Numerous headlines from the past few years have pointed out challenges attracting, motivating, retaining, and graduating STEM majors, thus leading to worrying shortfalls in these professional areas:
- In “Why Would-Be Engineers End Up as English Majors,” CNN’s Assia Boundaoui commented that “science and math programs are designed and taught to winnow down the number of students.”
- A January 2010 UCLA study, “Degrees of Success: Bachelor’s Degree Completion Rates among Initial STEM Majors,” showed completion rates in the low-to-mid 30-percent region.
- The Institution of Mechanical Engineers recently declared that the “drop in students applying for engineering degrees is a worrying sign of the dangerous shortage of engineering skills set to hit the UK in coming years.”
What are the challenges to increasing the number of engineering graduates? How can we address them? In this month’s theme section of Computing Now, we explore the topic of engineering education including STEM outreach, technology-assisted learning, industry collaboration, academic integrity, technology challenges and opportunities, and course experiences. In addition, we explore the topic of race and gender issues, both of which are associated with these issues but also include additional challenges related to retaining and promoting a diverse professional workforce.
One of the biggest challenges is getting students involved in STEM activities so that they can get excited about them. The IMPETUS for Career Success program in northern New York does just that with its highlight activity being the Summer Roller Coaster Science and Engineering Camp. This camp includes both experiential learning (on a real roller coaster — where was this camp when we were in school?) and engineering design (designing and simulating a roller coaster). To find out what Clarkson University, the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Education Services, and 18 school districts accomplished in this program, take a look at the conference paper, “University Outreach in STEM Education through a Roller Coaster Science and Engineering Camp,” by David Wick and his colleagues.
We all know the cool things that technology brings to daily life — immersive video games and always-connected cell phones and tablets being common benefits enjoyed by today’s students — but these same technologies can bring to education the same sort of revolutionary achievements they’ve brought to entertainment and social interaction. The University of Canterbury’s Human Interface Technology Lab has been exploring ways to use augmented reality to improve education, blending virtual content with the real world to enhance traditional learning. Explore the technology of augmented reality and the vision applying it to education in Mark Billinghurst and Andreas Duenser’s article, “Augmented Reality in the Classroom.”
Industry-Academia Projects and Collaboration
We are our greatest resource for improving education and outreach to future members of the field: our own experiences and problems provide fertile ground to bring the real world into the classroom and beyond. Active industry participation can make a huge difference in academia, with the benefits going both ways. The Johns Hopkins University has taken this approach, having students solve real problems for real organizations in the capstone course for the Information Systems Masters of Science program. See how they did it in John Baker Sr.’s article, “Challenging the Traditional Graduate Information Systems Program.”
Academic Integrity (Or Not)
Technology brings great opportunities, but not all those opportunities are for the betterment of all. Academia is no exception in experiencing that dual-edged nature. As technology improves students’ ability to do great things, it also makes it easier for them to exploit the great things done by others (commonly in the form of cheating or plagiarism). In “Academic Misconduct in the Early 21st Century,” Ann Sobel describes her experiences teaching an introductory computer science course at Miami University and explores the misuse of technology to subvert education, as well as the use of technology to discover such misuse.
Tech Challenges and Opportunities for Education
Technology can directly solve specific problems in education in a wide range of ways (using augmented reality, for example). It can also bring significant benefits to education when applied indirectly — for example, leveraging distance-learning methods to increase capacity and reach. David Hodge’s “Increasing Tuition’s Affordability” examines a major issue, considering some sources of the high cost of education as well as ways to reduce it.
Teaching (as distinguished from merely lecturing) is challenging to do well. One way to improve teaching is to look to others’ successes and incorporate some of their methods. In “Towards the Support of Scaffolding in Customizable Puzzle-Based Learning Games,” Javier Melero, Davinia Hernandez-Leo, and Josep Blat explore their methods and experiences with puzzle-based learning courses in electrical engineering, computer science, and beyond at the University of Adelaide and Carnegie Mellon University. Applying puzzle-based learning has the benefit of developing critical thinking and problem solving in an engaging and (dare I say) puzzling manner. Puzzles are entertaining problems with non-obvious answers that often require only basic interdisciplinary knowledge, but require careful thought to reason through to correct conclusions (rather than the incorrect obvious answers to which they often lead).
Gender and Race Issues
Although not unique to STEM, the demographics of our profession are very different from those of our communities or the world at large. Some solutions to reducing these differences and developing a diverse STEM workforce include the topics already addressed this month: STEM outreach, technology application, real-world integration, academic integrity, cost reductions in education, and course improvements. Yet, the problem is deeper than merely attracting the “right” students — retaining them through the education process and enabling them to be successful in their careers are additional problems. In the final article in our June theme, “Agile Values, Innovation, and the Shortage of Women Software Developers,” Ken Judy looks to apply agile values to solve the challenges that women face in the software community.
We have the skills and resources within our community to help address these issues. Let’s get to it!
Related Articles in STEM Education
- Recruitment, mentoring, and development of STEM faculty to lead international programs
- Starting Early: Increasing Elementary (K-8) Student Science Achievement With Retired Scientists and Engineers
- Everyday Electrical Engineering: A One-WeekSummer Academy Course for High School Students
Technology and education:
- iPad in Education: A case study of iPad adoption and use in a primary school
- Educational Technologies for Precollege Engineering Education
Academic integrity in technology education:
Technology opportunities in education:
- Imagining the Future: Thoughts on Computing
- The need for Open Educational Resources for Ubiquitous Learning
- Five Major Shifts in 100 Years of Engineering Education
Engineering teaching and courses:
- An Introductory Course on Software Engineering on Self-Organization in Swarm Robotics
- Teaching Cybersecurity with DeterLab
Gender and race:
- Microaggressions” in Engineering Education: Climate for Asian, Latina, and White Women
- Women in Cybersecurity: A Study of Career Advancement
Kevin Rudd is an Assistant Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the United States Naval Academy; he is on a military leave of absence from his civilian position as a computer architect at Intel. Kevin is also a member of IEEE Micro‘s editorial board. Contact him at rudd at usna dot edu.