30 November 2020
STEM fields will offer excellent career opportunities to current generation students. But are enough students interested in taking up a career in STEM?
Multiple projections already paint a brilliant future for occupations in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. As the population increase, natural resources diminish, disease prevention and treatment become more intricate, and mysteries of the universe keep on being investigated, science and innovation will remain critical to expanding the human understanding for solving the challenges of today and preparing for what’s yet to come.
This creates a momentous task for today’s schools and universities to develop effective STEM education programmes that would attract and foster the curiosity of young students and show them the right path to follow a successful career in the STEM fields. This means these educational institutions should come up with better teaching techniques to address the challenges of attraction and retention of students in STEM-related domains.
Many modern education institutions have adopted new strategies which trade the traditional classroom learning model where students passively listen to lectures and cram for tests, to methods that engage students in exercises, empower coordinated effort across STEM disciplines, and encourage students to utilize their hands just as much as their minds.
These new approaches to STEM education and training bring about the need for new approaches to designing learning environments. As a result, these new STEM laboratories as well as virtual STEM learning are obliterating the stereotypes associated with traditional STEM classrooms and nurturing the type of creative brilliance that can help us educate and prepare the STEM graduates of the future.
This article presents a few ideas every school and university should consider while redesigning their STEM learning programmes, in order to better engage and empower the STEM minds of tomorrow.
Schools and universities must understand that students of today are quite unlike the generation that is teaching them and the current education system is not designed to teach the new generation of students. The modern generation of students has grown up in the information age, in the era of digitalisation. They have a very different approach to sourcing and processing information, by using the portable electronic devices that they are accustomed to. They are able to function efficiently when connected to the network and motivated with frequent rewards. This calls for the teachers and educators to modify their teaching approach in ways that would please these young students.
Blended learning is perceived as a method that incorporates online STEM course as part of the traditional classroom environment. This way to deal with learning intends to get a perfect blend between face-to-face learning in the classroom and online learning outside the classroom.
Initially, blended learning was introduced into education with the idea of offering a mixture of technology and classroom-based instruction in a flexible approach to learning. Blended learning can recognise the benefits of delivering online STEM course. This can improve STEM learning outcomes significantly and also save costs.
The demand for more flexible educational models, which include technologically enhanced options, is being driven in part by the expectations of young students and their parents, as well as other reasons such as the social, cultural, economic and political changes.
According to a recent study by US Department of Education, students who participated in a classroom-cum-virtual STEM camp, showed an improved accuracy of 30% and an increased learning tempo of 40%, in comparison to a traditional non-blended approach.
Inverting the classroom means that experiences that have traditionally taken place inside the classroom now take place outside and vice versa. The idea is to change the learning process from the traditional model where knowledge is seen purely as generic input, to a creative one where students’ existing knowledge is used to help them understand new materials.
This also calls for modifying the teacher’s role from being the central figure in the classroom to a support person, and the student’s role from being a passive observer to an active participant.
Inverting the classroom offers many advantages, for example, students can do their assignments in class giving teachers better insight into their difficulties and learning styles, and classroom time can be used more effectively and creatively. Educators in STEM summer school who employed this method reported seeing increased levels of student achievement, interest, and engagement, with more flexible and appropriate use of technology.
According to a recent study, Prof. Lage and Prof. Platt at Miami University in the U.S.A showed this approach to be preferred by students as it engages and empowers them further by encouraging group participation. Also, the instructors’ perceptions were positive as the students appeared to be more motivated.
This approach aims to actively involve students in the learning process, by motivating them to participate in meaningful activities that require them to think about what they are doing. It encourages students to progress from lower-order thinking tasks to higher-level cognitive work.
Some studies have shown that this approach, when compared to traditional classes, is preferred by students. It is comparable in efficiency but better in developing of students’ abilities in thinking and writing. Furthermore, a study of students’ performance in undergraduate STEM camps has shown that average examination scores improved by about 6% inactive learning sections and students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than the students in classes in active learning classes.
Conventionally, STEM summer camps, teaching spaces and research laboratories were located in building basements and dilapidated corridors. These facilities were uncomfortable and uninviting to not only the students but the teachers as well, as the environment felt more institutional than educational. For non-STEM students, these labs were relatively unknown and considered unapproachable.
But countless studies have shown that the design of classroom environments impacts the students’ inspiration and learning, and educational institutions are slowly seeing the incentive in urging the student bodies that observed by the scientific process to raise interest and curiosity.
From a design perspective, the idea is to place STEM classrooms and laboratories in public, high-traffic areas, with expansive windows to make science transparent to the general public and give them the opportunity to observe state-of-the-art research and watch as it unfolds.
One of the key ways to engage more students to participate in these next generation virtual STEM camps and innovative STEM learning programmes is to empower all students, irrespective of their gender, cultural or financial backgrounds. Reports suggest that minorities make up less than 5% of all STEM-based workforce in countries like the US and UK, the statistics being even lower in the developing and under-developed countries; and the percentage of women in STEM still stands at less than 30% in the US and UK, even though most institutions and organisations are equal opportunity employers.
So, schools must make science more accessible to everyone, by exposing students to STEM learning at a very young age. The teachers should be trained to provide proper guidance to students to nurture their curiosity and encourage them to follow their dreams of becoming world-class scientists and engineers.
Young students have significant untapped potential during their summer breaks, which can be used to allow them to explore their interests and improve their skills. In recent years, classroom-based as well as virtual STEM camps have become very popular due to the hands-on experience they offer to these young minds.
Students get to interact with other like-minded students from all over the world and learn from research experts and industry professionals in the STEM field of their choice. They can receive the necessary guidance to confidently pursue a career in STEM and have a bright future ahead.
In order to encourage more students to take up STEM subjects, they must be urged to experiment and think freely. Unlike what has been conventionally assumed, students must be made to realize that science is interesting and accessible to everyone. Teachers must take up the role of supporting the students in their endeavour to learn the necessary STEM skills, and guiding them to confidently chase a career in the sciences.
Educational institutions must revamp their classrooms to incorporate better use of technology to attract the young minds of today. They must organise online STEM programmes in addition to innovative classroom-based approaches so that students have to flexibility to choose their preferred mode of learning.
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