Lab/Team Work

Use collaborative learning in the lab to improve retention of female students in STEM courses.

In this article, Dr. Nilanjana Dasgupta shares her research on how female role models and peers can inoculate female STEM students against some of the factors that can push women out of STEM programs. She points to research showing that: 1) Female STEM teachers can act as female role models that enhance the positive attitudes women and girls hold towards STEM; 2) Reading success stories of female role models in STEM can have the same positive impact on female students; 3) Ideal female role models are easy to relate to and have success stories that feel achievable; 4) Peer mentors – regardless of gender – can boost self-confidence, performance expectations, and career aspirations of first year female college students; 5) Assigning female STEM students – especially beginning students – to work on teams that are at least half women can help female students feel less anxious, more confident, and more committed to a STEM career than women on a team that is over 50% male; and, 6) Timing is critical when it comes to these types of interventions. Research suggests that first-year female STEM students benefit more from female role models than women further along in their STEM studies. Dr. Dasgupta gives specific recommendations on how to put this research into practice in the STEM classroom in the full article.


Dasgupta, N. (2015). Role models and peers as a social vaccine to enhance women's self-concept in STEM. The American Society for Cell Biology. Retrieved from

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To reduce isolation, the literature recommends grouping two or more female or minority students together when group work is performed in courses where they are underrepresented, but it can be time consuming for instructors to hand select ideal groups. GroupEng – an open-source program available to all educators – was created to make it easy for instructors to use variables such as gender, race, student performance (e.g. early test scores), and student interests to auto generate balanced groups in minutes. This paper by the creators of GroupEng talks about the research behind the program, compares the use of GroupEng with hand selected groups in real courses, and explains how any instructor can use the program in their STEM course.


Dimiduk, T. G., & Dimiduk, K. (2011). Effectively Assign Student Groups by Applying Multiple User-prioritized Academic and Demographic Factors Using a New Open Source Program, GroupEng. Conference Proceedings of WEPAN 2011 National Conference Advancing Women: Transforming Engineering Education. Seattle, WA: Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN). Retrieved from

This case study from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) explains how instructors can implement pair programming in their computing courses, and shares how the University of California Santa Cruz used pair programming assignments to increase the retention of both female and male students.

Read the full case study on the NCWIT website.


Barker, L., & Cohoon, J. M. (2007). How Do You Retain Women through Collaborative Learning? Pair Programming (Case Study 1). Retrieved from The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) website:

Over 46% of women who participated in pair programming in an introductory undergraduate computer science course declared a computer science related major compared to 11% of women who worked independently. Pair programming also resulted in a 24% increase in self-reported confidence for female students, and a 15% increase for male students. This paper compares the retention, major selection, confidence level, and performance ability of undergraduate female and male students who experienced pair programming with a control group that worked independently.

Read "Pair Programming Improves Student Retention, Confidence, and Program Quality" on the University of California eScholarship website.


McDowell, C., Werner, L., Bullock, H., & Fernald, J. (2006). Pair Programming Improves Student Retention, Confidence, and Program Quality. Communications of the ACM, 49(8). doi: