PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Michael S. Crosser

F21 Class of 2006 Statement

Michael Crosser is Assistant Professor of Physics at Linfield College.

Question: What will undergraduate STEM be like in 2016, given the urgency of new challenges and opportunities facing our nation?

It is a common cliché to state that the world is getting smaller. However, with so many new technologies being developed to connect us, perhaps this cliché is not such a throwaway statement. Many businesses are now global, with decisions being made and new ideas developed through global collaborations. It is within this new global framework that many young scientists and engineers find themselves as they apply for jobs. They are expected to be capable components within teams of both local and global researchers. However, many young graduates from the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) divisions are not adequately prepared for this collaborative world. I believe that within the next decade, STEM programs will help their students develop these collaborative skills.

I recall during my undergraduate studies that study groups were somewhat frowned upon. Hard as it is to believe, my experiences were not unique – as discovered by comparing experiences with colleagues. This attitude arose from the fear that some study groups were “homework sharing” – in which each group member solved one problem and then copied the remaining answers from other group members. The STEM subjects are ones in which students must spend the effort to understand the material for themselves; so naturally, the "homework sharers" did not learn as well as those who worked alone. However, rather than encouraging the proper methods of conducting a study group – discussing answers only after considerable individual effort – my professors seemed to oppose group study altogether.

Educators are adjusting to this concept of collaborative study now. Indeed, concepts such as assigning group projects in science courses have nearly been accepted as the standard. In addition, many professors are experimenting with ways for the students to prepare and teach certain classes. Then, particularly when subjects overlap, students are forced to work together to prevent both overlap and gaps in the material. Finally, I have heard several discussions on the merit of peer based instruction, in which a problem is posed to a class and students break into small groups to discuss the science before voting on the answer. Each of these new teaching methods will undoubtedly be refined more in the coming decade as more educators adopt the methods in their own classes. Perhaps the most exciting, however, will be the implementation of new tools for the classroom. I believe that "clickers" will become standard such that the peer based instruction discussed above can be more easily implemented. In addition, I see on-line communities like MySpace or FaceBook being utilized in the classroom. Professors will begin to offer virtual office hours to encourage on-line study groups and science discussions. Indeed, agreements could be made at different institutions to offer virtual access to students across the country or world. These global study groups would be useful, since students would likely be assigned different problems from their own classes and would be forced, therefore, to discuss the science rather than the answers. Regardless of whether these specific ideas are realized, new technologies will be employed to answer the collaborative needs of future STEM students. I look forward to being a part of it.