Chris Harmon, professor of Chemistry, C.D Hoyle, professor of physics and astronmy, and Tyler Mitchell, professor of physics and astronmy at Science tackle tough topics during Tap Night at Blondies Food and Drink on Nov 4. | Photo by Tony Wallin

Science on Tap!

Professor talks about implicit bias over pints
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Professor talks about implicit bias over pints

Between games of Foosball, Donkey Kong and pints of Third Wave craft beer, Blondie’s Food and Drink had a packed house for their monthly “Science on Tap” event.

Dr. Tyler Mitchell, professor of physics and astronomy at HSU, gave a presentation on implicit biases and stereotype threats to an audience of HSU faculty, students and community members at the Arcata bar on Nov. 7.

Science on Tap was started by professor of physics and astronomy C.D. Hoyle, after he saw NOVA was sponsoring science events in cafes.

Hoyle is friends with the owner of Blondie’s Food and Drink and decided to mirror NOVA’s science focused cafe events. By fall of 2012 he was doing it every month. He said the event bolsters a healthy relationship with community and the university.

“The goal is community engagement and outreach,” Hoyle said.

Mitchell presents regularly for “Science on Tap” with a variety of topics. Mitchell said he chose the night’s topic because he attended an implicit biases and active learning workshop in La Jolla over the summer. When earning his Ph.D. at the University of Colorado at Boulder Mitchell said he was introduced to their physics education research that involved active learning and incorporates it into his teaching.

“Active learning techniques reduce implicit biases and stereotype threats in students,” Mitchell said.

According to the Perception Institute, the term “implicit bias” is used to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them, without our conscious knowledge.

The Oxford Scholarship defines stereotype threat as a situational predicament in which individuals are at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about their groups. Mitchell said we all have pre-conceived notions, both explicit and implicit, about others and ourselves. He said in active classrooms diversity is all inclusive.

“Explicit biases is the tip of the iceberg where the implicit are submerged in the water,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said in a good active classroom the focus is on the students opposed to traditional style which the focus is on the teacher. He said an active classroom provides and fosters more meaningful social and academic interactions that help students succeed. One way to overcome biases and stereotype threats is to include everyone in the classroom and give enough time for students equally.

“Active classrooms have proven to decrease failure rates,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said these implicit biases start at an early age and aren’t our fault. Mitchell described a study where five-year-olds picked their own gender equally to the opposite when choosing protagonists, but when they turned six or seven they would start to pick male protagonists as the smarter option because they developed a cultural idea that being smart is a male trait.

He said when games are introduced to girls at that age they will gravitate towards games for hard workers and stay clear of games for smart people. Mitchell said these biases lead to stereotype threats for students at an older age.

“People come to campus with preconceived ideas on how they should perform,” Mitchell said. “They think they aren’t good at something and that isn’t true.”

The reason Mitchell got into physics was because he wanted to be a professor. He said implicit bias research has made him a better teacher and he has seen definite change in students since he became effective at it. Mitchell said HSU is supportive of active learning and more universities are building spaces to accommodate inclusive classrooms.

“With a large Spanish speaking student population using implicit bias techniques is important,” Mitchell said. “We need to get students and faculty both engaged.

Professor of chemistry at HSU Chris Harmon said forums like Mitchell’s implicit biases and stereotype threats expose people to science who may not have a chance to it. Harmon has been co-facilitating “Science on Tap” since 2013 and said everyone involved volunteers their time. He said there is so much science going on at HSU but there is a disconnect with the community. Science on Tap bridges that gap.

“Science is only accessible to people at the university,” Harmon said. “Our goal is to bring access to community.”

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