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.
--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
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