How Implicit Bias Impacts STEM and Computer Science Education

Unruly
June 15, 2020

Our Commitments to be an Anti-Racist Company

The Unruly team stands against the discrimination and violence against Black communities in recent days and throughout history. We affirm Black lives matter, and we must take action against systemic racism.

We know that as a company, we are not doing enough to support Black Lives Matter and anti-racism. We want to start by committing to both improving our own internal policies to combat discrimination, and to provide external resources for our community of educators and students. We want to align our values and policies to actively work against structural racism and bias in STEM, K-12 education, and society overall. Black students too frequently lack access to the educational opportunities and resources that we find so incredibly valuable. As a growing startup, we are in a unique position to make these changes quickly and set these expectations for our company from the very beginning.

At Unruly, we commit to making the following changes to our internal policies:

1) Implement a blind application and job screening process

2) Work with local Black community groups to ensure diverse applicant pool for our team, advisors, and board

3) Prioritize anti-racist education for our team members. This includes recurring, externally-led diversity dialogues for all team members and bias training for all new hires.

4) Develop race and gender equity goals for our company demographics-- and a scorecard to track them.


We want to take this time to listen to our community members regarding actions we can take to support Black educators, students, and administrators. We strive to be not only a non-racist company, but an anti-racist company. If you have feedback for us, we welcome you to email us at education@unruly-studios.com.


Inequities in STEM and Computer Science 

Careers in STEM and computer science continue to be in high demand, which is why it’s so important for students to get high quality STEM education, starting in elementary school. Despite efforts to make STEM a priority in school, research shows that discrimination and implicit bias persists in education, especially in STEM and computer science. These factors contribute to lower graduation rates for Black and minority students as well as an underrepresentation of minorities in STEM and computer science careers.

We take our responsibility of advocating for diversity in STEM very seriously and we believe it starts with examining inequities in STEM and the systems that perpetuate them. We are in a unique position to work with students and educators to help counteract this through addressing things like implicit bias. Although we understand that addressing bias in STEM is not enough to counteract the structural racism in education and overall society, we believe it’s a step in the right direction.


What is the opportunity gap?


According to data from the Pew Research Center, Black and Hispanic people and women continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Why is this? There could be a number of reasons, but one area of research points to a lack of learning opportunities for black and other minority students. Research shows that students in high-poverty, predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods have far fewer resources and less access to advanced placement STEM classes. Lack of educational opportunity accompanies the other challenges that come from generations of racist policies: housing, healthcare, and food security (just to name a few). 

Commonly referred to as the “achievement gap”, this lack of opportunity results in a  disparity in test scores between white students and their Black and Hispanic peers. This gap exists across subjects, but it is especially prevalent in STEM and computer science. According to a survey done by OnPoint Radio of their listeners, 95% of respondents say they see an achievement gap in their school districts.

Along with fighting to change school disciplinary policies that predominantly affect Black students and high-stakes testing policies, educators must examine their own unconscious bias that could be perpetuating the inherently racist ideas these policies promote.

What is unconscious (or implicit) bias?


Unconscious biases are the attitudes or stereotypes we hold that affect our actions and decisions in an unconscious way. Usually these biases manifest around race, ethnicity, age, gender, and sexual orientation. As a result, it leads people, organizations, and the media to negatively discriminate against minority groups without even being aware of it. 


For example, studies show that university faculty members displayed significant bias against female students and against all students of color when evaluating prospective students and staff. Both male and female faculty members exhibited this bias.


According to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, implicit biases have a few key characteristics:

  • Everyone possesses implicit bias

  • The implicit bias we hold are not necessarily a reflection of our explicit beliefs

  • We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor people that look and think like us.

  • Implicit biases are malleable.  Our implicit associations can gradually be unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.

How can I help address unconscious bias?

You can do a lot! Although many current and past policies fail to support students of color, there is a lot educators can do in their own schools and classrooms. We encourage you to do more research on this subject (we are including links to helpful articles at the bottom of this post) but here’s a few ideas from CSteachingtips to get started:

1. Know your Bias: The first step in combating bias is to know and acknowledge your bias. Harvard has a number of Implicit Association Tests (IAT) that take 10 minutes - we highly recommend taking them! 


2. Make Explicit Expectations: Make your expectations and grading schema clear so students know what is expected of them. You could even post it on your wall so students can refer back to it if they forget or ask you questions if they don’t understand something

3. Grade Anonymously: Remove unconscious bias from the grading by having students use their student ID numbers on their assignments, rather than their names. 


4. Teach students about bias: Help your students understand what implicit bias is so they can recognize it when they see it. It also sets a standard for your students to expect to be treated fairly in your classroom. Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance


5. Do Your Own Research on Bias: Learn and reflect on your own bias by reading different research articles on the subject. See our list below for a few great resources to get started.

Implicit Bias Articles:

Unconscious bias in teaching

Tips For Reducing Bias in CS

Harvard EdCast: Unconscious Bias in Schools

Implicit Bias in STEM

Inequities in Computing - Open Letter

Taking a Look Underground: Detecting, Interpreting, and Reacting to Implicit Racial Bias

Field Experiments on Discrimination

Achievement Gap Articles:

Achievement Gap, Or Opportunity Gap? What's Stopping Student Success

Rethinking the Achievement Gap

Diversity in STEM Articles:

Diversity in the STEM workforce varies widely across jobs

Have more resources you think we should add? Email us at education@unruly-studios.com and we’d be happy to include them! 


Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

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