Hybrid learning and the future of STEM education

STEM education will inevitably be transformed by digital modes of teaching, but finding the right balance between online and in-person teaching formats presents a unique set of challenges. How universities can design a curriculum that offers the flexibility of digital…

STEM education will inevitably be transformed by digital modes of teaching, but finding the right balance between online and in-person teaching formats presents a unique set of challenges. How universities can design a curriculum that offers the flexibility of digital and experiential laboratory-based learning will be key.

At a webinar hosted by Times Higher Education in partnership with DigitalEd, an international panel of university leaders discussed both the issues they faced when delivering STEM’s digital transformation and the opportunities that it presented. “DigitalEd and the Möbius platform really allows educators to provide practice opportunities for students, algorithmic questions so that they can practise until they feel comfortable, until they feel they have a level of mastery of a particular process that they are working on,” explained Louise Krmpotic, vice-president of enterprise services at DigitalEd. The panel’s experiences echoed those of many educators across campus: the pandemic had brought their digital transformations forward. With a lot of innovation being introduced on-the-fly, this has been a time of discovery in which faculty members learn which teaching modalities work best for their subjects. “There are opportunities that we have exploited whereby you are able to facilitate the development of those skills much more effectively online than you can face to face,” said Guy Daly, deputy vice-chancellor (education and students) at Coventry University. “[Teaching] can be more personalised. You can get feedback in terms of the individual and whether or not the learning is effective or not – informally or formally.” While there was no one approach that worked, with a mathematics programme requiring a very different set of teaching processes from those used in electrical engineering, translating effective pedagogies to digital platforms was more than simply a case of moving lectures online and holding tutorials over Zoom. With the right approach, however, universities can create learning experiences that have the potential to be more rewarding for the student than traditional lab work. “Any time you go into one of these engineering fields, there is the laboratory experience which is a critical part of the student experience,” said David Rumsey, associate dean of engineering and computer sciences at Indiana Institute of Technology. “Being shown how to use the equipment is different to actually using the equipment itself. For the electrical engineering technology programme, what we were able to do was put together a small electronics kit that included all the basic components that you would need, so that every student at home has their own little circuits lab. In some cases, they are getting more hands-on experience with the equipment than they would face-to-face because they have to do everything: they don’t have a lab partner.” Technology is also creating the opportunity to enrich the learning experience with high-quality simulated environments, enabling students to revisit areas of their course that they find difficult. “Being able to include things like interactives and simulations, enabling students to get some of that exploration online that they used to do only in person, will benefit not just the students who are [solely] online but everyone,” said Krmpotic, “because now students have the opportunity to go back and try it again, and to review concepts that they may have forgotten about or just need a refresher on.” Nikita Hari, lecturer at the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, said that innovation in assessment was key because it defined the teaching and learning culture for students, with open-design collaborative projects helping students develop the “habits of mind” of an engineer. “It enables the students to do more thinking, more writing and reflecting, interacting with their peers to improve their engagement and learning,” she explained. “Students take more responsibility for their learning journey.” Find out more about DigitalEd and higher education. The panel Alistair Lawrence, special projects editor, Times Higher Education (chair)Guy Daly, deputy vice-chancellor (education and students), Coventry UniversityNikita Hari, lecturer, Dyson Institute of Engineering and TechnologyLouise Krmpotic, vice-president, enterprise services, DigitalEdAugusto Z Macalalag, associate professor and programme director, School of Education, Arcadia UniversityDavid Rumsey, associate dean of engineering and computer sciences and professor of electrical and computer engineering and mathematics, Indiana Institute of Technology