The rapid growth in features and use of educational media (from e-books to applets) makes it possible to envision dramatic changes in the kinds of instructional materials provided to students of the future. It is certainly conceivable that a totally interactive, continually up-datable e-book (linked to numerous external sources of data, images, and research tools) might be a more inviting and effective learning resource than the conventional printed tomes that students currently tote from class to class and home and back. It is also conceivable that a science, technology, or mathematics classroom that engages students in regular communication with teachers, students, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and data from around the world could be more engaging and effective than one bound by the walls of conventional classrooms. Old boundaries may become less relevant, even as new knowledge generated by the learning sciences open the paths for personalized learning. Effective use of such new instructional resources will require rethinking the ways that education is delivered and managed. Most important, those new ideas and their embodiments in experimental instructional resources must be developed and carefully tested before it makes sense to implement broad transformation of STEM learning both in and out of schools.
In addition to the challenges and opportunities inherent in existing and emerging technologies for learning and working in STEM fields, our STEM learning system faces the additional challenge of providing enhanced STEM education to a very diverse population of students. Traditional conceptions of education offered sophisticated science and mathematics coursework for future scientists, engineers, and mathematicians and very modest content for all other students. But meaningful participation in contemporary life requires strong grounding in relevant STEM disciplines for all students. Vigorous discussion about this issue is taking place in the 21st Century Skills, Quantitative Literacy, Computational Thinking, and Career and Technical Education arenas.
The demands for broad STEM education of all students are accompanied by an expectation that today’s learning institutions will provide this enhanced STEM education to students from very diverse cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. These demands are a significant challenge for developers of curricula and instructional materials. New instructional designs must be developed in ways that broaden access and increase opportunities to learn for all students. They must also connect with and take advantage of the interests and extracurricular experiences of students growing up as cyber-savvy digital natives.
Careful development and effective dissemination of innovative STEM instructional resources and experiences require a kind of sustained effort and support that is quite different from the typical 3 – 5 year time frames of standard research projects. Comprehensive curriculum products take longer to create, test, disseminate, and implement. Materials that make innovative use of contemporary technologies need almost continuous revision to assure that they remain au courant. Furthermore, effective dissemination of any innovative instructional resource requires building community and business models that can overcome the adoption barriers of schools and districts and insure continual improvement of the materials, or move around them. So support for major instructional design and development projects needs to reflect a special kind of funding commitment.
All of these concerns raise four fundamental questions:
- What kinds of instructional resource research and development work should be encouraged and sponsored in order to assure that educational experiences and practices reflects the best of current knowledge about the STEM disciplines, STEM learning, and STEM teaching?
- What advances in the practice of curriculum and instructional design research, development, and evaluation will be required to assure that investments in that work produce dependable and useful results?
- How can funding agencies and professional organizations best stimulate, respond to, and develop the community of STEM educators to assure that important innovative curriculum and instructional material development and research work is conducted in a timely manner?
- What kinds of projects can both develop new instructional design ideas and materials and successfully facilitate implementation of those innovations so that students will be well prepared for the demands and opportunities of future study, work, and personal life?
To address these important questions, a series of workshops is being convened to identify and analyze the needs and opportunities for innovative work and to recommend policy positions or actions by funding agencies and STEM educators. The goal is to identify strategies, directions and recommendations about the future of STEM instructional materials and their development.