PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century
F21 Class of 2005 Statement
How can local, regional and national collaborations, formal and informal enhance and ensure the productivity and quality of faculty leaders in STEM fields?
As citizens in a global society dominated by science and technology, graduates of undergraduate programs need to be scientifically literate. This need is recognized by national organizations that recommend increasing scientific literacy through reform in the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. Intuitively, increasing scientific literacy should help improve the decision making abilities of undergraduates, who as citizens can help contribute to the greater good of society.
While an overwhelming emphasis is placed on undergraduate programs for STEM majors, it is important to recognize that most of our future citizens will not be STEM majors; instead, a sizeable portion of our population will be comprised of individuals from general education programs. During their undergraduate experience, general education students will receive limited exposure to STEM, and yet as citizens they will increasingly be asked to make informed and logical decisions about STEM issues that are pervasive throughout society and that influence the human experience in profound and intimate ways. IF we are to make significant progress toward increasing scientific literacy for all citizens in this country, we must consider what changes must be made at the general education level to ensure improved scientific literacy— indeed it is here that the battle may be won or lost.
How though does one measure changes in scientific literacy, and thereby determine the effectiveness of a particular educational approach? What basis is used to make decisions regarding STEM education? Considerable anecdotal evidence exists for the effects of a wide variety of educational approaches on scientific literacy, but to date, a lack of consensus and a means to measure changes in scientific literacy limit robust scientific study of those phenomena. Critical thinking (CT), a set of closely related, measurable skills that has been well defined by international research consensus, may provide an answer for this problem. CT- as a measurable core outcome of STEM majors and general education courses- can be used to scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of any educational approach because changes in CT can be measured. Arguably, CT should be a core outcome of all STEM courses, general education or otherwise. Improved CT supports not only the development of scientific literacy but also enables academic and job success because the analysis, inference, and evaluation skills that are inherent to CT (and scientific literacy) contribute to individual ability to weigh evidence, solve problems, and make better daily decisions. In this way, improvements in CT can help us achieve measurable success that contributes to a more productive and free-thinking global community.
There are broader impacts of this vision as well. By emphasizing scientific study of CT (as an inferential measure of scientific literacy), we can improve training for undergraduate researchers associated with both STEM content and education. The professional development of graduate students who typically serve as teaching assistants in STEM majors and general education courses is also improved. Finally, the scientific development of pre-service K-12 teachers (who make up a significant portion of STEM general education courses) can be improved, which in turn can have an exponentially positive effect on CT (and scientific literacy) in this country.