Vossoughi Stresses Educational Equity at STEM Summit

Vossoughi Stresses Educational Equity at STEM Summit

shirin vossoughiShirin Vossoughi, assistant professor of learning sciences

The School of Education and Social Policy’s Shirin Vossoughi challenged common ways of thinking about diversity in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and maker spaces during her keynote speech at the 9th annual STEM Summit at Northwestern University.

Vossoughi, who researches culture, power, and learning in makerspaces, argued that efforts to expand access to makerspaces often lack context and ignore past and present educational injustices.

“There's a problem when the dominant image of making that we receive is one of individuals creating cool products that can be used to make a profit,” Vossoughi said. “Educational spaces need to be rooted in the understanding young people as social, historical, and political actors.”

Vossoughi’s keynote framed the day for more than 300 participants of the STEM Summit, which was sponsored by Motorola Solutions Foundation and presented by Northwestern’s Office of Community Education Partnerships and the Illinois Science and Technology Institute.

The day-long event – Illinois’ only education conference that brings together K-12 educators and leaders, industry and academia -- focused on innovation and collaboration in STEM education.

ILego sessionn addition to multiple break-out sessions on topics ranging from coding and archeology to citizen science, the summit featured a workshop to help educators implement NASA engineering practices and tech design into middle and high school curriculums.

Read the full list of breakout sessions.

Vossoughi, assistant professor of learning sciences, described both the tensions and opportunities in the burgeoning maker-movement, which emphasizes hands-on, do-it-yourself activities and is increasingly shaping educational spaces, both inside and outside of schools.

Drawing on her long-term research in after-school tinkering programs serving students in non-dominant communities, Vossoughi argued that the language used to talk about making – as well how students think about themselves during the activities – needs to be considered when designing an equitable space.

“Equity is often framed as diversity, access, inclusion, and opportunity,” Vossoughi said. “But we know these spaces can be hostile to girls and people of color. So how do we engage more directly with white supremacy and patriarchy in these spaces?”

Vossoughi’s research-based framework helps address some important questions related to equity. For example, a key part of designing making spaces and experiences should include a critical analysis of educational injustices, Vossoughi said. Educators also should be aware that making is a historical and cross-cultural activity and that practices like sewing, woodworking, and cooking can co-exist in a maker space with robotics, digital video production, computer coding, and 3-D printing.

“We need to become attuned to dominant cultural practices being treated as the taken-for-granted goal, and expand our view of where and how making takes place,” Vossoughi said.

Lead partners for the 2018 STEM Summit included Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative, a community-driven initiative that addresses inequities in the STEM learning continuum; Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s EvanSTEM program, which seeks to improve access and engagement for students who have traditionally underperformed or have been underrepresented in STEM programs; and Project Exploration, which works to "change the face of science" by encouraging interest in science among students—especially girls and minorities—who traditionally have not found effective career routes into scientific disciplines. 

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/2/18