Hidden Curriculum Pathways in Engineering and Their Impact on Academic Success

IEEE Computer Society Team
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Hidden pathways represent topics, resources, and opportunities often overlooked or excluded from a traditional learning approach. They can exist between different disciplines or within a single educational path. They typically represent a one-size-fits-all approach that limits the knowledge available to certain groups of students. An engineering curriculum, for example, may delve into advanced concepts or emphasize certain topics based on assumptions that alienate those students who require introductory knowledge or a slower progression of material. The language used throughout the curriculum can also alter students’ perception of the content presented.

With the integration of STEM courses into secondary education, the field of engineering has become more diverse in recent years, but hidden pathways still exist. Learning to identify these systemic messages as a mentor or instructor is an important part of promoting equality and ensuring optimal learning for students with diverse backgrounds and varied educational levels.

Addressing the Challenge

Hidden pathways in curricula are not always easy to pinpoint or address, but doing so is vital to ensuring that students of all backgrounds have equal access to learning opportunities. Using a theoretical framework and an understanding of the sociological component of group influence, researchers have identified several steps for addressing hidden pathways and creating a positive counternarrative within engineering curricula.

Encouraging an open dialogue and establishing trust creates an equitable dynamic that makes it easier to recognize hidden pathways. When you create multiple opportunities for student feedback on instructions, course syllabi, and other learning materials, you ensure questions are addressed and your approach adequately represents the needs of diverse learners. You can also minimize the inherent psychological need to abide by the status quo by sharing any noted hidden curriculum pathways and holding meaningful conversations on addressing the findings.

Additionally, you can examine the language used throughout your course material, including slide presentations, lecture topics, terminology, and test questions. When terms or phrases are used frequently, it could reflect negative messaging or bias, which can lead to an inequitable learning experience. Introducing more accessible topics and resources is one way to address such findings, as is facilitating co-curricular events in a neutral setting to further discuss any identified hidden pathways and limit the potential for a negative department sub-culture.

Tailoring resources to complement existing material creates a more inclusive environment while ensuring that any nuances in information are addressed. It is important to recognize that emotions and self-efficacy influence whether a student finds value in a specific resource. This assessment often is the determinant between action or inaction, particularly with continued education. By offering students opportunities to share their experiences and supplying adequate resources to address concerns or seek clarification, you can encourage emotional awareness, boost student confidence, and tailor your curriculum to meet their diverse needs.

Download “Practical Strategies to Mentor around Hidden Curriculum Pathways in Engineering”

Identifying and addressing the hidden pathways often present in an engineering curriculum is essential to creating an inclusive learning environment. Mentors and instructors can couple the proposed strategies with an understanding of the psychological ramifications and sociological significance of hidden pathways to create an environment where every student thrives. To learn more about hidden pathways and how to identify and address them in engineering curricula, download “Practical Strategies to Mentor Around Hidden Curriculum Pathways in Engineering” from 2022 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE).

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