Document Type


Publication Date

January 2018


We describe and analyze our efforts to support Learning Assistants (LAs)—undergraduate peereducators who simultaneously take a 3-credit pedagogy course—in fostering equitable teamdynamics and collaboration within a project-based engineering design course. Tonso andothers have shown that (a) inequities can “live” in mundane interactions such as those amongstudents within design teams and (b) those inequities both reflect and (re)produce broadercultural patterns and narratives (e.g. Wolfe & Powell, 2009; Tonso, 1996, 2006a, 2006b;McLoughlin, 2005). LAs could be well-positioned to notice and potentially disrupt inequitablepatterns of participation within design teams. In this paper, we explore (1) How do LAs notice,diagnose, and consider responding to teamwork troubles within design teams, and (2) Whatideological assumptions plausibly contribute to LAs’ sensemaking around their students’teamwork troubles? To do so, we analyze how the LAs notice and consider responding to issuesof equitable teamwork and participation, as exhibited in three related activities: (i) an in-classroleplay, (ii) observing and diagnosing teamwork troubles (TTs) in the engineering designteams, and (iii) imagining possible instructional responses to those troubles, and students’possible reactions. We articulate three modes of thinking that roughly capture patterns in LAs’descriptions and diagnoses of, and imagined responses to, the teamwork troubles: individualaccountability, where the trouble is seen as caused by individual(s) described as “off task” or“checked out” or demonstrating some level of incompetence; delegation of work, where thetrouble was located in the team leader’s inability to delegate tasks effectively to team members,or in the group’s general lack of communication about what tasks need to be completed, whoshould execute the tasks, and what work other groups in the team were doing; and emergentsystems, where trouble was described as a group-level phenomenon emerging from the patternsof interaction amongst group members, contextual features, and larger structural forces. We findthat LAs drew on individual accountability and delegation of work to evaluate TTs. Much rarerwere ascriptions of TTs to interactional dynamics between teammates. We connected thesemodes to the underlying ideological assumptions that have consequences for how meritocracyand technocracy (Slaton, 2015; Cech, 2014) play out in an engineering design classroom andserve to ameliorate or reify engineering mindsets (Riley, 2008). The modes are asymmetric, inthat emergent systems based interpretations hold more potential for elucidating ongoing socialprocesses, for challenging meritocracy and socio-technical duality, and for seeing powerdifferentials within interpersonal and institutional contexts. We argue for the need to betterunderstand the ideological assumptions underlying how peer-educators—and other instructors—interpret classroom events.


This article was originally presented at the 2018 ASEE Annual Conference Exposition. Salt Lake City, Utah, and can also be found at this link.© 2018 American Society for Engineering Education

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