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Sidelines shows how unconscious bias can impact a student's participation in an engineering course and challenges teaching assistants and faculty to consider strategies to ensure educational equity. The vignette was developed based on input from students, faculty, and staff for Caltech's 2018 Teaching Conference sponsored by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach.

The 1972 Title IX of the Education Amendments Act states that no person, on the basis of sex, will "be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program" that receives federal funding. As such colleges and universities are obligated to ensure educational equity within their engineering and science programs. Recent research [Silbey 1, Seron and Silbey 2] on why women leave engineering examined the role of project courses, which are designed to give students an opportunity to work collaboratively on designing and building engineering hardware or software. The research concluded that project courses may negatively impact women as they may be relegated to stereotypically female roles, such as organizing the work flow, providing support, writing up the results, and serving as the group's spokesperson. The result of this segregation leaves female students with fewer opportunities to test and hone their technical skills, which is a critical part of an engineering education.

As you watch Sidelines, consider ways in which teaching assistants and faculty can promote educational equity in planning and executing their classes.

Start a Dialogue

  • What challenges do you see for Sarah with regard to her interactions with her fellow students and with the teaching assistant?
  • Does bias play a role? If the students are not working together for other reasons (for example, the students don't like each other) does it change the situation?
  • Is it the responsibility of the teaching assistant to intercede in the situation? If you were the teaching assistant, at what point during the robotics course could you have taken steps to ensure that all students engage in the hardware or software aspects of the course?
  • Prior to the start of the course, what can the teaching assistant or the instructor do to promote equitable participation across tasks?


Download Available: .pdf | .docx

Sidelines Team Members

Nicholas Higdon, graduate student in chemistry
Daniel Johnson, graduate student in geochemistry
Celeste Labedz, graduate student in geophysics
Daniel Martin, graduate student in electrical engineering