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Cyberlearning Partnership May Unlock Students' STEM Potential
By John Freeman Posted:August 21, 2013 0 Comments
Can cyberlearning bridge the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) gap? A recent partnership between nonprofits, school systems and private businesses hopes that the answer is a resounding, "yes." The National Education Foundation (NEF) announced on August 18, 2013 that they would be partnering with TEKSystems, Pearson Education, Skillsoft and the State University of New York to help expand STEM education efforts in 12 school districts across America. This partnership will establish STEM+ Academies available to students in grades K-12 to assist teachers in their STEM education efforts.

Unlike some smaller initiatives, this partnership is seeking to benefit from this initiative. Currently, the partnership is operating in districts within the states of California, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. Despite their geographic distance, one thing they do have in common is that they are all considered "disadvantaged" by the United States Department of Education. Districts like these typically have lower test scores and student achievement rates. Initiatives like this NEF partnership can help turn the tide on these problems and help establish these districts as STEM success stories.

This partnership will provide school districts with personalized learning opportunities for students, teacher stipends, student mentoring, motivational rewards, teacher training, tech support and a learning management system to coordinate their efforts. The NEF has spearheaded this partnership as one of its many efforts to raise STEM education levels around the country. As NEF chairman and founder Dr. Appu Kuttan noted in a recent interview, the U.S. is still ranked 25th out of 35 countries in math and science, so every effort needs to be made to combat this problem.

STEM education seeks to shake up the way students and teachers approach education in the United States by putting an increased focus on problem solving and technology based skills. In addition, it hopes to alleviate projected shortfalls in qualified individuals in the STEM fields. Although traditional classroom learning is one avenue that is available to help increase STEM learning, other educational channels may also prove to be effective. One major area of educational interest at the moment is cyberlearning.

What is Cyberlearning?

Cyberlearning, officially known as the Cyberlearning: Transforming Education program is an initiative of the National Science Foundation. It seeks to increase understanding of how people interact and learn with technology. This technological focus on education helps educators design better, more personalized learning environments that can help increase student achievement. By making student learning more individualized, cyberlearning has the possibility to increase a student's interest in their schoolwork while also making them more comfortable working in a technology-centric environment. In short, cyberlearning kills two STEM birds with one stone.

Another major benefit of cyberlearning is that it gives students access to experts and equipment that are not in their local areas. With education budgets tightening all the time, how can schools possibly cope with student interest in the STEM fields if they do not have qualified individuals on staff to teach these subjects to students? Cyberlearning removes this barrier by providing distance education to K-12 students. Additionally, cyberlearning offers students learning opportunities in a problem-solving rich environment. For instance, one cyberlearning initiative has given students access to remote scientific laboratories. This allows students the chance to work with equipment that is typically too sensitive or expensive for a typical school lab.

Cyberlearning seeks to seamlessly integrate these learning experiences into more traditional learning environments so that each student's maximum potential can be unlocked. Cyberlearning does not replace teachers; instead, it shows how technology can augment what they are already doing.

Cyberlearning is in the early stages, and the National Science Foundation is still awarding grants to innovative organizations like the NEF. These continued efforts to bridge the STEM education gap will ultimately help educators and policy makers achieve their goals of a more technologically and scientifically literate student body in the United States. Indeed, as technology's role in learning becomes more and more normalized over time, there may soon come a day when people refer to cyberlearning as simply "learning."