The Water Cooler

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New research explores tackling unconscious bias in the classroom

Filed under: Unbiasing
New research explores tackling unconscious bias in the classroom
Google is funding research at Berkeley and MIT to help uncover ways to reduce bias among teachers and help all students excel in computer science and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Much of the current research on the representation of women and racial and ethnic minorities in the fields of computer science and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focuses on the student, but less is known about how educators’ unconscious biases may play a role. We're excited to announce two research awards Google is making to explore this idea and support the fight against unconscious bias in the classroom.

University of California, Berkeley - Professor Jason Okonofua
Empathic Discipline Intervention To Combat Implicit Bias
The aim of this study is to see if teachers can become more empathetic when disciplining students. The hypothesis of this study is that by helping teachers better understand the thoughts and feelings of their students the influence of their own unconscious biases can be mitigated. The UC Berkeley researchers will develop and test an exercise to foster empathy among K-12 teachers at over 20 schools.

Teaching Systems Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Justin Reich
Addressing and Assessing Unconscious Bias in Media Interactive Case Studies
MIT researchers intend to test how simulating the tough, teachable moments every teacher regularly but unpredictably encounters can help teachers reflect and learn. The simulations present classroom vignettes using text, animation, and video and each culminates in a “volatile moment of instruction” where the teacher must respond. The demographics of the students will be randomized to help teachers identify and observe where their unconscious biases might be influencing their responses.

We selected these two for their thoughtful design and innovative, inclusive, and scalable approaches to mitigate unconscious bias. These grants were awarded based on research Google undertook with partners from Stanford University and the American University to better understand how unconscious biases could harm student outcomes.

Over the next two years, we hope to learn from these experiments and share what we’ve learned with classrooms and organizations everywhere. Up until now, the educational policies and interventions used to combat unconscious biases tend to focus on the students, not the educators, and address the consequences of unconscious bias rather than addressing the source of the bias. The broad reach and scalability of interventions for educators mean that successful methods for combatting unconscious bias can be shared widely through existing teacher development opportunities and ultimately impact many more students.

To learn more about Google's Computer Science Education Research, please visit This blog was also posted on Google's The Keyword blog.