Teaching STEM with Instructional Technology

In last Friday’s Lafferty-KEEN session, my faculty colleagues and I discussed effective uses of technology in the STEM classroom. In this post, I’ll summarize some of the insights I gained and shared during the session.

The KEEN Community of Practice, or Lafferty-KEEN program, seeks to accomplish the following objectives:

  • Strengthen relationships among faculty aimed to share knowledge and promote learning.
  • Encourage co-creation and curation instructional resources of value to faculty.
  • Disseminate best teaching practices within and beyond the Community of Practice.

In our session, we met the KEEN objectives to share knowledge to promote learning and disseminated best practices within, and beyond our community. We discussed how technology could enhance or hinder learning in the STEM classroom. Instructional technology includes:
- Course management systems
- Presentation technology
- Personal response systems
- Simulations and virtual labs
- Interactive multimedia
- Communications tools

One of our colleagues, Walter, introduced an online, virtual lab that allowed students to access sensor readings for streams near Virginia Tech. He shared the costs and upkeep required to keep this system working and how it was incorporated into student assignments.

Another colleague, Nathan, demonstrated a power energy simulation that he uses with the students. He discussed some of the pitfalls of “turning students loose” to use the simulator without giving some instruction on how to use it. He reminisced about one of his undergraduate instructors having the students use a simulator that the instructor did not know how to use himself. The “power” of this power energy system simulator was the fact that students could create models that they could test sitting at their desktops. The alternative would be to spend months and millions of dollars building the real thing.

My colleague, Dennis, and I use a testbed of Raspberry Pi’s to teach our introduction to computer hardware and software class. Students learn ARM assembly language by writing programs and compiling them remotely on the Raspberry Pi’s. We have a TA-bot that automatically checks the assembly language program and returns the results immediately to the students. This type of instructional technology allows students to work on real hardware, rather than simulated hardware, and get real-time feedback on their performance on the assignment. Although TA-bot is not artificially intelligent, it can help guide students on their path to becoming genuinely intelligent.

In summary, instructional technology provides tools, such as simulators, real “hardware” testbeds, and real-time feedback, that can enhance the student’s ability to learn in the STEM classroom.