Study Finds Differences in Gender Roles in Group Labs in the Field of Physics

A new study led by Katherine N, Quinn,  a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Physics and Biological Function, finds differences in gender roles in group labs in the field of physics.

Researchers compared the group roles students take on in two different types of instructional settings: 1. highly structured traditional labs, and 2. less structured inquiry-based labs. They found that there were no systematic differences in role division among male and female students in the traditional (highly structured) labs. However, students working in groups in the inquiry-based (less structured) labs assumed different roles within their groups. Women in the inquiry labs tended to be high laptop users (primarily analyzing data), while men were high equipment users (collecting data or manipulating the equipment). They also found that men behaved differently when in single- versus mixed-gender groups.

The authors conclude that “removing structure in labs may unintentionally create inequitable learning environments or provide the opportunity for underlying inequities to manifest. Equitable participation must be actively built into curricula, to eliminate implicit inequities that can go on behind the scenes.”

Dr. Quinn is a graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, where she majored in mathematics and physics. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University.

The full study, “Group Roles in Unstructured Labs Show Inequitable Gender Divide,” was published on the website of the journal Physics Education Research. It may be downloaded by clicking here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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