Student inclusivity in digital engineering education

Tennant, Stuart; (2022) Student inclusivity in digital engineering education. In: Proceedings of the 8th International Symposium for Engineering Education. University of Strathclyde, GBR. ISBN 9781914241208

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Over the past 30 months, Higher Education Institutes (HEI's) have through necessity transferred student engagement to a predominately online teaching and learning format. Notwithstanding the ongoing enthusiasm for digital pedagogy, the reality of online education delivery and performance of engineering students remains inconclusive. Indeed, it is only recently that the wider harms of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning is beginning to be explored. Whilst the impact of the pandemic is far-reaching, this position paper challenges claims of 'inclusivity' frequently attributed to online and digital learning environments. There endures a risk that impediments to inclusivity such as digital poverty can be resolved by providing engineering students with laptops and digital devices. However, it may be contested that this approach is a simple and impoverished interpretation of challenges students from lower socio-economic status routinely encounter. Home environment and family background, personal circumstances and well-being, finance, access to digital infrastructure, IT hardware/software, digital literacy as well as the lack of in-person teaching individually and collectively impact on the student's ability to participate meaningfully and successfully with their engineering studies. Recent statistics reveal that the number of students dropping out of courses has increased and suggests working class students from the lower socio-economic backgrounds are disproportionately affected. Promoting fairness of access, institutional support, social mobility and an inclusive learning community arguably requires more than the distribution of digital devices. Multiple factors require sensitivity and investment before HEI's can confidently declare the establishment of an online, digital and hybrid learning community accessible to all.