Re-Imagining STEMx Education
New Approaches to Teaching & Learning for a High-Tech World
Education systems around the world are placing a growing emphasis on the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs and curricula. The siren calls of “innovation” and “workforce competitiveness” are often the engine behind the drive, accompanied by the call for “21st century skills”. But are we fully considering the future into which our students will be graduating? Are we giving our students the experiences they need to be ready for the high-tech world of work and global citizenship?
The World of Work Has Changed… and is Changing
Much has been written about the transformation of the Industrial Age into the Information Age, and the Knowledge Economy’s transformation into a Creative Economy. But what does this mean on a personal level to recent graduates?
To begin with, if you don’t actually graduate, your opportunity pie is likely only a sliver. Assuming then that you’ve managed to find the opportunity and support to obtain a STEM-related degree, then let’s picture what “work” might look like – and where it might be. You may have an “office”, but it may be a space you only visit on occasion. With wireless internet and a mobile phone, your office can be anywhere you need to be. Your commute to work may in fact be a short 20 steps from your kitchen to your computer.
Functioning in a “flat world” means that your organization is likely to have your colleagues scattered across geographies and timezones. From Research to Product Development to Marketing and Sales, international teams and partnerships require that you master new forms of collaboration in a world that is utterly interdependent. It’s a world where decisions and ideas move quickly, and the pace is increasing.
It may surprise you, but you weren’t just hired for what you know. You were hired because of what you’re able to learn. Your task is to tackle challenges that no one has solved – or even imagined. It is impossible to come to work knowing everything you need to know because information and knowledge are expanding exponentially. The universe isn’t the only thing that is accelerating.
For the high tech world of work, this is not the future. It is the present. The future, it seems, will be this and even more so… for everyone.
Even if our students’ careers take them into “non-STEM” directions, they still live in an increasingly high tech world. As a result, the bar has been raised: ALL students need a deeper understanding of S, T, E, and M if they want to thrive, participate, and shape their community and the world.
Our students are inheriting global challenges of the sort their parents have barely anticipated. Whether they are simply trying to be informed citizens, public policy leaders, or innovative engineers, finding solutions to hunger, disease, poverty, and environmental disasters will demand a keen appreciation and mastery of the disciplines we call STEM – and so much more.
STEM is Dead – Long Live STEMx
Given the current reality and our simple prognostication of the future, it’s clear that the STEM acronym has outlived its usefulness. If our current education systems and student assessments focus only on S, T, E, and M, our students will not be prepared for today, let alone tomorrow.
At last count, the STEM acronym is missing well over 20 letters. There are critically important disciplines that need more airtime in our “standards” and expectations. These include disciplines like Computer Science (CS), and new areas of discovery and development like Design for Sustainability (DfS), Nanoscience (NS), and BioTech (BT), that don’t easily fit the classic STEM silos that students experience.
Then there’s the myriad of critical skills like the three C’s of collaboration (CO), creativity (CR), and communication (COM) that are essential to high performance innovation teams. Add to this the list of additional “21st century skills” like Problem Solving (PS), Inquiry (I), Computational Thinking (CT), and you can see why acronyms like STEAM are noble but not sufficient.
Among all the missing letters, none is quite so glaringly absent as the need for Global Fluency (GF). This is the ability to do all of the above in a context that requires us to operate across timezones, cultures, and languages. It’s not unusual for those of us in high tech to have our day extend across 12 or more timezones, and even if we speak a common language within our company, traversing cultures requires adeptness seldom exercised in a traditional STEM curriculum.
For all these reasons, the HP Catalyst Initiative has been referring to STEM(+) – though admittedly, STEMx is even better, where “x” equals all the missing letters and it makes for a much more usable Twitter hashtag (#STEMx).
New Models of STEMx Teaching & Learning
One thing is clear – education cannot remain where it has been. Thankfully, there are innovative educators who are creating new types of learning experiences that are relevant, engaging, and paving the way to greater levels of achievement for all students. Among them are educators who are part of the HP Catalyst Initiative, a network of 56 organizations in 15 countries who have been exploring how technology can help create these new models of teaching and learning.
In part 2, I will share some examples of what's possible...
Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Global Education Program Manager
Sustainability & Social Innovation