Sign in

Forget Password?


New Technologies May Shift STEM Learning
By John Freeman Posted:October 25, 2013 0 Comments
The days when a classroom implied a row of desks facing a chalkboard or chairs facing a lectern may soon become as antiquated as the Model T and rotary telephones. A new report by the NMC Horizon Project predicts that over the next five years, 12 new cutting edge technologies will be integrated into common usage in the most effective STEM classrooms. Due to the vital importance of training students to fill roles in tomorrow's STEM workforce, these technologies may hold part of the solution in increasing student achievement and pushing more students toward careers in these dynamic fields.

The study is Technology Outlook: STEM+ Education 2013-2018. It is a collaborative effort of the New Media Consortium, the Centro Superior para la Ensenanza Virtual, the Departmento de Ingenieria Electrica, Electronica y de Control at the Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Education Society. The technologies chosen in this report reflect the learned opinion of 39 experts from all the major STEM fields. The technologies they saw entering widespread usage fell into three categories: those entering usage in the next year, those entering usage in the next three years, and those entering usage in the next five years.

In the next year, the report states that learning analytics, mobile learning, online learning, and virtual laboratories will come into play. Learning analytics will allow teachers to use data to provide more personalized instruction and more unique student engagement. Mobile and online learning will allow students to access the classroom at a distance without losing any of the educational benefits that they might have gained from physical presence. Part of the way that this will happen is through virtual laboratories that will function as online labs that students can use to engage with science without having to physically do the experiments. All of these functions are built around the idea that learning is increasingly leaving the traditional classroom and entering a more technology-centered space. These technologies will allow teachers and students to make a smoother transition while continuing to advance student achievement and interest in STEM subjects.

Within three years, the report predicts that 3D printing, gamification, immersive learning environments, and wearable technology will become common. 3D printing will allow for students to produce models and prototypes of projects based on computer renderings. Gamification will encourage teachers and students to develop learning practices that encourage incentivized cross-discipline learning. Immersive learning environments will provide students with simulated real-life situations that will allow them to get hands-on experience doing the actual things that they will be expected to excel in as a professional by combining theory with actual practice. Finally, wearable technology will become more common in society, and as it does, it will become more common in the classroom. The three year predictions focus on two prongs: an advance in usability of current technologies so that they can be effective and economically feasible in the classroom (through wearable technology and 3D printing) and a further transformation of student learning practices away from traditional lectures and classrooms toward more interactive learning (through gamification and immersive learning environments). While some of these trends have the early stages currently available, progress over time will make them infinitely more accessible and beneficial to STEM students.

After five years, the report anticipates flexible displays, the Internet of Things, machine learning, and virtual assistants will play a role in STEM education. Flexible displays are screens and surfaces that can be manipulated to cover non-flat surfaces. The Internet of Things describes a phenomenon where more and more non-person items will transmit information about themselves via the Internet. Related to the Internet of Things, machine learning implies a model where computers learn and react to their environments without a person having programmed what specifically they should do. Lastly, virtual assistants are an advancement of natural user interfaces that will combine voice recognition and gesture-based technology into a functionality that will allow users to interact with technology in the same informal way that they would another person. Clearly, these five-year out predictions are not currently happening, but they do imply that large changes are on the horizon for the STEM world. For students to keep up and stay competitive, they will have to embrace these changes that will dominate and define the future STEM-based world.

The study also reflects on the fact that several key problems exist to challenge progress in STEM education. These issues include the fact that current technologies do not adequately meet the demand for personalized learning, teachers are not using the latest technologies in the classroom, and the idea that institutions are not set up to allow for innovations in teaching. The study also emphasizes that computer programming and coding should be an integral part of STEM education, and that digital literacy should become a requirement so that students can function and study in an increasingly electronic world. All of these issues boil down to the idea that STEM learning and education requires a different way of looking at information. Instead of rote learning of facts, STEM educators should emphasize a new way of acquiring knowledge that allows students to become adaptive and creative professionals.

This NMC Horizon Project report details many of the ways in which the world and the world of STEM education will change based on new technology. For STEM education efforts to remain robust and useful over time, we must emphasize a level of adaptability that can utilize these new technologies as they become available. Tomorrow's STEM workers will have to have a flexible learning style that can acquire and use new information as new technology becomes available. To acquire these skills, student must be exposed to this type of learning and technological submersion while still learning in their STEM classrooms.