Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Visions of the Future of STEM Education

PKAL’s persisting vision of what works was shaped in 1990 during a summer meeting of PKAL’s initial leadership team. This group of thirty-six leaders wrestled for three days with how to articulate the most compelling (and brisk) statement about what works, based on their individual and collective experiences as faculty, deans and presidents. Although we probably did not realize it at the time, this very exercise set the stage for PKAL’s work from that time. “What works?;” “how and why does it work?;” ‘what difference will it make?” are the questions we asked ourselves then; we continue to ask them and to suggest that leaders within and beyond the PKAL LI community take time to ask such questions. They are versions of the “what is happening?,” “so what?,” and “what’s next?” questions that are increasing part of today’s national dialogue about transforming educational programs in STEM fields.

In 1995, PKAL invited some leaders in STEM reform at that time to imagine the undergraduate STEM world of 2025. This was a helpful imagining exercise, one that can serve as a model for campuses exploring and pursuing new directions for their undergraduate STEM learning environment. Such an exercise today would certainly need to take cognizance of visions expressed in recent reports from public and academic groups, with particular attention to visions of a nation of innovators, a nation of learners.

Another exercise in “imaging the future” is to express the vision with lines and colors rather than words. In PKAL seminars during 2005 – 2006 participants have been challenged to “imagine” the college or university that has student learning at the core of its planning. A more light-hearted assignment at workshop for department chairs was to “imagine” the ideal 21st century graduate; two products of that assignment are presented here, illustrating the value of thinking in different ways about the future.

Within the network of PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century, questions about the shape of the future (and their role in shaping that future) are always on the table. In 1999, celebrating PKAL’s 10th Anniversary, F21 members were asked for their thoughts on what the world of undergraduate STEM would be like in 2009; excerpts from two F21 statements are presented here.