Generative lab to tackle gender stereotypes and unconscious biases in teaching and learning

Dr Karen Jones & Dr Maria Kambouri-Danos, Institute of Education        karen.jones@reading.ac.uk     m.kambouridanos@reading.ac.uk                                         Year of activity: 2016/17

Overview

This entry describes a project which, with funding by the University of Reading Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF), focused on designing an intervention to promote gender equality. Issues of gender stereotyping, sexism and unconscious bias in T&L can affect learners’ educational progress. Our aim was to develop and test the materials for an intervention that will help to alert teachers and those supporting learning, and provide appropriate learning opportunities that will support change.

Objectives

  • To design materials for an innovative teaching and learning intervention called a ‘Generative Lab’
  • To pilot the Generative Lab during a workshop
  • To engage the workshop participants in becoming progressively more aware of their own unconscious bias and of gender stereotypes

Context

Gender stereotyping and unconscious/implicit bias manifests in education. In higher education there is greater awareness of gender inequality concerning staff, but a lesser focus on T&L.  Problems ranging from ‘lad culture’ on campus, to marked bias against women in doctoral dissertations have been documented. In addition, subject choice is divided by gender, and this can present problems for students studying non-traditional subjects for their gender.  However, these problems manifest long before people arrive in higher education. The significant impact that gender stereotyping and bias can have on young people’s learning, aspirations and achievements is evident from secondary and even primary school years.

A common recommendation is to invest in training to combat gender stereotyping and everyday sexism and to support appropriate behaviour in teaching situations. Based on this, our aim was to develop an intervention that will help educators to de-bias the environment through capacity building that incorporates the unfreeze-change-refreeze approach. We call this intervention a ‘Generative Lab’ to emphasise the aspect of engaging the learner in active participation with a range activities on the given topic.

Implementation

The Generative Lab was delivered to three different groups, including a pilot session with 20 early years trainee teachers and approximately 2 groups of a total of 25 early years practitioners that attended a workshop on ‘‘Tackling gender stereotypes in early years teaching and learning”, delivered at the Institute of Education Early Years Conference, 2017. Each session included the following activities:

  1. Cartoon strips with scenarios to illustrate unconscious bias
  2. Role play scenarios of gender stereotyping
  3. Action planning and feedback.

The cartoon strips were developed in collaboration with external professional illustrators. Their content highlights and challenges issues of inequality and gender stereotyping; thus, the cartoons were used to initiate discussions and raise awareness. The scenarios were developed by us and given to the participants who were asked to enact them through role play. After brief discussion of each scenario and the ideas involved, the participants were asked to repeat the enactment with a response that would discourage gender stereotyping. During the last activity, participants worked individually or in small groups to generate implementation plans for action that aimed to bring about change in their own teaching and learning context.

Impact

The Generative Lab was successful in initiating discussions in relation to unconscious bias and gender stereotypes, and how these might be prevalent in different levels and contexts of T&L. The participants were actively engaged in the activities, including sharing results of previous research, discussions around the cartoons as well as dramatization and action planning. The structure of the Generative Lab helped to constructively and progressively develop awareness of unconscious bias and of gender stereotypes.

The action points developed and the feedback collected at the end suggest that the activities successfully challenged and stimulated revisions in thinking. All participants gained a greater awareness of gender stereotypes, sexism and unconscious bias in T&L. However, some of them still did not feel able or confident enough to address sexism. This shift in awareness though, marks a significant change in mind-set for those previously subscribing to gender blindness. Participants left the session with plans for action to bring about change and refreeze change in institutional space. They are followed up 3-6 months later.

Reflections

The Generative Lab was experimental, and we took an iterative approach to explore issues, encouraging participants to seek the root cause of a problem systematically and to build capacity and confidence to address not just the symptoms, but to also identify actions to bring about change in educational space.

The comic strips were offered as a non-threatening avenue to raise awareness and facilitated a process where participants became progressively aware of their own unconscious bias and of gender stereotypes prevalent in teaching and learning, to be able to notice and challenge these issues in their everyday work practice. Similarly, the role play activities and the action planning helped participants to think about taking action and putting theory into practice.

Follow up

Further work is required to understand how to best support teaching and learning staff to create a more equitable teaching and learning environment. Future projects could establish if changes in practice occur and if these are sustained over time. Research is also needed to understand factors relating to the organizational climate that enable participants to be receptive to change, plus participants’ perceptions and needs regarding gender diversity and equal opportunities. 

 

 

 

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