Addressing STEM geek culture through peer learning
School of Science
STEM is generally considered to be a male-dominated environment. The geek culture that often leads to social issues, and the gender imbalance that leads to fewer girls choosing a STEM subject, are becoming important topics of research. Peer learning has been widely used across the world to support retention and better grades with a more recent focus on adopting this approach to tackle issues around gender imbalance and perceived ‘laddish’ culture. Through peer learning, students are encouraged to work alongside their tutors, and to practice the critical soft skills that they will need as they move into the workplace. This paper explores the role of gender and geek culture, considering how students can break down the stereotypes while moving away from didactic approaches. The gender gap in STEM has narrowed, but women are still underrepresented. ‘Geek culture’ often creates a high-tech, androcentric environment. Policy makers have agreed that the geek culture needs to be researched and its impact identified. Social interactions and relations are the reflection of interpersonal values, and the peer norms may affect a students’ engagement and motivations in STEM subjects. The discussion will examine how peer learning can prepare students in Higher Education and offer insights into creating an environment in which students can become partners. Peer learning can represent a significant step in enabling students to become more engaged in their learning and is becoming an important element across institutions globally. There is a plethora of approaches to peer learning and it is encouraging to observe how students transform and mature by participating in the scheme. Evidence is accumulating that peer learning can enable students to become more confident and independent, enhancing not only their transition into Higher Education but also into industry. Peer learning can have a positive influence across the disciplines and supports students in achieving more than they might otherwise do. It can also examine, in an informal way, the gender issues, laddish and geek culture, and promote the sense of belongingness in STEM disciplines. This paper will inform readers about how peer learning can reconstruct the geek culture and transform it from self-centred to forming relationships and overcoming social issues. With regard to Higher Education specifically, we try to understand the different situational frames that are being generated by such cultures, how we can influence those stereotypes, and make them more acceptable and more inclusive.