Posts tagged ‘STEM education’

It Matters a Lot Who Teaches Introductory Courses if We Want Students to Continue

Thanks to Gary Stager who sent this link to me. The results mesh with Pat Alexander’s Model of Domain Learning. A true novice to a field is not going to pursue studies because of interest in the field — a novice doesn’t know the field. The novice is going to pursue studies because of social pressures, e.g., it’s a requirement for a degree or a job, it’s expected by family or community, or the teacher is motivating.  As the novice becomes an intermediate, interest in the domain can drive further study.  These studies suggest that persistence is more likely to happen if the teacher is a committed, full-time teacher.

The first professor whom students encounter in a discipline, evidence suggests, plays a big role in whether they continue in it.

On many campuses, teaching introductory courses typically falls to less-experienced instructors. Sometimes the task is assigned to instructors whose very connection to the college is tenuous. A growing body of evidence suggests that this tension could have negative consequences for students.

Two papers presented at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting in New York on Sunday support this idea.

The first finds that community-college students who take a remedial or introductory course with an adjunct instructor are less likely to take the next course in the sequence.

The second finds negative associations between the proportion of a four-year college’s faculty members who are part-time or off the tenure track and outcomes for STEM majors.

Source: It Matters a Lot Who Teaches Introductory Courses. Here’s Why.

June 22, 2018 at 7:00 am 8 comments

Teaching the students isn’t the same as changing the culture: Dear Microsoft: absolutely not. by Monica Byrne

A powerful blog post from Monica Byrne with an important point. I blogged a while back that teaching women computer science doesn’t change how the industry might treat them.  Monica is saying something similar, but with a sharper point. I know I’ve heard from CS teachers who are worried about attracting more women into computing.  Are we putting them into a unpleasant situation by encouraging them to go into the computing industry?

Then—gotcha!—they’re shown a statistic that only 6.7% of women graduate with STEM degrees. They look crushed. The tagline? “Change the world. Stay in STEM.”

Are you f***ing kidding me?

Microsoft, where’s your ad campaign telling adult male scientists not to rape their colleagues in the field? Where’s the campaign telling them not to steal or take credit for women’s work? Or not to serially sexually harass their students? Not to discriminate against them? Not to ignore, dismiss, or fail to promote them at the same rate as men? Not to publish their work at a statistically significant lower rate?

Source: Dear Microsoft: absolutely not. | monica byrne

June 30, 2017 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Increasing the Roles and Significance of Teachers in Policymaking for K-12 Engineering Education

National Academies have released a report that relates to the idea of Engineering for All.

Engineering is a small but growing part of K–12 education. Curricula that use the principles and practices of engineering are providing opportunities for elementary, middle, and high school students to design solutions to problems of immediate practical and societal importance. Professional development programs are showing teachers how to use engineering to engage students, to improve their learning of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and to spark their interest in engineering careers. However, many of the policies and practices that shape K–12 engineering education have not been fully or, in some cases, even marginally informed by the knowledge of teacher leaders.

To address the lack of teacher leadership in engineering education policymaking and how it might be mitigated as engineering education becomes more widespread in K–12 education in the United States, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a convocation on September 30–October 1, 2016. Participants explored how strategic connections both within and outside classrooms and schools might catalyze new avenues of teacher preparation and professional development, integrated curriculum development, and more comprehensive assessment of knowledge, skills, and attitudes about engineering in the K–12 curriculum. This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions from the event.

Source: Increasing the Roles and Significance of Teachers in Policymaking for K-12 Engineering Education: Proceedings of a Convocation | The National Academies Press

May 12, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Profile of Ruthe Farmer: This Is How You Advocate For Girls In STEM

Nice piece on fierce CS education advocate, Ruthe Farmer.

Big change is at the forefront of her thinking. When asked what cause she most wants to advance, she has a prompt and specific reply: “I am interested in advancing women at all levels.  For women’s rights to education, autonomy, personal safety to be a topic of debate [still] is atrocious. Now is the time for women to lead. I’m particularly concerned about the safety of women on campus.  Sexual assault should not be an expected part of the college experience. I refuse to accept that as a norm.”

Source: This Is How You Advocate For Girls In STEM

May 5, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Report on Addressing Unconscious Bias in CS Classrooms

New research report available at http://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/unconscious-bias-in-the-classroom-report.pdf from with Google and Thomas Dee of Stanford University and Seth Gershenson from American University.

In sum, Unconscious Bias (UB) is a nontrivial problem in education, especially in CS and STEM education, and it is not easily addressed via traditional educational policies and interventions. However, interventions that identify and alter the frequently unconscious psychological processes that harm individuals’ outcomes are currently being developed and piloted. Teacher-facing interventions, which can be administered to both pre- and in-service teachers, are particularly promising. In part, this is because by addressing UB among teachers, we can help shape the entire classroom context in supportive ways. Furthermore, teacher-facing interventions are potentially cost-effective and scalable, because infrastructure for teacher training is already in place.

April 26, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Embedding and Tailoring Engineering Learning: A Vision for the Future of Engineering Education

In the last couple of months, I have had the opportunity to speak to groups of Engineering Education Researchers. That doesn’t happen often to me, and I feel very fortunate to get that chance.

I was asked to speak about my vision for the future of Engineering Education, from my perspective as a Computing Education Researcher. What I said wasn’t wholly unique–there are Engineering Education Researchers who are already working on some of the items I described. The response suggested that it was at least an interesting vision, so I’m telling the story here in blog form.

For readers of this blog who may not be familiar with Engineering Education Research, the Wikipedia page on EER is pretty good.  The most useful paper I read is Borrego and and Bernhard’s “The Emergence of Engineering Education Research as an Internationally Connected Field of Inquiry.”  I also recommend looking around the Purdue Engineering Education department website, which is the oldest Eng Ed department in the US.

Engineering has had a long relationship with computing. Engineers made computing part of their practice earlier and more pervasively than scientists or mathematicians. I love how this is described in the motion picture Hidden Figures where Octavia Spencer’s character is part of the effort to use computing as soon as possible in the American space program. Engineering educators have made computing part of the learning goals for all of today’s engineering students, again more pervasively than what I can see in science or mathematics programs.

Much of my work and my students’ work is about embedding computing education (e.g., Media Computation which embeds computing in the digital media context that students value, or Brian Dorn’s work embedding computing in a graphic design context) and tailoring computing education (e.g., high school CS teachers need something different from software developers). Computing education can be embedded in Engineering classes and tailored for Engineering students, of course. My vision is about embedding and tailoring engineering education.

There are three parts to the story below:

  • Engineering Education for everyone K-16, especially for STEM learners.
  • Reaching a diverse audience for engineering education.
  • Recognizing the differences between Engineering Education research and teaching, and the need for more research on learning outside of the engineering classroom.

In January 2016, President Barack Obama launched the “CS for All” initiative. When he said that he wanted students to be “job-ready,” he wasn’t saying that everyone should be a software engineer. Rather, he was reflecting a modern reality. For every professional software developer, there are four-to-nine end-user-programmers (depending on the study and how you count). Most professionals will likely use some form of programming in the future. That’s an argument for “CS for All.”

We also need Engineering for All. Engineering skills like designing, planning, collaboration on diverse teams, and trouble-shooting are needed across STEM. When I look at bench science, I see the need for engineering — to design, plan, collaborate, debug, and test.

Engineering education researchers know a lot about how to teach those skills. I’d love to learn how to inculcate some engineering perspectives in my CS students. When I see Chemical Engineering students designing a plant, or Civil Engineering students designing a bridge, they predict that they made mistakes, and they look for those mistakes. There’s a humility about their process. CS students often run their program once and turn them in. If you write a hundred lines of code, odds are almost 100% that you made errors. How do we get CS students to think that way?

Engineering for All is different than what professional engineers do, in the same way that what a high school teacher needs is different than what a professional software developer needs. Both need a mental model of the notional machine. A high school teacher also needs to know how students get that wrong, and probably doesn’t need to know about Scrum or GitHub.

I believe that there is a tailored part of engineering education which should be embedded throughout K-16 STEM. The American Society of Engineering Education’s mission is focused on professional engineers, and my proposal does not diminish the importance of that goal. We need more professional engineers, and we need to educate them well. But engineering skills and practices are too important to teach only to the professionals.

Engineering should play a significant role in STEM education policy. Engineering education researchers should own that “E” in STEM. There are many research questions that we have to answer in order to achieve Engineering for All.

  • What is the tailored subset of engineering that should be taught to everyone? To STEM learners?
  • All technically literate US citizens should know far more about engineering than they do today. Here’s a hypothesis: If all US citizens understood what engineering is and what engineers do, we might have less crumbling infrastructure, because we citizens would know that infrastructure is critical and professional engineers design, build, and maintain infrastructure. How do we get there?
  • All K-12 students should have the opportunity to fall in love with engineering. How?
  • Are there limits to what we can teach about engineering in K-16? What learning and cognitive disabilities interfere with learning engineering, and what parts of engineering? I also wonder about the kinds of bias that prevent someone from succeeding in engineering, besides race and gender. For example, here in the South, there are a lot of students who don’t believe in evolution. I’m pretty sure that belief in evolution isn’t necessary for designing a bridge or a distillation column. But someone who believes in intelligent design is going to face a lot of barriers to getting through basic science to become an engineer. Is that how it should be?
  • Engineering should aim to influence K-12 STEM education nationally, in every state.

The American University (particularly the Land Grant University, developed in the late 1800’s) was supposed to blend the German University focus on research and the British focus on undergraduate education. My favorite history of that story is Larry Cuban’s How Scholars Trumped Teachers, but Michael Crow also tells the story well in his book Designing the New American University. We believed that there were synergies between research and teaching. It’s not clear that that’s true.

Research and teaching have different measures of success and don’t feed directly into one another.

Teaching should be measured in terms of student success and at what cost. Cost is always a factor in education. We know from Bloom’s two-sigma 1984 study (and all the follow-ups and replications) that the best education is an individual human tutor for each subject who works with a student to mastery. But we as a society can’t afford that. Everything else we do is a trade-off — we are trying to optimize learning for the cost that we are willing to bear.

Research should be measured in terms of impact — on outcomes, on the research community, on society.

It’s quite likely that the education research on a given campus doesn’t influence teaching practice on the same campus.

I see that in my own work.

We can see the transition for education research idea to impact in teaching practice as an adoption curve. Boyer’s “Scholarship Reconsidered” helps to explain what’s going on and how to support the adoption. There is traditional Scholarship of Discovery, the research that figures out something new. There is Scholarship of Teaching that studies the practice of teaching and learning.

Then there’s Scholarship of Application, which takes results from Discovery into something that teachers can use. We can’t expect research to influence teaching without scholars of application. Someone has to take the good ideas and carry them into practice. Someone has to figure out what practitioners want and need and match it to existing research insights. Done well, scholarship of application should also inform researchers about the open research questions, the challenges yet to be faced.

High-quality teaching for engineering education should use the most effective evidence-based teaching methods.

Good teachers balance teaching for relevance and motivation with teaching for understanding. This is hard to do well. Students want authenticity. They want project-based learning and design. I was at the University of Michigan as project-based learning for science education was first being developed, and we knew that it very often didn’t work. It’s often too complex and leads to failure, in both the project and the learning. Direct instruction is much more efficient for learning, but misses out on the components that inspire, motivate, and engage students. We have to balance these out.

We have to teach for a diverse population of students, which means teaching differently to attract women and members of under-represented groups. In our ICER 2012 paper, we found that encouragement and self-perception of ability are equally important for white and Asian males in terms of intention to persist in computing, but for women and under-represented group students, encouragement matters more than ability in terms of how satisfied they are with computing and intention to persist. This result has been replicated by others. Encouragement of individual students is critical to reach a diverse audience.

An important goal for a first year Engineering program is to explain the relevance of the classes that they’re taking. Larry Cuban tells us that a piece of the British system that got lost by the early 1920’s in the American University was having faculty advisors who would explain how all the classes fit together for a goal. The research on common first year Engineering courses (e.g., merging Physics, Calculus, Engineering in a big 12 credit hour course) shows that they worked because they explained the relevance of courses like Calculus to Engineering students. I know from my work that relevance is critical for retention and transfer.

Do students see relevance of first year Engineering programs? Most first year programs emphasize design and team problem-solving. First year Engineering students don’t know what engineers do. When they’re told “This is Engineering” in their first year, do they believe it? Do they cognitively index it as “real Engineering”? Do they remember those experiences and that learning in their 3rd and 4th years when they are in the relevant classes? I hope so, but I don’t know of evidence that shows us that they do.

Engineering education research, like most discipline-based education research (DBER), is focused on education. I see the study of “education” as being about implementation in a formal system. Education is a design discipline, one of Simon’s Sciences of the Artificial. Robert Glaser referred to education as psychology engineering.

We need more research on Engineering Learning. How do students learn engineering skills and practices, even outside of Engineering classes? How do those practices develop, even if it’s STEM learners and teachers using them and not professional engineers? How should we best teach engineering even if it’s not currently feasible?

That last part is much of what drives my work these days. We’re learning a lot about how great Parsons Problems are for learning CS. Very few CS classes use them. There are reasons why they don’t (e.g., they’re emphasizing the project side of the education spectrum). I’m figuring out how to teach CS well, even if it’s not feasible in current practice. CS teaching practice will eventually hit a paradigm shift, and I’ll have evidence-based practices to offer.

To focus on engineering learning requires work outside the classroom, like Multi-Institutional, Multi-National (MIMN) studies that we use in computing education research, or even laboratory studies. A focus on Engineering Learning creates new opportunities for funding, for audience, and for impact. For example, I could imagine engineering education researchers seeking science education funding to figure out how to teach high school science teachers the engineering that they ought to teach their students — not to introduce engineering, but to make their students better in science.

My vision for engineering education has three parts:

  1. K-16 STEM learners need Engineering for All. Engineering education has more to contribute than just for producing more professional Engineers. Engineering education ought to own the “E” in STEM education policy. Engineering skills and practices can be tailored to different audiences and embedded in STEM education.
  2. Reaching a diverse audience is critical for both research and teaching. For me, that diversity includes the people who need engineering education who aren’t going to become professional engineers, but also people who look different or even have different beliefs.
  3. Finally, research and teaching are different activities, with different measures of success. Teaching should be informed by evidence and be as efficient and effective as possible for a given cost. We need evidence for what we’re doing, and we should gather evidence if we don’t know if what we’re doing is working. Research should focus on what’s possible and on having impact, even if that impact isn’t in the on-campus classrooms. We shouldn’t expect research to impact teaching without explicit investment in adaptation to support adoption.

(Thanks to Barb Ericson, Beth Simon, Leo Porter, and Wendy Newstetter for advice on drafts of this piece.)

March 15, 2017 at 6:00 am 5 comments

Highlighting NSF STEM Education Showcase Videos

Last month, NSF hosted a STEM Education video showcase.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed and learned from these.  They’re only 3 minutes each, so it’s a brief investment in getting a sense of a project — and there are a lot of interesting projects here.  Here are some of my notes on what I found that was cool:

There are a lot more great videos, but I’ll stop there.  Highly recommended viewing!

June 8, 2016 at 7:26 am Leave a comment

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