MINDSET SCHOLARS NETWORK BLOG

Underrepresentation among certain racial and ethnic groups in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields has long been a challenge in education. White and Asian students, on average, have consistently outperformed African American, Latinx, and Native American students in STEM courses, despite a variety of initiatives by educational institutions, non- and for-profit entities, and government.

However, the first university-wide analysis of faculty’s mindset beliefs about intelligence finds that classes taught by professors who endorse a growth mindset are associated with better educational outcomes for all students, and particularly for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

The study, conducted by Mindset Scholar Mary Murphy and her Indiana University colleagues Elizabeth Canning, Katherine Muenks, and Dorainne Green, was featured during a press conference today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science national conference in Washington, D.C.

This study, which was the first university-wide analysis of faculty’s mindsets about intelligence, included 150 STEM faculty at a large public research university and more than 15,000 students who took their classes over a period of two years. Faculty were surveyed about their mindsets about intelligence (e.g., “To be honest, students have a certain amount of intelligence, and they really can’t do much to change it”). The research team also collected data on their students’ course experiences and outcomes, including GPAs and course evaluations.

 

Graphic by: Samantha Thompson, Indiana University

Key findings

The researchers found that classes taught by professors who endorse a growth mindset were associated with better educational outcomes for all students, and particularly for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. “What we found was that the racial achievement gap between underrepresented racial and ethnic minority students—compared to white and Asian students—was nearly twice as large in classes taught by instructors who endorsed more of a fixed mindset,” Murphy said.

The study also found that students taught by faculty who endorse a growth mindset reported more positive experiences in class and greater motivation. However, they did not report that the classes were easier or less time consuming than others, and growth mindset approaches are known to encourage challenge-seeking behaviors.

Other studies by Murphy and colleagues have identified classroom practices and behaviors that convey either a fixed or a growth mindset to students. Faculty who endorse more fixed mindset beliefs tend to prize flawless performance, for instance, while faculty who endorse more growth mindset beliefs tend to value and praise the process of learning and use mistakes as learning opportunities. 

Moving forward

Currently, Murphy’s lab is working in collaboration with the IU Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning to create educational modules for first-time university instructors that review the influence of faculty mindset on student outcomes and provide evidence-based practices that convey growth mindset beliefs to students in the classroom. Murphy, Mindset Scholar Stephanie Fryberg, and collaborators have also developed an institute at the University of Washington that trains K-6 teachers to create growth mindset cultures in their classrooms.

“The overall message here is quite optimistic,” Murphy said. “Helping faculty understand how to employ growth mindset practices in their teaching could help thousands of students. After all, faculty set the culture of their classroom—they are the culture creators. This work suggests professors have the power to shape students’ motivation, engagement, and performance through the mindset culture that they create in their classrooms.”

This study represents a first step in exploring how faculty mindsets relate to students’ academic performance and how they may serve as an unexplored lever in improving students’ experiences and outcomes. Continued research in this area, including experimental studies, will aim to establish evidence of a causal link between faculty mindsets and students’ performance, and expand our understanding of how specific faculty practices influence these relationships.

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