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June 2015


Problematizing Best Practices for Pairing in K-12 Student Design TeamsResearch on group work in STEM education has documented some impact of students’ roles:that expert-like students can help novice-like students gain conceptual understanding (e.g.Cohen, 1994), that the success of pairings depends on the complexity of the task at hand (e.g.Cohen, 1994), and that group dynamics and roles impact local equitable access to contentknowledge and identities (Esmonde, 2009). Within engineering education, Tonso (2006)highlights how roles and gender dynamics within design teams shape whether and how studentsare recognized for their contributions. Given this, group composition becomes an importantinstructional decision since it influences what roles/positionings are made available to individualstudents in a team. However, mechanisms by which roles impact broader relationships to designare underexplored. Our aim is to understand students’ emergent roles in design teams, and howthis impacts their complex relationships (epistemological and affective associations) to codingand design. We unpack how pairings of different levels of student expertise influence roles,students’ sense of access, and what students think they got out of their design experience.We piloted a project-based instructional module within Summer Girls, a camp for high schoolstudents hosted by [Institution]. The classroom was structured to have a high level of studentagency. Throughout the program, participants worked in pairs through several open-endedArduino (microcontroller) design tasks before designing and completing a final project usingArduinos. Over two iterations of camp, we collected interviews and classroom videotapes of fivefocal pairs. We draw on tools from interaction analysis (Jordan and Henderson, 1995) to lookfor evidence of role uptake through speech, gestures and actions. We do an in-depth analysis ofboth classroom and interview data, as both are needed to understand students’ roles, how theymade sense of these roles, and how these roles impacted access to various aspects of the designproject. As in Stevens, O’Connor & Garrison (2008), we conducted interviews of the samestudent at multiple points during the camp, to draw out the most salient aspects of theirexperiences.In this paper, we focus on how students related to the programming component of Arduino,given the high-status nature of programming and persistent cultural beliefs of who can doprogramming (Fields & Enyedy, 2013). We describe two focal pairs, one in which both studentshad a high level of programming background, and another in which one student was more novicecompared to her partner. In the first pair, complex role negotiation led to neither studentrecognizing her programming contributions. Within the differential expertise pair, the moreexperienced programmer almost singlehandedly programmed yet the less experienced studentreported gaining access to programming through learning from her partner.In some cases, constructing pairs based on student expertise does not necessarily lead to studentpositioning and access as predicted by the literature. It is also necessary to take into accountstudents’ perceptions of what it means to do programming and to be a “programmer.”Cohen, E. G. (1994). Restructuring the classroom: Conditions for productive small groups. Review of Educational Research, 64(1), 1-35.Esmonde, I. (2009). Ideas and identities: Supporting equity in cooperative mathematics learning. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 1008-1043.Fields, D., & Enyedy, N. (2013). Picking up the mantle of “expert”: Assigned roles, assertion of identity, and peer recognition within a programming class. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 20(2), 113-131.Jordan, B., & Henderson, A. (1995). Interaction analysis: Foundations and practice. The Journal of the learning sciences, 4(1), 39-103.Stevens, R., O'Connor, K., Garrison, L., Jocuns, A., & Amos, D. M. (2008). Becoming an engineer: Toward a three dimensional view of engineering learning. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(3), 355-368.Tonso, K. L. (2006). Teams that work: Campus culture, engineer identity, and social interactions. Journal of Engineering Education, 95(1), 25-37.


This article was originally presented at the 122th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, 2015, and can also be found online at this link. © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education

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