Technological advancements have been questioned for centuries, but today’s technology can be an excellent resource for learning at all ages. We can instantly connect to peers and professionals around the world who share the same interests and passions. Technology has been ingrained in most aspects of a student’s education experience — regardless of their field of study.
While educational technology shouldn’t be the only resource to support STEM education, it is an important element that allows more access to STEM education while increasing the future pool of qualified professionals. The internet is becoming more accessible for minorities to find role models and peers who are also invested in STEM. The earlier we introduce STEM to children, it is more likely that child will remain interested in STEM to adulthood as a professional.
The Internet and its Endless Opportunities
It’s well known that the internet provides improved opportunities for learning in all areas. In addition to learning about groundbreaking advancements in science and technology around the world, we have more verifiable sources for research and information. We see this as STEM professionals flood social media platforms to spread information and awareness of the fields to students.
Many students use the internet to supplement their classroom experiences. Unlike a traditional classroom with 25 students and only one teacher, the internet has options. Variety in science communication allows students to find what interests them in the way they learn best. With STEM professionals offering information through podcasts, social media or Skype sessions, STEM education can be more accessible to all.
Social media even provides opportunities for students to connect with professionals directly. Reddit, for example, provides opportunities to participate in “Ask Me Anything” posts, and the platform verifies the professionals’ qualifications. STEM professionals are also on Instagram and TikTok where they can answer questions any time.
Creating a STEM Community
We saw the internet connect families and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now it is doing the same for students and STEM professionals across the globe. Not every school system, such as those in rural areas, has the capacity to immerse students in STEM programs. With the internet, however, these students have the opportunity do their own research on their own time.
Using technology, we can also work to improve diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. While there are still barriers to internet access, most students have access at home, school or a local library. By seeing STEM professionals who are the same race, religion, gender, etc. as that student, they may be more likely to continue on the STEM path through college.
The internet also works to create a community among students interested in STEM. Girls, for example, often start to distance themselves from STEM programs around the time they enter middle school not because of a lack of interest but because of societal pressures. They start hearing stereotypes as soon as early elementary school telling them that STEM is for boys. Engaging female peers online is a way for girls to stay connected to the STEM fields despite the stereotypes and societal pressures throughout their education and into a possible career.
Some STEM professionals use the internet to mold young students’ interest in science. Dr. Jane Goodall works through the Jane Goodall Institute to create media directed toward children. The Institute’s “Roots and Shoots” program provides project toolkits and other resources for children and families or for educators to use in the classroom. The Institute also recently teamed up with Mattel to produce a Jane Goodall Barbie to further enrich children’s interest in STEM programs.
On her YouTube channel, “Dr. Jane,” as she refers to herself, publishes playlists with information for all ages and education levels. Goodall reads her children’s books aloud in her “Storytime with Dr. Jane” playlist and has a “Jane Reads In the Shadow of Man” playlist for older audiences. She also goes live on the social media platform to connect with her audience.
The intimacy of social media brings STEM professionals onto our phones and into our homes. We get to know them as “Jane,” for example, instead of “Dr. Jane Goodall,” and we begin to trust and admire them in a way we couldn’t before these advances in technology. Having a STEM role model, like Goodall, can help inspire young girls to follow in her footsteps to a career in the fields.
As we have more college graduates who were born with internet in their homes, we will continue to see the positive impact of technology on STEM education. But we have to ensure we are taking advantage of every opportunity that the internet and technology provides in order to increase the future pool of qualified professionals.