Engineering Advantage: How Inequality Persists in an Era of Collaborative Learning
Anthony Johnson

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



The Ohio State University

Primary Discipline

Collaboration has become widely endorsed on college campuses?especially in academically rigorous programs like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)?given its potential to yield not only deeper but also more equitable learning for students from all backgrounds. But what are students? collaborative experiences actually like in these programs, and are they, in fact, equitable? Using a qualitative case study of an elite engineering school in which I conducted interviews with 88 students and six administrators as well as observations over the course of two and a half years, this project shows how the culture and structure of STEM programs actually undermine the equitable promises of collaborative learning by creating more positive collaborative experiences for privileged students than for their less-privileged counterparts and by positioning privileged students to receive more academic help, support, and learning opportunities. The extreme academic rigor of the engineering school facilitated collaboration among students, albeit a competitive form of it. However, little guidance was provided about how and with whom to collaborate, placing the burden on students to rely on their own backgrounds to navigate the peer collaborative scene. Compared to their less-privileged counterparts, privileged students?those from class-advantaged high school contexts as well as who were affluent, male, and White and Asian?were more comfortable and better able to get involved on campus (which yielded more collaborative opportunities), collaborate, and participate within collaborative groups.
About Anthony Johnson
Anthony M. Johnson is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at The Ohio State University. His research focuses broadly on the cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction in education. His work explores new forms of inequality among peer groups in the wake of the widespread adoption of collaborative learning approaches in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. His current book project, Engineering Advantage, examines the disparate collaborative experiences of college students in elite STEM programs and the role of the culture and structure of these programs in reproducing these disparities. His research has appeared in academic journals including American Sociological Review and Sociology of Education and has been supported by the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship Program, the National Science Foundation, and the Student Experience Research Network (formerly the Mindset Scholars Network). He completed his PhD in Sociology at Northwestern University and a postdoctoral fellowship with the Inequality in America Initiative at Harvard University.

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