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Mapping his practice on the Equity Compass

The Equity Compass can be used to map existing practice, which can help you to identify areas to improve.
So as we’ve been discussing, the Equity Compass is a tool to think about and improve your practice. Working around the Compass dimensions sequentially can help shine a light on areas that could be improved. Remember, the four main topics are Challenging the status quo, Working with and valuing minoritised communities, Embedding equity, and Extending equity. So how might we map the Dr Bridges’ session on the Equity Compass? Well when we do it, we would locate Dr Bridges within the inner layers of the Equity Compass, meaning that Dr Bridges’ current practice isn’t particularly equitable. We’re now going to go around the Equity Compass and look at each of the equity dimensions. And we’ll explain why we would map his practice there.
So starting with Transforming power relations, how did Dr Bridges challenge or reproduce dominant ideas and representations in his session, so the idea of engineers being white men? The session largely reproduced and reinforced quite stereotypical images of engineering and engineers as being male and white, although Dr Bridges did mention that his team included a few women engineers. Next, if we think about Prioritising minoritised communities, whose interests, values, and needs were driving what Dr Bridges did? Is it those of powerful dominant groups, like the STEM industry or the STEM pipeline, or those of minoritised young people and communities? What drives Dr Bridges to do what he does?
Well, Dr Bridges seemed to be largely motivated by wanting to inspire young people to study engineering because there’s a labour market and shortage and an economic need for more engineers. He was less focused on the needs of students. So we’d say he’s prioritising, really, the STEM pipeline and the needs of industry. For the Redistributing resources dimension, we could consider how did Dr Bridges’ practice support young people who had fewer opportunities? Or was the opportunity he was offering really directed at young people who were already more privileged?
Dr Bridges tends to work with top set students, and he does gravitate in his sessions towards the keenest students, those who already love STEM, who tend to be higher achieving, and he tends to give them the most recognition and support. So in this way, we’d say his session was really reinforcing privilege. In relation to Participatory working, we would be asking, so was the session being done to, for, or with young people? How were young people involved in co-designing the session? Or did they have any input at all? Was Dr Bridges seeking their views in any way? On reflection, young people were not really involved at all in the design or the running of the session.
Dr Bridges has been running pretty much the same session for a number of years, and his programmes were really generally delivered one-way. So looking at the Assets-based approach, we’re thinking here about how is Dr Bridges valuing and recognising young people’s broad range of knowledge and skills and experience in his sessions? Did he recognise and value anything beyond science knowledge or the specific knowledge related to his own session about bridges and his own expertise? So we’d say here that Dr Bridges was mostly focused on asking students about their knowledge of bridges, what makes a strong bridge, and very little beyond that. He didn’t really help students to or encourage them to share their experiences of engineering, for instance.
He really focused on raising interest and aspirations in engineering, which is good in some ways, but it does align more with a deficit approach, because he’s really addressing what he sees as a perceived lack in the young people. In terms of Embedding equity, this might be a little trickier to address in a single session. But it’s really worthwhile here thinking about how much did Dr Bridges think about and plan with equity in mind? Did he embed equity in his work at all? When we reflect here, we say Dr Bridges hadn’t really given equity much consideration. He basically felt he’s treating everyone the same, and that’s the fairest way to do it.
In terms of the Community/society orientation, we’re considering here, did Dr Bridges’ session support individual or wider outcomes? Were there any benefits of his session for the young people’s families or communities more widely? So Dr Bridges does make some references to how engineering in general can help wider society. But the activity he did itself was largely focused on individual students’ knowledge and skills gains. Finally, in terms of Extending equity, we’d ask, did Dr Bridges’ sessions support longer term engagement? So admittedly, this was a one-off session. There was little or no engagement with students before or after the visit. And he didn’t really do any signposting to other opportunities.
So for students who became interested in finding out more about engineering because of his session, there was no real “what next”.

Using the Equity Compass can guide a powerful process to surface and identify the strengths and weaknesses of a specific activity or program.

In this video, Louise uses the full Equity Compass to consider Dr Bridges’ practice. She begins each of the eight equity dimensions with a few reflective questions, before sharing how Dr Bridges’ practice could be interpreted in relation to those questions.


Imagine you had been tasked to help Dr Bridges reflect on his session with the emphasis on equity.

With reference to the Equity Compass, how might you start the conversation with him?

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Equity in Informal STEM Learning: Using the Equity Compass

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