8 Fascinating Ways STEM Students are Learning Online

Posted February 5, 2013

Could the reason for American students lagging behind the world in science, technology, engineering, and math be that, forgive us, the courses are boring? Sure, a small percentage of kids grow up knowing without a doubt they are going to be biologists. Perhaps we need some new ways of delivering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education that fire students up and teach them in a way they’ve never experienced before. Surely potential methods lie within the boundless reach of the Internet, and sure enough, some schools are already harnessing its power and successfully breaking the STEM mold.

  1. Northwestern’s iLabs Network:

    Ever heard someone say they’d like to reach through the phone? Thanks to the Office of STEM Education Partnerships at Northwestern University, students around the world can reach through the Web to do their own science experiments, courtesy of the iLabs Network. It offers the information on and simulations of various equipment and processes that can be found on similar sites, but instead of stopping there, the iLabs Network takes it one step further. Students fill out queries on their specific experiment, with whatever measurements and values they choose, upload, then switch over to a webcam view of a real piece of equipment performing their experiment. Once it’s done, their results come back and can then be exported or converted to a PDF.

  2. Mobile Studio Project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:

    As he wrote in a recent piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ken Connor doesn’t do lectures anymore. Instead, the electrical engineering prof and his colleagues at RPI are using the techniques of blended learning and flipped classrooms to transform engineering courses from boring to hands-on. Using a circuit board called the Mobile Studio IOBoard that plugs into a PC, Connor creates an activity, films himself discussing it, then uploads it to the Web. His students are then required to watch the video and hopefully tinker with the process themselves so that by the time they meet, they’re ready to discuss and put the principles into practice.

  3. OSU’s Growing Farms:

    Who said all STEM students have to be degree-seekers? Oregon State’s Division of Outreach and Engagement offers an intriguing example of a new way to teach STEM: with hybrid courses. "Growing Farms" guides "those who are ready to farm or ranch" through six ungraded online modules to help them plan their own farms. But it also brings online learners on-site to both receive instruction on best practices for agriculture and meet other farmers and make connections with them in a way an online forum probably could not mimic.

  4. Hyflex at Ohio State:

    A combination of hybrid and flex, hyflex courses are a burgeoning development that give students the option of learning online or in a classroom, whichever suits them better. Ohio State associate prof Jackie Miller helped pioneer the format in her statistics class, which incorporated such cool tech innovations as web polling and a backchannel, the latter of which was the process by which students could text in questions while a lecture was underway and get an answer from the prof during the lecture.

  5. Berkeley’s SETI@home:

    Since 1999, self-directed learners interested in the science of space have been volunteering their Internet-connected home computers and picking up knowledge of radio, astronomy, and astrobiology in exchange. Short for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, this massive science experiment brings together thousands of individual computers to make the world’s largest supercomputer that scans the galaxy for E.T. signals. The website keeps its millions of participants informed on science and technical news, and of course, the status of intelligent life on other planets (nothing yet). The Planetary Society calls the program the most successful public participation project in history.

  6. "The Radix Endeavor" by MIT:

    The people in the STEP (Scheller Teacher Education Program) at MIT are putting their brainpower into creating projects that make STEM stimulating and get kids interested in the field. One of these creations is "The Radix Endeavor," now over a year into development and going live this year. Using the format of a MMO (massive multiplayer online), the game lets players explore the plants and animals of a mysterious island to help the locals solve environmental and social problems. That’s the science part, but the game also finds ways to incorporate algebra, geometry, probability, and statistics.

  7. Carnegie Mellon’s Alice:

    Although Stanford and Washington University in St. Louis are also represented, this "3D programming environment" is primarily a CMU innovation for the "T" part of STEM. The next generation of computer programmers is learning on Alice, software that is made freely available online. The program allows students to drag and drop code into appropriate places in a program (preventing them from making mistakes), and gives them immediate feedback on how they did. The folks behind it have also made tutorials and textbooks that go along with the freeware available online to teachers at partner institutions.

  8. Rice University’s STEMscopes:

    It took less than two years for this program launched by the Rice Center for Digital Learning and Scholarship to hit 1 million users. Created by teachers for teachers, the program is an all-encompassing set of online curricula, educational apps, and teacher assessment tools for the fields of STEM. Both teachers and parents can access the material, effectively creating flipped classrooms as parents are given the means to help students study outside class and teachers have more time to focus on helping students practice what they’ve learned.

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