PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Laura Blasi

F21 Class of 2005 Statement

Laura Blasi is currently an evaluation specialist in the Office of Assessment and Institutional Research (A&IR) at Saint Leo University near Tampa after serving for four years as a faculty member in the Department of Educational Research, Technology, and Leadership (ERTL) at the University of Central Florida (UCF.)

How can connections between the undergraduate STEM community and the world beyond the campus help prepare student to be 21st century leaders in a world increasingly influenced by science and technology?

Thirty years ago Clark Abt (1971) noted that “we need a new language of action which will allow for the translation of scientific analysis into human consequences.” He added: “serious gaming can provide that new language.” Currently as high school students learn the content and skills of science, their experience is inconsistently shaped by three things: 1) the varying competencies of their instructors who lack shared preparatory experiences; 2) textbooks which are still reliant on a staggered cycle for revising and adopting new content; and 3) trends in state and national assessment which emphasize summative rather than formative feedback. Leaving high school and entering undergraduate education, student opportunity-to-learn in science also lacks consistency. Students may find there are few STEM offerings that will aim to educate non-science majors. Despite the work that has been done to enhance introductory science courses, other students who enter with hopes of pursuing STEM careers may face large lecture classes without the skills to navigate the experience. By the end of the first year they will change majors or even drop out. While it may be tempting to say that the world beyond the campus can help prepare student to be 21st century leaders by providing intern experiences and individual mentorship, I believe that conditions for learning STEM topics, the consistency of preparation in terms of content and skills, and the overall opportunity-to-learn need to be addressed systemically for all students. Connections between the undergraduate STEM community and the world beyond the campus can help prepare students to be 21st century leaders- once middle school, high school, and undergraduate science courses consistently share and build on structure, content-rich materials tied to evidence of real-world application. The world beyond undergraduate education is where these materials already await the leadership and vision to transform them into teaching and learning experiences. The world beyond undergraduate education is where there are experts who are waiting, able to translate these materials but lacking the organized, systematic initiative under which to do this effectively. Instead of focusing on students in honors or Advanced Placement (AP) courses in secondary education, and on those who have successfully negotiated introductory courses in colleges and universities, this effort also should include students in general science courses and, later, non-science majors. The world beyond the campus can include non-profit organizations, governmental organizations, and corporations working in STEM areas. NASA provides an example of one such organization. When seeing the timeline of events for the Earth Space Mission Directorate to achieve goals to return to the moon and then to Mars it becomes clear that the middle and high school science students of today will be part of that next generation of explorers. While not all students will be able to visit NASA Kennedy Space Center, for example, all students can benefit from content aligned with standards developed in a systemic effort by the world beyond the campus for STEM education. This is especially clear when we work to articulate a vision for how the world beyond education will benefit or suffer tomorrow, in relation to our investment in STEM education today. An example of such a vision lies in NASA’s goals for returning to space and pushing space exploration farther, when linked to the resulting advances that contribute to life on Earth. This achievement cannot happen on a project-by-project basis. Working with teams of experts through simulations and games to achieve a vision, the content and skills can be combined with technology that is accessible along with best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment. We need to move beyond teaching some students the history of science and the skills of analysis and inquiry. With long-term investments, systemic planning, and strategic leadership, we still have the opportunity to teach all students, linking STEM education to human consequences through simulation and gaming in ways that were only dreamed of thirty years prior.

Abt, C. C. (1971). Serious Games. New York, New York: The Viking Press.