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Undergraduate Educators Share Strategies Transforming the Future of STEM Education

Educators discuss lessons learned during the pandemic to make STEM classes more inclusive. | AAAS-IUSE

Virtual labs, STEM buddies and flexible due dates were among the strategies that undergraduate educators developed to build more inclusive, accessible, and equitable classrooms this year, according to a video produced by the AAAS-IUSE Initiative.

In the submission featured at the 2021 STEM for All Video Showcase, three IUSE educators tell their stories of finding opportunity and innovation during the COVID-19 pandemic to transform their classrooms. Their strategies for student engagement, virtual labs and course design were so successful, they said, that they plan to keep and expand on them in the future.

"They told us how much they were excited by the difference their interventions were making for students and how their own approach to instruction fundamentally shifted," said Jennifer Carinci, program director of STEM education research at AAAS and IUSE principal investigator. "With such transformative results, why would they go back to the status quo or how they were teaching before?"

When the Showcase closed on May 18, the video had received 1,541 views by 703 visitors from 237 locations, and received one of 24 Facilitators' Choice awards among the 287 total videos submitted.

The AAAS-IUSE (Improving Undergraduate STEM Education) Initiative supports the greater undergraduate STEM community by sharing research and knowledge about STEM teaching and learning, equity and institutional transformation. The video for the showcase was created after receiving more than 100 submissions from the AAAS-IUSE community about how they were seizing the pandemic's "moment of disruption" to broaden participation and improve teaching and coursework.

In the video, Daniel López-Cevallos, assistant vice provost and associate professor of ethnic studies in the Office of Undergraduate Education at Oregon State University, talks about how his group adapted the STEM Leaders Program, an initiative that matches students with upper-division mentors, to also include a "STEM Buddies" model that connected students who felt isolated during the pandemic. "Over half our students are Latinx first-generation college students and two-thirds of them are women," said López-Cevallos. "These students need this program the most. If we can train our students and help them succeed, we can create a better world for STEM."

At Kennesaw State University, mechanical engineering Professor Ayes Tekes developed a virtual lab for her students, which included YouTube videos demonstrating key engineering concepts and online MATLAB modules to test those concepts. Student engagement increased as a result, she said, and "they were able to describe how these theories applied to real mechanical systems."

While some of the tools tested by educators last year had been in use before, "we were particularly pleased to see so many of the strategies implemented grow out of a focus on problem solving," said Carinci, "to really meet students' needs and overcome challenges to help them thrive, rather than simply just tweaking existing practice to survive the pandemic."

When Zhongzhou Chen, an assistant professor of physics at University of Central Florida, saw the challenges that students in his large and diverse classes were facing during the pandemic, he looked for ways to revamp his courses with more flexible due dates, instant messaging and online modules .

"As one student put it, 'this course has less of a professor versus students feeling, and more of a professor and students versus physics feeling,'" said Chen. "I'm still working on that 'versus physics' part, but as a teacher I love nothing more than the feeling of professor and students."

AAAS-IUSE is compiling these submissions and the others they received at their Lessons Learned During COVID-19  page, adding more strategies leading up to the start of a new school year in the fall.

"We want to leverage the innovative practices and strategies that were developed during this period of disrupted learning so that educators can take advantage of these resources and transform their classrooms to make STEM more inclusive and accessible," said Thomas Veague, community engagement manager for AAAS-IUSE.

The video is only one of several resources the initiative provides to address questions of diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM teaching and learning, Veague noted.

The Disruptor blog features content on topics such as enriching education to grow inclusion, envisioning dimensions of equity in academia, building engagement through student learning, and increasing accessibility in STEM programs. In the most recent post, for instance, Stephanie August shows us "How Disruption Allows Us to Reimagine Convergent STEM Ecosystems."

AAAS-IUSE workshops, with several now available on demand — such as "Promoting Equity in Undergraduate STEM Classrooms through Pedagogical Approaches" — are another resource that has drawn hundreds of participants to discuss best practices in supporting online learning and promoting STEM classroom equity, said Carinci.

We invite you to come engage with our AAAS-IUSE Initiative. Subscribe here to take part in the discussion and access resources around improving undergraduate STEM education.


AAAS Staff