The Best Virtual STEM Camp During the Pandemic
A growing number of STEM summer schools are transitioning online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here we discuss whether online schools are any good, and then list some of the advantages of virtual STEM camps.
A Shift to the Virtual Paradigm
The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge that most of us didn’t see coming, and the world as we know it has changed in the process of adapting to its effects from it. We look to how we can better face the current and future challenges posed by this pandemic.
With social interactions being limited and larger gatherings being banned pretty much everywhere, the world has made a move to the virtual. Thanks to the advancements in technology, we have been able to make this transition fairly easily. We have relied on technology to help us find a new way of working, learning, living and socialising and the importance of STEM has become visible and relevant to all. A new passion, respect and focus are given to STEM learning and it’s clear that STEM will be crucial to society in the years to come.
The importance of STEM education has led educational institutions to react quickly to move many activities online, with schools, colleges and STEM summer camps some of the first to make a successful shift online. The year 2020 has seen an increasing trend of online summer schools, and with the pandemic still posing several uncertainties, 2021 will, no doubt, keep this trend going. But a major question many parents and teachers have, is whether education online can be as effective, compared in the traditional classroom setting?
Effective STEM Learning in Virtual Mode
Live virtual STEM workshop – (image source)
Education via the internet is not a novel concept and was being employed by several schools and educational institutions several years prior to the pandemic. Renowned universities like Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, etc., have had large online libraries for over a decade. These libraries consist of books and lectures taught by university professors to students from all over the world who were motivated to learn. But with the onset of the pandemic, all educational institutions have been forced to shift their curriculum online very quickly. Since many teachers and parents are not acquainted with this new mode of teaching, they are justifiably unsure of the effectiveness of this mode of education and the effects it might have on the future of young students.
Fortunately, a Russian study conducted in collaboration with Cornell University in the years prior to the pandemic has shown considerable evidence that students learned just as much in Virtual STEM camps as they did in traditional classroom settings, and at a fraction of the cost.
The study tracked more than 300 students in Russia, where top universities standardize online classes for use by institutions with fewer resources. It has important implications for the teaching of STEM skills, the demand for which is surging in the digital economy that we live in.
According to the researchers, this new study provides sufficient evidence to judge whether online education can mitigate the shortages in budget and quality of instruction. The study conclusively suggests that online learning can deliver the same level of learning outcomes that we have come to expect from traditional classroom-based learning but at a significantly lower cost.
Online education platforms have a big potential to expand access to quality STEM education worldwide while costing 70-80% less to the institution per student when compared to in-person classes. Presently, when most universities are still closed to mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak, online classes can also strengthen the instructional resilience of colleges.
Coming to the downsides of online education, the study also found that while the learning outcomes are the same for online students, they were slightly less satisfied with their course experience, when compared to students enrolled in in-person classes.
Another downside to virtual STEM camps comes in the form of significant start-up costs, which many institutions may not be able to cover. But this issue could be potentially mitigated by the government or a consortium of universities. The researchers also state that the online-only learning model can be more effective if course curricula and academic calendars are properly coordinated among various institutions, or states as well.
How to Encourage Virtual STEM camps
Many organisations still hesitate to make the move toward virtual STEM camps. Typical reasons for this include lack of trust in their own curricula, expertise and skill set of their educators, and the adaptability of their students. Organisations are also not very keen on investing in better infrastructure which would ultimately enable them to be better prepared for this virtual future.
The uncertainties due to the current situation and the significant start-up costs for setting up a fully virtual classroom usually end up discouraging the organisations from taking this step. On the other hand, students are already having a lot on their plate, and asking them to make such a drastic shift in their learning experience is a huge deal for them.
Hence, we discuss some points that might be enough to persuade not only organisations but also parents and students to consider these virtual STEM camps, and with some stroke of luck, they might end up loving it too.
While virtual camps may not be able to provide the traditional hands-on learning experience, they offer a connected world for students as well as mentors. Students anywhere in the world can connect with expert educators at times that are convenient to them. Students can also stay connected with their friends and other like-minded students no matter where they are in the world. This seamless connectivity will increase the creative and productive output of students significantly.
Well-developed virtual learning platforms can be very powerful in the hands of experienced mentors and ambitious students. The mentors can utilize this platform to create and share impactful video lessons that would take learning to the next level. These well-designed animations would hold the attention of students while making it much easier for them to grasp the concept behind complicated STEM topics.
Students, on the other hand, can also use such a platform to create discussion forums, online debate groups, etc., and create out-of-the-box learning experiences for themselves and their classmates. They can have one-to-one interactions with their mentors where they can share their ideas and queries, without feeling pressured.
It is now clear that the world is moving towards virtual, so it would not only be a sensible bet for organisations to invest in virtual STEM camps, but also a practical one. With more and more STEM jobs taking advantage of the internet and its resources, a virtual classroom experience would also be helpful for students in long-term adaptability.
Moreover, from the organisations’ perspective, virtual STEM camps make a lot of sense financially and managerially. While the initial start-up costs may be high, these setups would barely require any maintenance, which would mean, long-term costs would be lesser when compared to traditional classrooms, not to mention, it is also easier to manage virtual events than in-person ones.
Virtual STEM camps would also be less taxing on the environment, causing less pollution and wasting fewer natural resources. This is unconditionally a huge advantage for our planet and our own survival in the long run. Everyone who has already made a move to virtual learning should pat their own back for contributing a bit more to keeping our world a worthwhile place to live for future generations.
Virtual STEM Camps
Summer opportunity research at home – (image reference)
While schools and colleges can transition to virtual mode fairly easily, it is a completely different story when it comes to STEM summer camps. These summer camps are unique because of the application-based learning environment and hands-on experiences that they offer. They enable peer-to-peer interaction and allow students to work as teams to come up with innovative solutions to real-life problems.
But none of these features is possible in online mode. How, then, will enthusiastic students be able to have a fun-filled summertime in an absorbing, structured summer experience without attending an in-person STEM camp?
To allay this problem, many organizations have come up with out-of-the-box approaches to virtual STEM education without having any significant compromises. They have taken advantage of the fact that online learning would allow students from all over the world to participate, thus, improving the quality of the school.
Here is a list of features that are unique to the London International Youth Science Forum (often abbreviated as LIYSF), a world-renowned on-campus, as well as a virtual STEM summer camp in the UK. The summer school offers a number of amazing opportunities in a wide range of STEM subjects.
This course is uniquely designed to offer the best possible learning experience to students. Most of the students will attend scheduled, real-time, instructor-led online activities, some in small groups of students from around the world.
Keep in mind that the limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic need not prevent the students from having fun, following where their curiosity leads and interacting with other like-minded students. With some creative planning, their online learning ventures may open up new avenues and give them a memorable and enjoyable summer experience.
Unique Features of LIYSF VIRTUAL
- 12 Principal Lectures
12 principal lecture demonstrations form the foundation of the programme at LIYSF. These sessions are led by eminent scientists, who are at the top of their respective fields. Professor James Rothman, winner of the 2013 Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine will give the key-note opening lecture.
Especially for virtual participants, these 12 lectures will be live-streamed on their interactive platform.
- 10 Specialist Lectures
LIYSF organises specialist lecture sessions with students able to choose from a wide range of available topics and select their programmes to suit their STEM interests. On each day, students have many different sessions to choose from, with leading researchers speaking across a range of topics.
Virtual participants of this summer school can access in addition to the live sessions the recorded parallel sessions, on-demand.
- Live Q&A Sessions
Participants of this virtual STEM summer camp in the UK are given the opportunity to involve themselves during the lectures by participating and contributing to live Q&A sessions.
- 10 Scientific Visits
One of the key elements of LIYSF includes the opportunities to visit industrial sites, research centres, scientific institutions, and organisations, including world-class research institutions and laboratories in and around London.
While online participants cannot visit these places in person, they can take a virtual tour of 10 scientific visits.
- Meeting New Students
All virtual participants get to meet and interact with other like-minded students from all over the world. The LIYSF’s global digital platform allows students to participate in live chats and debate lounges, where they can have a healthy discussion on a number of topics, and make new friends along the way.
- On-demand Lectures
This is a major advantage of virtual participants as they can re-watch their favourite lectures or view the sessions they missed, all on-demand. All the lectures and sessions in LIYSF are recorded for the benefit of the participants and they can watch them as many times as they want.
- Digital Certificate
All virtual participants of the LIYSF STEM summer camp will receive a digital certificate upon completing the programme, which will be extremely helpful to them in having a successful career in STEM.
- Science Bazaar
Virtual attendees will be invited to present their project work via video conference, as part of the LIYSF Science Bazaar. The Science Bazaar is a non-competitive environment where students can present their work to fellow students and LIYSF science experts. It is a great opportunity for students to represent their school/university, region, and country on a world-class stage with their own scientific research.
STEM is becoming an essential part of our world, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only strengthened this fact. Young students must, therefore, expose themselves to STEM learning and gain the confidence to look for careers in STEM to have a bright and successful future.
STEM summer camps are an excellent way to get the necessary exposure and nurture their inner scientist or engineer. Although the pandemic has restricted in-person attendance, virtual STEM summer camps in the UK as well as the world over, have not only thrived but also managed to squeeze the advantages out of these limitations.
Several organizations are already offering alternative ways to participate in their STEM Camps, virtual or otherwise. Therefore, there is no better time for students to start their journey in STEM and get a glimpse of what the future holds!