Category Archives: Technology in education

STEM education in the media spotlight

In the wake of his State of the Union address this past week, President Obama is touring the country and speaking, among other topics, about the relationship between STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and the American economy.

For instance, yesterday, Obama toured a new Intel manufacturing plant in Arizona that has struggled to find qualified workers in the U.S. and thus has had to outsource some parts of the manufacturing process overseas, as PC Magazine reports. The president addressed the issues of STEM education and the American workforce’s readiness to participate in the high technology economy in his State of the Union speech (see Scientific American’s roundup of expert reactions to Obama’s STEM-related remarks).

Perhaps due to the attention brought to this topic by the president’s speech, a number of STEM education-related news items have surfaced in recent days:

  • A new survey conducted by M.I.T. uncovers reasons why American secondary students decline to pursue STEM studies (and, hence, STEM-related careers). Reasons include the perception that STEM fields are “too challenging.”
  • The National Center for Science Education has announced it will “fight efforts to slip incorrect climate science information into school lessons. ‘We are seeing more efforts in legislatures and schools to push climate misinformation on teachers and students,’ says NCSE head Eugenie Scott.” [Source: USA Today]
  • In a new podcast, the New York Times reports “an increasing number of parents are turning to outside organizations to supplement science education in the schools.”
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Virtual schools continue to draw controversy – and government dollars

Last April, I posted about a New York Times article which described growing controversy surrounding Web-based distance education in K-12. Now, the Washington Post has profiled one particular company, K12, Inc., that has become “the country’s largest provider of full-time public virtual schools.”

Conceived as a way to teach a small segment of home-schoolers and others who needed flexible schooling, virtual education has evolved into an alternative to traditional public schools for an increasingly wide range of students — high achievers, strugglers, dropouts, teenage parents and victims of bullying, among them…

It’s an appealing proposition, and one that has attracted support in state legislatures, including Virginia’s. But in one of the most hard-fought quarters of public policy, a rising chorus of critics argue that full-time virtual learning doesn’t effectively educate children…

People on both sides agree that the structure providing public education is not designed to handle virtual schools. How, for example, do you pay for a school that floats in cyberspace when education funding formulas are rooted in the geography of property taxes? How do you oversee the quality of a virtual education?

Researchers develop new tools for learning computer programming

The New York Times reports:

New and more sophisticated tools are changing the way that the next generation learns to program computers. Children can now create elaborate scenes and games without the cryptic commands that were once the only way to tell computers what to do. The most talented children can also use some of the sophisticated tools normally used by professional programmers, because the tools are now often easy enough for someone to pick up with only a few months of study.

Educational technology companies – and some schools – ascribe benefits to technology not supported by research

The New York Times reports:

Amid a classroom-based software boom estimated at $2.2 billion a year, debate continues to rage over the effectiveness of technology on learning and how best to measure it. But it is hard to tell that from technology companies’ promotional materials.

Many companies ignore well-regarded independent studies that test their products’ effectiveness… Some firms misrepresent research by cherry-picking results and promote surveys or limited case studies that lack the scientific rigor required by the [U.S. Department of Education] and other authorities…

School officials, confronted with a morass of complicated and sometimes conflicting research, often buy products based on personal impressions, marketing hype or faith in technology for its own sake.

College presidents report high rates of plagiarism among students, new survey finds

TIME Magazine reports:

A new survey from the Pew Research Center [entitled] “The Digital Revolution and Higher Education,” asked 1,055 college presidents from two- to four-year schools, private and public for their thoughts on how digital technology has impacted college.

More than half of the college presidents surveyed said that plagiarism in students’ paper has increased over the past 10 years. Further, an overwhelming majority — 89 percent — say computers and the Internet have played a major role in the rise in stealing others work and claiming it as their own.

New research into college students’ in-class laptop computer use

Inside Higher Ed reports:

College students might sometimes feel they are getting mixed messages about laptops. Many receive them for free or at a discount from their colleges, only to have professors banish the machines from their classrooms, or at least complain about them.

For years, researchers have conducted studies in hopes of answering whether having laptops in class undermines student learning…

Tere is one notable consistency that spans the literature on laptops in class: most researchers obtained their data by surveying students and professors.

The authors of two recent studies of laptops and classroom learning decided that relying on student and professor testimony would not do. They decided instead to spy on students…

Both of the studies mentioned in the Inside Higher Ed article are available online. The Kraushaar & Novak paper is here (PDF) and the Sovern paper is here (PDF).

At the college level, does the teaching method matter more than the teacher?

The Associated Press (via the Washington Post) reports:

A study by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, now a science adviser to President Barack Obama, suggests that how you teach is more important than who does the teaching.

He found that in nearly identical classes, Canadian college students learned a lot more from teaching assistants using interactive tools than they did from a veteran professor giving a traditional lecture. The students who had to engage interactively using the TV remote-like devices scored about twice as high on a test compared to those who heard the normal lecture, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

The research study, by Carl Weiman of the U. of British Columbia, is available here (subscription required).