We invite your comments to the following thoughts on STEM education...

The challenges associated with STEM education are myriad. These are challenges we must continually address, but what are examples of institutional practices that work and can serve as a model for others. In the pursuit of improving STEM education, responsibility transcends several levels and includes:


--A willingness of faculty to explore and innovate in their approach to delivering STEM education, through courses, research activities that involve students and continually striving to shape the best possible learning environment they can for their students.
--Whenever possible, make STEM education engaging and relevant through the use examples within and across disciplines that show scientists think, ask questions and go about finding answers, rather than simply teaching collections of scientific facts.
--Embracing a collaborative approach and dialogue within the faculty that recognizes both academic freedom and the value of sharing/adopting ideas they learn from their colleagues.
--Work to clearly identify learning outcomes to their students and assess the level of achievement in their students.
--Regularly evaluate their expected learning outcomes for their disciplines and actively work to use outcomes assessment data to update their courses for existing and proposed new programs.
--Contribute to STEM literacy in non-majors through baccalaureate programs required of all students at institutions that embrace broad training in the liberal arts.
--Connect with the community whenever possible, most importantly with K-12 education, to thread support of the importance of STEM education and inspire teachers and students about College.
--Communicate clear expectations on department websites of expectations of completed learning outcomes for students entering 1st year majors courses.
--Form leadership groups who work to communicate with and support part-time faculty who teach STEM courses in your department about learning outcomes, academic rigor.


--Students taking responsibility for their learning and recognizing that it is achievement, not simply their perception of their effort, that is rewarded.*
--College students majoring in STEM disciplines can serve as role models for K-12 students, if their institution establishes/maintains relationships that foster such interaction.

Administration/Institution Leadership:

--Leadership that manages change and encourages/nurtures faculty to be creative and innovative in their approaches to STEM education.
--Create/Communicate institutional policies, structure and reward systems that recognize faculty who are achieving STEM education goals with their students.
--This includes expecting, reviewing, evaluating and recognizing accomplishments in yearly evaluation processes. Care must be exercised in these processes where innovation is pursued, but does not work. Otherwise, a culture that will stifle innovation necessarily results.
--Educate and pursue support in the community of the good efforts of faculty and students at their institution.
--Recognize there is a lot of information out there on improving science education and lead in the effort to empower (and expect) faculty to consider these resources as part of their process of continual renewal as educators. From a faculty member's perspective, this is daunting and potentially overwhelming, in light of the expectations that are already associated with their position.
--Recognize that faculty can not do every item listed above, but encourage them to carve out a diverse niche with core elements (to be identified?) to regularly pursue.

--Are there others to consider for any of these stakeholders?

*We curious to know whether you feel frustrated by students/parents who seem to think, because of what is often their experience in K-12, of the notion that they should be rewarded (in their final course grades) for their effort, whether they achieve (and to what level they achieve) at levels commensurate with appropriate standards. One of us has said, when pushed on this by students or their parents, that if a car mechanic said "I tried really hard to fix your car, but was not able to fix it... That will be $300. How would you feel?" This is not meant to diminish the value of effort so as to discourage a student. On the contrary, where students are putting forth effort and not realizing results, what can be done to help them achieve better results, if possible, instead of becoming discouraged/disinterested?

A very prevalent theme some of us have experienced, especially among new students, is their firm conviction that their hard work (which may or may not reflect reality), regardless of achievement, should translate into high grades. Is this a common theme of colleagues at other institutions? It is, of course, not a universal stereotype of college students. But it is a dynamic that many of us experience.

What are other experiences with majors and non-majors in STEM courses? Please feel free to comment on any aspect of this posting.

If you are willing, please provide your title and institution. Your name and contact information is optional.

--Drs. Steve Kucera, Joyce Fernandes, Gita Bangera, and Maureen Schamgochian

(Click on "comments" below to offer your thoughts)


Eric Ballard, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, University of Tampa said...

I think that several of the thoughts mentioned here ring true with my experience as an instructor of organic chemistry. The idea that courses should include the idea of how science is conducted may be most significant. It is important for students to realize that our set of models for understanding the world is constantly under review and is not written in stone.

Inclusion of this aspect of science accomplishes several positives. It makes the subject more interesting than just learning a fact or a problem solving strategy. This approach also gives a more complete story of science. Hopefully this will arouse curiosity in students and encourage them to "do" science. Indirectly this can encourage our efforts for students to participate in undergraduate research. Hopefully the cumulative effects of these efforts will attract and help retain more students in the STEM disciplines.

fred ledley said...

What I took away from the Providence meeting last year parallels much of what Jeanne outlined – namely the critical importance of reaching beyond our individual disciplinary interests to advance a broad, academic and societal culture that values science and technology across all the arts, humanities, sciences, business, and professions. As a relative newcomer to these issues and this community, I found the Providence meeting profoundly stimulating. Let me offer some of my personal reflections as I think back on the meeting.

Institutional – pkal has always emphasized the importance of commitment at the highest levels of academic institutions. In the era of diminished resources, this becomes even more important.

Societal – it is not just the recent “war on science” but may be part of the broader issue of “American unreason.” This is a nuanced issue in an era where there are so many voices screaming for attention and the influence of the traditional platforms in the academy, government, and industry may each be on the wane.

Engagement of science faculty – this may be much harder than it seems, since so many of our colleagues remain highly focused on their disciplines. While the participants at the Providence meeting clearly championed the broad mission of science, our colleagues who do not attend such meetings may not and we all remain wedded to disciplinary based professional structures.

Engagement of non-science faculty – breaking down the “two cultures.” Obviously this continues to be a major societal challenge. By the way, it is stunning to reread Snow’s paper on the 50th anniversary of his original talk. There is a short version of his thesis online published in Science in the summer of 1959.

Engaging and educating students in STEM disciplines – Within this category, different approaches may be required to attract students to biological science, earth science, mathematics, and engineering (as examples). In terms of education, much of “what works” is guided by the disciplinary, professional societies. There was a sense in Providence that there were common denominators – what do we think?

Engaging and education non STEM students in science – Different approaches may be required to encourage scientific literacy among students in arts, humanities, social sciences, and business. In terms of education, there is much less guidance or scholarship on “what works” and may be fewer common denominators from those committed to these much more disparate disciplines.

Relevance – This may not have been talked about that much in Providence, but it is odd that we need to continually remind people of the relevance of biological, earth, and physical science in a world so dominated by discussions of health, sustainability, and information technology.

Again, these are just some personal reflections. I hope these are useful in stimulating continued dialogue among ourselves and perhaps our colleagues at the 2010 AAC&U meeting.

Heather Masonjones, Associate Professor, University of Tampa said...

I was at the meeting in Providence, and was inspired by what I learned from colleagues about STEM education. I have always taken an innovative approach to teaching, and still I found great ideas to use in the classroom, transforming it into something different than the lecture-based education I received throughout my degree.

From my perspective as a department chair, I'm finding some of the most difficulty in moving forward with STEM initiatives is in targeting the groups that need help the most, non-majors and students in their first year of a science major. These are the groups that would benefit the most from innovation in the classroom, smaller class sizes, and additional opportunities. However, from an administrative perspective, these are the groups that get marginalized, with adjunct faculty with little teaching support, large class sizes, and block schedules that keep students in long period classes in a traditional lecture format. To create a science-saavy general population, these are the students to target and get excited about science - showing them the process of science and how we are continually pushed to solve new problems in novel ways.

How do we convince administration to support education at this level, and encourage and support innovation by their faculty?