Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Janet Fairman

Second Committee Member

Natasha Speer

Third Committee Member

Timothy Boester


To address the ongoing labor shortage for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, many different initiatives have been undertaken by practitioners, instructors, and researchers. Two major ones have been efforts to improve undergraduate mathematics instruction and to increase diversity and inclusiveness in STEM fields, including with regards to gender identity and sexual orientation. One major ongoing shift in undergraduate mathematics instruction is a shift to increase active learning, often through tasking students to engage in collaborative problem solving in small groups. It is known that active learning strategies like these improve student outcomes over the use of lecture alone. However, there is much less research considering how the social nature of group work can affect student experience in their undergraduate mathematics classes that use it. Social factors outside of the mathematical content could be expected to play a role when learning through group work, an inherently social activity; moreover, these factors could play a greater role for students who have traditionally been excluded from STEM environments.

To better understand how social factors may influence student participation and experience in small group work in undergraduate mathematics classrooms, a study was conducted that incorporated video-taped in-class observations of students working in small groups along with stimulated recall interviews of students individually. A taxonomy by Chiu (2000b) was used to interpret, code, and analyze actions taken by the participants in group work, with interviews coded in terms of what ideas students discussed in response to selected interactions. From analysis of the observations and interviews, three main findings are drawn. First, social unfamiliarity among group members can negatively influence a student’s experience within a group and the group’s overall ability to collaborate. Second, student gender identities and beliefs about how gender and mathematics are related can also play a role, especially when students are unfamiliar with each other, although these data do not suggest exactly when or how this can happen. Third, students may work together ways that are socially productive, but are not mathematically productive. These takeaways broaden our understanding of how groups work in undergraduate mathematics classes while also setting some clear directions for future research on this topic.