What Affective Processes in School Impede and Support Students to Choose and Sustain a (STEM) Trajectory of Study? Research Report of Phase 1

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This study investigated affective processes and practices in school as a way of ‘increasing student STEM ability, engagement, participation and aspiration’ (Australian Education Council, 2015, p. 8). It explored the hypothesis that an understanding of and careful attention to the affective processes of schooling, productive of feelings of belonging, impact student choice, engagement and participation in (STEM) subjects. If educators understand that ‘the lived experience of learning is always affective’ (Hickey-Moody, 2012, p. 126) then they can exploit the power of affect to enhance pedagogical interactions and increase student capacity. Affective processes arise as felt sensations during pedagogical interactions and are usually unspoken. Affect is localized at the ‘moment’ of encounter but also has ‘social valence and is multi-scalar’ (Watkins, 2016, p. 72). Students feel sensations during encounters at school including joy, shame, anxiety, shock, trauma, fear etc. and they make meaning from these sensory encounters. Affect is not the same as emotion as affect is a ‘predominantly corporeal phenomenon which may or may not receive conscious attention as emotion’ (Watkins, 2016, p. 73). Students may simply feel dis/comfort and assume a confused cause and effect process, interwoven with social acquired affective inventories for resolving uncomfortable feelings (affects) that can result in disengagement. This understanding of affect relies on the axiom that emotion is a mindbody response effect that is indefinite until students’ attribute meaning to it (Zembylas & Schutz, 2016) and where meanings can often be confused or misunderstood (Spinoza, 1994) by students. This study took a special interest in gender performance at school as the under-representation of females in STEM fields has been cited as an underuse of human resources (Forgasz, Leder, & Tan, 2014; Ong, Wright, Espinosa, & Orfield, 2011) and a barrier to economic equality for women (Perry, Link, Boelter, & Leukefeld, 2012), presenting as an ongoing concern for policy-makers, industry, governments, researchers and women themselves. The veiled reasons why female students are ubiquitously under-represented in STEM fields justly remains of interest.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMelbourne Vic Australia
PublisherMonash University
Number of pages52
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Affect
  • STEM Education
  • Gender Equity
  • Pedagogical actions

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