Biochemistry, Department of
Connecting Theory to Practice: Using Self-Determination Theory To Better Understand Inclusion in STEM
Date of this Version
Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education Volume 21, Number 1 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v21i1.1955
In the United States, persistence for women and ethnic minorities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers is strongly impacted by affective factors such as science identity, agency, and sense of belonging. Policies aimed at increasing the diversity of the national STEM student population and workforce have recently focused on fostering inclusive learning environments that can positively impact the experi-ences of underrepresented minorities (URMs) in STEM, thus increasing their retention. While research on inclusion in STEM in higher education is relatively new, inclusion research has a rich history in several other disciplines. These fields have developed theoretical frameworks and validated instruments to conceptualize and assess inclusion. Self-determination theory (SDT) is a well-established theoretical framework in edu-cational psychology that states that ones’ internal motivation is strongly correlated with the satisfaction of three specific psychological needs: autonomy, competency, and relatedness. In this paper, we introduce SDT and discuss how it relates to inclusion and to ongoing efforts to increase retention of STEM URM students in higher education environments. We argue that grounding inclusion initiatives in the SDT framework in-creases our understanding of the mechanisms mediating their impact, thus facilitating their reproducibility and generalizability. Finally, we describe how this theoretical framework has been adapted by the field of Industrial and Organizational Psychology to define and assess inclusion in the workplace as an example of how STEM education researchers can use this framework to promote and assess inclusion in their fields.
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