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering in order to provide more equitable access to learning for all students. Implementation of such approaches in first-year contexts is of particular importance, as these classes are formative for how students view teamwork. The study analyzes results from the use of a novel curricular intervention piloted in Design Thinking and Communication 1 (DTC 1) at Northwestern University. Specifically, the intervention required that students on a team rotate through leadership roles in four key areas: primary research, secondary research, training-building-testing, and project management. The team lead for each role completed associated documentation and coached their successor on how to succeed in that role.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1726
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 22 2020
Event2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jun 22 2020Jun 26 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Work in Progress: Structured teamwork for learning equity in first-year engineering design'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this