Last week I had the opportunity to speak at this year’s first informational hearing convened by the Assembly’s Select Committee on Biotechnology. They wanted to hear about how California can “improve STEM education in K-12 and the universities to ensure a sufficient pipeline of individuals qualified to work in research areas.” As you might guess I had a hard time keeping my testimony to 7 minutes! I did manage to recommend increased investment in “high-impact” practices (HIPs), including undergraduate research. I really do need a T-shirt or a flag that says, “Hands-on, project-based, research team experience is the number one life science industry workforce need!”
Interestingly I attended meetings discussing HIPs yesterday and today. I wish some of the Assembly members could have participated and learned from them – there are so many evidence-based and intentional efforts to continually improve undergraduate STEM education going on across the CSU and the nation.
Ken O’Donnell hosted the first one; Ken works in the CSU Office of the Chancellor, thinks a lot about student engagement and success, and is one of my favorite grant proposal writing partners. The group Ken hosted is working to figure out how to track how often CSU students encounter HIPs as they progress toward a degree. Looking only from a research, project-based perspective (there are six or so other HIPs in addition), we’re really good at tracking classes that students take – but do those classes incorporate open-ended research projects, like the Cal Poly bacterial fingerprinting project? These courses don’t send students online to watch videos or to a “cook-book” lab. Instead they embrace the campus as a “living lab” and use technology to collect and analyze real-world data (now that’s my idea of technology-enabled science education and you don’t need lab space for 1000 students!). Do our students participate in experiential learning experiences like service-learning, community-partnered projects, or the CSUPERB-I2P Biotech Commercialization Challenge? Do students find internships at biotechnology companies off-campus? These experiences allow students to practice their technical knowledge even though they may not be categorized by some as “gold-standard” independent research (sigh). The CSU – along with groups like the Business Higher Education Forum - would like to know more about how HIPs strand through a student’s experience, how they impact progress toward a degree, and their influence on a student’s post-graduate trajectory.
The second meeting was a webinar given by Ellen Goldey (Wofford College) as part of our work on the W.M. Keck Foundation-funded STEM Education Effectiveness Framework Project. Working on the PULSE project, Dr. Goldey and others have thought very carefully about what effective undergraduate STEM education might look like. Needless to say, it intentionally encompasses active learning and HIPs – embedded and extra-curricular; it doesn’t involve a seamless gauntlet of lectures or powerpoint slide-decks online.
According to Goldey and her colleagues (and a deep stack of educational research), effective STEM education looks instead a lot like the Flipped Classroom 101 workshop we hosted at the annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium. The folks in this photo? They are CSU faculty – not students. They loved that workshop – many of them said it was the one thing they’d remember about the symposium. Why? Well – they are scientists and engineers and they really like DOING open-ended, hands-on science and solving problems. Just as we’d expect the students who would like to become scientists and engineers might feel. We all recognize that these HIPs are the way students learn how to become scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and – yes – the future workforce.
I still worry that testimonies, T-shirts and databases don’t have the impact on policy makers that meeting student researchers and entrepreneurs might. Student voices and stories provide compelling evidence that the “kids will be alright,” given access to high-quality college learning opportunities. Maybe pictures are the next best thing. We’ve posted photos from the 2014 CSU Biotechnology symposium here, here and here. I don’t think you’ll see a disengaged or under-achieving student in any of them.