A STEM State of Mind: No Magic Kit or Subscription Required

Image: Getty / Brain STEM

STEM programmes and flashy subscriptions are not necessary to drive STEM education

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

When you think of the acronym ‘STEM’ or, to be more specific, when you think of STEM education in practice, what are you actually imagining? Be honest, now.

Allow your mental landscape to fill up with robots, online games or a slick subscription service packed with apps that promise a complete transformation of students into budding tech industry gurus or ‘STEMers’.

If your mental map is filled with smartphones and coding apps, you’re not alone, and you’re also not wrong to be intimidated by what looks like quite an expensive and complicated approach to put into practice.

But here’s the thing: truly sustainable and meaningful STEM initiatives are multidimensional and include all aspects of STEM, not just the shiniest bells and whistles that our current technology can make available.

A real commitment to STEM is less about a certain product or approach but rather, it’s a dedication to truly valuing the liberal arts and sciences, which, of course, includes the life sciences as well as robust critical-thinking skills. And the real kicker? These are the kind of educational experiences that talented teachers have been engaging their students in already for decades now.

So, how can boots-on-the-ground educators sort out the tools that will help them leverage their existing materials and pedagogy to make their STEM offerings truly effective and meaningful to students?

For starters, we might first take a look at where the current influence on STEM programming originates, and take some time to reframe what STEM education can really look like in practice, in all classrooms, and for all students, not just the privileged few.

The pipeline pressure

In a 2015 piece on the changing landscape of STEM education, dean of Georgia Tech, Gary S May, reiterates the common opinion that the foundation of current STEM initiatives is born out of a commitment to creating a “larger, more skilled workforce in STEM areas … [by] preparing and encouraging more youth to pursue these fields at a time when they were less inclined to do so, and to provide more support and training for teachers in the subjects”.

May makes clear his belief in this strategy, and warns against potentially “watering down” the focus on the four STEM subject areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to include the arts and other less ‘hard’ STEM subjects.

While his point is well made, May does not address one of the most concerning factors influencing modern STEM education efforts, which is the tremendous external pressures that the financial industry, technology sector and NGOs are beginning to play, ostensibly altering its future.

Heidi J Stevenson, writing in the journal Issues in Teacher Education, notes that in addition to increased federal funding to public schools, US “venture capitalists have responded to political appeals and are investing 80pc more in STEM education than in 2005”.

Stevenson goes on to ask an important question, and one that we should all be considering when assessing our curriculum planning and materials: “Are these STEM-aiding entities’ motives purely altruistic or profit-driven?”

When we look at efforts from industry attempting to help boost STEM education efforts to fuel the talent pipeline, some additional concerns also emerge.

A thorough 2015 piece in TechCrunch examines some of the takeaways regarding gender discrimination in both tech and venture capital fields.

Image: Getty / STEM State of Mind

 

The lack of diversity is often cited as a primary motivator for fuelling STEM educational programmes aimed at recruiting more women and students of colour into the STEM pipeline but this piece makes clear that one of the key barriers to more inclusive workplaces is the reality that “the lack of diversity in venture capital boardrooms is far more than a STEM pipeline issue”.

Providing flashy STEM education products to educators with the goal of training and recruiting underrepresented students sounds great at first glance. But if the tech sector doesn’t actually address the persistent top-down issues that create barriers for those students once they are actual applicants, then this approach is sorely misguided.

Mindset shift v ‘magic wand’

Increased financial resources for students and schools are always welcome but when it comes to STEM initiatives, it’s important to take a critical stance when off-the-shelf programmes are sold too aggressively as a kind of pricey ‘magic wand’.

Experienced educators know that the real foundation of STEM education requires critical-thinking skills, hands-on engagement, and opportunities to explore the natural world through trial and error, research and reflection, and genuine interest and curiosity in the problems — and potential solutions — of our shared planet.

When pedagogical materials come directly from companies whose sole focus is building up their workforce, and potentially their bottom line, it’s unclear if their commitment to true learning comes before their profit margin.

Audrey Watters of Hack Education explores this question in a 2015 blogpost, and she sums up many of the concerns of venture capital funding for STEM initiatives thusly: “So, when we ask, ‘Who’s investing in edtech?’, we can’t simply look at the dollar flow for our answer.

“We need to pause and consider why this narrative casts innovation as something that happens outside of education institutions … why it’s focused on venture capital, for example, and why it’s focused on start-ups and not schools.”

A more sustainable approach to STEM education should obviously happen within our schools, and should rely on robust training for educators who are looking to add to their already diverse set of pedagogical skills.

In addition, students should be given real opportunities to engage in hands-on activities that require knowledge and application of skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and not just plopped in front of the latest software.

Today’s entrepreneurs and corporations have the power to create beautiful, engaging programmes, but when it comes to building a sustainable grassroots movement designed to reach all students in schools globally, encouraging them to become stronger critical-thinkers and problem-solvers, there’s most likely never going to be an app or kit for that.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on November 6th, 2017.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

What Does It Really Mean to Give Students an Equal STEM Education?

Image: Getty / Teacher Helping Students in Robotics Class

Can we really achieve STEM education equality by giving everyone the same thing?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Language matters. This is especially true in the world of STEM education. The words we use to talk about the concepts, policies and content that underlie the education of a rising generation of global students truly have great import.

When we talk about giving students an ‘equal’ education, or an ‘equitable’ education, what are we really saying? How do these concepts differ from simply providing ‘an education’, and why must STEM education specifically pay attention to issues of equality and equity?

The answer is as simple as it is complicated. Excellent STEM education should be geared towards reaching all students across the globe, no matter their race, gender or country of origin.

To truly equip the next generation with the tools and skills needed to create innovative, durable solutions to the challenges of our modern world, we must build in systems and practices that ensure all students have access to quality education.

We must also, however, take a look at whether some students are starting just steps from the finish line while others haven’t even gotten to the racetrack.

Image: maroke/Shutterstock

Equality and Equity 101

For starters, are ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ the same thing when it comes to STEM education? Not quite.

A piece on the blog Think Inclusive provides an example that helps illustrate the difference between equality and equity in the classroom: “Students may see other students receiving supports, accommodations or modifications and feel wronged, not realising that the goal is for all students to work in their zone of proximal development.”

This example will be all too familiar to educators who deal with managing a classroom where differentiated instruction is the norm.

Sometimes shortened to ZPD, Vygotsky’s pedagogical concept of ‘zone of proximal development’ is a zone in which students can work with some guidance to move their skills beyond what they can do independently.

It is widely used as a framework for educators to support students with educational activities that help them move at a pace that is rigorous but accessible.

If two students have very different needs, then it certainly wouldn’t be equitable to provide them with equal assignments.

Rather, the educator has the responsibility to provide appropriate instructional supports so that students of all ability levels have equitable access to the learning objectives.

Another example, this one outside the realm of education, can also illustrate how approaches to true equity don’t necessarily mean that people receive the same services but, rather, appropriate services for their needs.

As noted in the 2017 European Commission report on gender equality, “in conflict-affected countries, displacement, economic insecurity and marred social networks lead to more unstable environments, increasing the risk of sexual violence. In countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the EU has since 2004 supported the work of the Panzi Hospital in meeting the full spectrum of needs of survivors of sexual violence, and women with severe obstetric injuries.”

In this example, the response to the issue of gender-based violence is not to provide the same supports to men and women in an effort to provide equality to both genders, but rather to look at the distinct issues affecting women and provide supports that respond to those gender-specific concerns.

Moving beyond equality to true educational justice

So, how do educators, administrators and those tasked with instructional design help move students beyond a place of mere equality to true educational justice?

As a recent article by author Joseph Levitan in the American Journal of Educationexplains, “in contrast to equality and equity, a just education is focused on ensuring that each student has the opportunities to find, figure out, and develop their skills and abilities based on their values and their communities’ values … It is about seeing students as agents in their own education who have rights and inherent abilities.”

This means that crafting STEM programmes and policies should take the whole person into account, and that includes any barriers that students experience as a result of their race, gender, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic status and so on.

A 2016 report that examined the role of libraries in supporting STEM equity includes a literature review that summarises the barriers as well as possible recommendations for students from a range of protected classes.

For example, one citation notes a long list of supports that could help students from racial minority groups have more just access to STEM programming, which includes “summer bridge [programmes], mentoring, research and experience, tutoring, career counselling and awareness, learning centres, workshops and seminars, academic advising, financial support, and curriculum and instructional reform.”

Notice a trend? To provide equitable STEM education, many of these recommendations suggest enrichments that happen beyond the walls of the traditional classroom.

It’s clear that offering true equity in STEM education means that we must think outside of the box, and think about what true access really looks like for the students we serve.

If we rise to the task at hand, not only will we be doing the right and just thing for our planet’s youth, but we’ll also be looking out for our best economic interests in the long run.

The European Institute for Gender Equality has found a number of benefits to closing the gender gap in the STEM field.

Image: Getty / Happy Students

 

A recent summary of findings notes that “in monetary terms, closing the STEM gap leads to an improvement in GDP by €610bn to €820bn in 2050 … total EU employment would rise by 850,000 to 1.2m by 2050 … The new jobs are likely to be highly productive because women graduating from STEM often progress into high value-added positions in sectors such as information and communication or financial and business services.”

These are exciting times for progress, innovation and growth, and the actions we take today will have a major impact on our shared future. To succeed, we must bring all students along in our mission to create meaningful, dynamic STEM education — not just those who are already poised at the finish line, ready to take another lap.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on April 2nd, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

Insights Into Early STEM Learning

Image: Getty / Early STEM Classroom

Educators need guidance and support to create positive experiences for children.

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

An often-cited statistic is that the human brain grows to 90% of its adult size by age 5. Early childhood is also critical for the healthy development of synapses — the neural bridges between brain cells that expand abilities such as communication, complex thought, innovation and movement.

The years from birth through primary school comprise a particularly rich time for encouraging the growth of curiosity and creativity necessary in later life for careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Fostering STEM learning at an early age helps children develop a can-do attitude toward careers in these fields.

However, learning needs to be developmentally appropriate. Furthermore, educators need guidance and support to create positive STEM education experiences for children.

Early STEM Learning Affects Career Choices

In a March 2018 report, the Institution of Engineers of Ireland noted that discovery and exploration are key tenets of early childhood education that “overlap” with “core engineering traits/behaviours.” Engineers Ireland (EI) suggests fostering “critical thinking and problem solving from a young age” in a primary curriculum. It has indicated that providing STEM curriculum from primary through secondary education may eventually help avoid downturns in the number of engineering apprentices. As of 2017, the number of trainees in Ireland remained about 38% lower than at the 2007 outset of the Great Recession, according to the report.

According to a report from King’s College London, “Most young people’s science aspirations and views of science are formed during the primary years and solidified by the age of 14.” It notes research supporting the efficacy of a “sustained, longer-term programme” for building information about science careers into science curriculum.

In 2014 Scholastic article about the necessity of a maker space as a part of STEM education, journalist and educator Gary Stager asserted that science learning eventually will merge core ideas with hands-on practice of science and engineering. In short, students will be expected to demonstrate how these ideas work. This thinking at a higher level begins at preschool when children are encouraged to make their own creations while playing with building blocks, other materials and computers. If it continues throughout a student’s education, it likely will make the student more valuable to STEM employers.

Learning Must Be Developmentally Appropriate

The onset of schooling varies by country. For example, in Ireland, although state-funded primary schooling is available by age 4, it isn’t mandatory until a child is 6 years old. In the UK, public education includes part-time nursery school for all students beginning at age 3 and primary instruction begins at 5 years old. This is also a common pattern in the United States, where an increasing number of states are providing free preschool education. Whether you refer to early childhood learning as preschool, primary school or nursery school, successful STEM education considers the developmental needs of children at different ages. For greatest success at fitting into the teaching day and helping children make connections between different learning topics, STEM needs to be approached in a cross-curricular way and meld with activities such as art, play and music.

For example, according to cognitive psychologist Amy Shelton, who heads research at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, curriculum that includes block play helps young children gain “fundamental skills” necessary for building interest in STEM learning. Therefore, tinkering with construction toys helps build academic strength. A STEM lesson involving Magformers, which creates 3D brain-training magnetic construction toys, might involve children in the following activities:

Having an open dialogue to discuss and draw their inventions.

Counting different-looking toy pieces (i.e., one triangle, four squares, two pentagons, six colors).

Testing the capabilities of objects they build.

What looks like play is actually intense learning.

Early childhood and primary-level educators are, of course, concerned that STEM instruction is developmentally appropriate. Writing for the non-partisan, nonprofit think tank New America in 2016, Lisa Guernsey cringes when recounting some of the misunderstandings concerning early STEM learning. Guernsey emphasizes that effective STEM learning allows for exploration. It doesn’t involve skill-and-drill activities such as reciting math facts or science vocabulary. Another misperception she often encounters is the view that STEM learning is specialized and takes time away from arithmetic, reading and writing.

Instead, at the early childhood/primary level, STEM should involve experiences such as:

Observing and discussing the movement of insects.

Considering math ideas like “more” and “less” while building with blocks.

Working in teams to solve problems.

A large part of early inquiry concerns developing a go-along, get-along attitude. In March 2017, the BBC News highlighted the importance of relationship learning in an article about Northern Ireland primary students working in teams to build vehicles that “could travel on land, sea and air.”

For a group of students building a solar-powered vehicle, this experience included learning about circuits and switches. Other skills gained involved modifying original drawings to make an invention work, compromising on solutions and thinking about recycling.

Image: Getty / Happy Students Conducting An Experiement

 

Helping Facilitate Early STEM Education

Many teachers feel hesitant about helping young children explore scientific and mathematical ideas. PBS recently videotaped a University of Chicago pilot project aimed at helping early childhood educators become more comfortable facilitating STEM lessons, such as what objects float and why.

PBS noted that pressure is on preschool teachers to begin the STEM learning process because of poor assessment results in standardized science exams at the fourth-grade level. The short video points out that the featured university project focused on helping teachers learn how to facilitate the process of inquiry rather than teaching them the scientific principles behind the projects.

The goal is to help teachers feel more confident about getting students to make observations and discuss questions requiring something more than “yes” and “no” answers. Inquiry is a process that requires teachers to wait before sharing their own answers to student questions and to learn that it’s OK not to have all of the answers. What is important is to help students become critical thinkers. Supporting inquiry-based learning is one of the most effective strategies we can deploy today to promote STEM literacy, ultimately equipping children with the skills for success in tomorrow’s workforce.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on June 20th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

The Rise Of The STEM Toy

Image: Shutterstock / Toy Assortment

STEM Toys Can Help All Students, But Are All STEM Toys Helpful?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

While the subjects that comprise the acronym STEM aren’t new, grouping these subjects of study — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — into a pedagogical approach didn’t become a trend in educational circles in the early 2000s. Today, as the movement has gained momentum across the globe, more parents are taking action when faced with traditional curricula that don’t offer their children the kind of content and pedagogy that will best prepare them for a career of innovation and problem-solving. Some families are advocating for better courses or enrolling their children in extracurricular STEM programs, while others have turned to the marketplace to find the answer they seek.

That’s right: STEM toys. STEM toys have actually been around for several years now. As the New Yorker reported back in 2013, the industry was already welcoming an increase in STEM-related toys for almost a decade. According to data from a research firm on the toy industry, “Sales of building sets rose 22% from 2011 to 2012, from $1.63 billion to $1.99 billion; sales of scientific toys and educational toys, while a tiny fraction of overall toy sales, grew as well, by 17% and 25%, respectively.”

STEM Toys Can Help All Students, But Are All STEM Toys Helpful?

One trend that clearly stands out in the toy market: subscription services. Amazon’s STEM Toy Club, which launched in 2017, is perhaps the most visible major company to offer such an option, but the e-commerce juggernaut is not the only retailer that’s gotten involved with STEM toys. A recent piece in Retail Dive makes clear that several other large companies, including Walmart and Target, also offer STEM subscription services. The idea is simple: Parents pay a flat rate per month, and their children receive a different STEM toy or kit each month.

Subscriptions services are a great way to build curiosity and interest in STEM for kids who might not otherwise be interested. After all, who among us under age 12 would refuse a new toy in the mail each month? But as a product editor quoted in the RD article makes clear, it can be hard to tell if retailers are offering truly educational, engaging STEM toys or just trying to capitalize on the trend of STEM: “Amazon is actually late to the game,” Jennifer Stein said. “STEM has become a fabulous term for marketers to use because parents buy into it, but it has been around. For it to be effective, it needs to be used correctly.”

One can assume that most seasoned STEM educators couldn’t agree more.

What To Look For When Making A Selection

So, how can parents — and educators — determine which of the new crop of STEM toys are actually beneficial and which are just getting in on the trend of STEM? Tech firm Technavio, which released a report forecasting the growth predicted in the STEM toy industry, breaks down educational toys into three categories: academic, cognitive thinking and motor skills.

Solid academic toys include math and science kits, as well as language learning toys, and these toys should actively engage children in skill acquisition or application. In other words, children should not be passive observers — a good academic toy should require them to think, interact with and/or manipulate concepts and ideas.

Cognitive thinking toys for younger children can include puzzles and construction sets that require children to think logically and apply reason. Cognitive skill-building toys for older students include classics like the Rubik’s Cube, as well as more advanced construction sets from companies like LEGO, which require older students to apply concepts of both geometry and engineering.

Motor skill-building toys are a growing subset of STEM toys and primarily apply to the youngest of learners. Toddlers and preschoolers can benefit from workbench sets or even simple, well-designed building blocks, which allow young learners to develop the physical skills they need to move and manipulate objects.

Image: Getty / Students Building Electric Model Car

For parents who want to give their children additional opportunities to learn and practice STEM skills, quality STEM toys can be a great option. A growing market means that retailers are looking to capitalize on the opportunity, so it’s important to do your research and look for toys that offer dynamic, hands-on learning as opposed to just encouraging students to pretend to “do science.” While imagining a world in which they can grow up to be an engineer or a web designer is valuable, it’s most important that children actually get real-world experience by engaging in problem-solving as opposed to playing with something fun that just makes them look the part. After all, hard work can definitely feel like play, especially in the STEM fields, so look for toys that offer that sweet spot of rigor and joy, and watch your child’s interest in STEM take flight.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on May 29th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

Is World Changing ET Technology Hidden In Plain Sight?

Image: Getty / Interstellar Telescope

 

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp (@stemceo) / Edited by: Joaquin Flores

If you’ve been up late scouring the latest offerings on Netflix lately, you may have come across Unacknowledged, a fascinating new documentary that details available evidence on the existence of alien life forms as compiled by Dr. Steven Greer and his The Disclosure Project. While the film may not stand up to any true Scully-level skeptics, the provocative ideas posed about alien technology offer some excellent food for thought as we consider what our modern world would look like with the sudden reveal of previously “hidden” technologies.

Greer and his colleagues posit that there’s ample evidence of the existence of UFO research programs, and countless government officials have corroborated actual sightings, as well as the presence of dark money budgets that have fueled this research to the tune of millions, if not billions, of US taxpayer dollars. Our curiosity about alien life and extraterrestrial technology is indisputable, and it seems clear now that there is also evidence that governments have been working in the shadows to better understand what might be out there beyond our own humble planet. But while some of Greer’s claims may veer into conspiracy territory for some, there’s also a fascinating idea at the heart of the film: what if knowledge about aliens is being suppressed because their technology would drastically alter our current culture and economic systems?

The Power of “Free Energy”

Dr. Steven Greer brilliantly connects the dots by luring viewers in with credible UFO evidence and dizzying information that involves the likes of JFK and Marilyn Monroe, ultimately segueing into a radical shift that gets the audience to consider what would occur if humans had access to the kind of “free energy” that he believes powers alien spacecraft.

The idea of the disruptive potential of free energy, which could power our world without the use of finite fossil fuels and costly electrical infrastructure makes up the bulk of the third act of the film, “The Lost Century.” And while Greer acknowledges how completely world changing it would be to have access to truly “free” energy, he also notes that it’s not actually a new idea, and gives a major nod to the innovative engineer Nikola Tesla and his potentially world changing work in the 19th century.

While “Tesla” is now synonymous with innovative CEO Elon Musk and his electric car company (as well as his recent successful launch of a bright red roadster into space), science buffs know that Nikola Tesla was a brilliant and eccentric engineer whose experiments created a powerful form of energy that threatened the very existence of burgeoning electric monopolies. In fact, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students across the world continue to play with Tesla’s ideas — a search for “tesla coil” on video sharing platform YouTube reveals almost half a million results, many of the videos created by amateur and student engineers.

Image: Getty / Flying Saucers

 

So, how does the science behind free energy work? The details in the film are a bit fuzzy, but Greer and other experts refer to “zero point energy,” which Mark McCandlish, military aeronautic illustrator, describes the power of such energy as: “the amount of energy in a cubic meter of space-time is 1026 power. That’s ten with 26 zeros behind it. That’s enough energy in a coffee cup to boil all the oceans of Earth completely away into steam.”

If humans were able to access such a power source, Greer argues that we would be able to eliminate many of the problems that plague our modern world. While Greer makes clear that he’s a true believer that this energy is already available and being actively hidden by governments as a way of continuing to allow traditional energy companies and defense contractors to profit, he’s also begun work to try to create and harness this energy without waiting for the curtain to be pushed back. His latest project, Sirius Disclosure, focuses on energy technologies, and new ways of perhaps recreating the powerful energy that a few select Americans have already seen in action from top secret, alien spacecraft.

Meanwhile, Back on Earth

The desire to access technology from alien life forms is certainly compelling, especially given that the work and time required to take on large scale, high tech projects here on our own humble planet can be staggering at best. As recently reported by Popular Mechanics, Japanese glass makers and scientists based in the ultra dry desert conditions of the American West are hard at work on the large scale, collaborative project of creating the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), a significant feat that could influence our ability to observe and contact other life forms. As PM notes, “the giant telescope will have 10 times the resolving power of the Hubble Space Telescope, revealing distant galaxies, the birth of stars, and the compositions of exoplanet atmosphere…When it all comes together in the 2020s, the GMT will be able to resolve an object the size of a dime at 60 miles away.”

An exciting project to be sure, but one that we earthlings will have to wait years to achieve. While one solution may be the deus ex machina of technology from outer space, another solution is the one that we’ve already known about for quite some time. Develop stronger, high quality, and accessible STEM programs in classrooms around the world, and increase our own planet’s capacity for the kind of technological innovation that can fundamentally change our society. From reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, to uniting together in unprecedented peace, the problems of our modern time could well be solved by unknown life from a far, or, with commitment and focus, we can work to unlock our own technological potential, right here, right now.

This article originally appeared in Fort Russ News (FRN): A publication of the Center for Syncretic Studies on March 9th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

Is Blockchain the Secret to Securing Tomorrow’s Workforce?

Image: Getty / Blockchan cityscape

China’s Social Credit System should not be replicated, but could blockchain microcredentials be the key to empowering tomorrow’s workforce? Andrew B Raupp investigates.

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

From inequality to infrastructure, harnessing technological systems can help us create solutions and stronger connections to the resources that sustain us all.

Yet some applications of advanced technology may potentially create more problems than they solve.

As the world begins to experiment with digital innovations, one such plan, China’s Social Credit System, offers a cautionary tale to other countries on how not to leverage information against its citizens.

So, what is this approach, and how can other countries avoid such tactics while still determining an appropriate method of measuring someone’s potential contributions to our shared society?

The pressures of being a model citizen

Innovations in wearable and IoT technology means that various sources of information can be connected and scored with greater ease.

This allows the Chinese government to paint a full picture of someone’s overall trustworthiness in society.

The system harnesses an unimaginable array of data points, and, as The Conversation reports, citizens may find themselves penalised for small infractions, including cancelled restaurant reservations and jaywalking.

This system tabulates — and digitally castigates — both individuals and corporations for infractions deemed societally offensive, so proponents see the Social Credit System as a means of forcing greater transparency with companies as well as greater personal responsibility for individuals.

However, this approach may appear far too punitive and, what’s more concerning, it’s seemingly possible in the western world thanks to the rise of big data and increased surveillance.

A system like this offers some benefits but the drawbacks — invasion of privacy, public shaming and blacklisting — should raise red flags in a truly free society.

Image: Getty / Young businesswoman overlooking Hong Kong

How appropriate use of technology can create a culture of positive achievement

Encouraging citizens to aspire to be supportive community members who take responsibility and demonstrate shared respect is not a sinister intention at its heart.

So, how can other countries avoid invasive, punitive action while still promoting a shared culture of progress and forward thinking?

1. Keep academic and professional achievements separate from credit score and background checks

While employers, banks, landlords and potential business partners certainly want to have a holistic picture that includes unlawful activity or outstanding debts, these concerns should not automatically overshadow legitimate academic and/or professional achievements.

Separating these different categories of ‘success’ and personal responsibility can allow for a more targeted review of skills or other areas of trustworthiness, as needed.

2. Focus on proficiency

By celebrating achievements and outcomes, we can build a stronger culture of hard work and innovation, and open up channels of progress.

If someone with a traditionally impeachable background — or an individual at risk of engaging in such activity — has the opportunity to learn and demonstrate their innate skillsets, they may be less likely to offend or reoffend if they feel empowered and are given the opportunity to do so.

In addition, a greater focus on proficiency versus deficiency can lead to clarity in both the hiring and evaluation process of employers in a range of industries.

3. Use blockchain micro-credentialing to evaluate performance and job readiness

In America, 44m people are burdened with student loan debt to the tune of $1.4trn.

What have many of them received in exchange for this ongoing financial burden? Too often, inadequate preparation for the sophisticated, tech-driven jobs of tomorrow.

One solution is to offer a consistent, streamlined process for blockchain-secured micro-credentials that could be stored in personal digital portfolios, ideally with mobile device access and integration.

Recipients can present these verified, earned, consistently recognisable credentials to employers.

As opposed to defaulting to following the traditional path of higher education or vocational school, students could attend shorter, more impactful courses that transfer specific, actionable skills for a range of industries and fields.

4. Gamify/incentivise accomplishments through positive reinforcement

While this suggestion may earn eye rolls from those who characterise the millennial workforce as needing validation, the reality is that building a culture of positive reinforcement means a range of benefits for both bottom line and workplace culture.

Providing incentives and additional motivation for employees to build their skills may also help avoid the dreaded workplace burnout, which contributes to a depressed economy where overstressed workers are stuck pulling the slack.

Citizens could remain competitive in the modern workforce by earning credit for existing skills as well as pursuing additional qualifications.

For example, language literacy could be earned as a badge as well as advanced technical skills, such as web development and coding.

By presenting scores of highly specific blockchain-secured micro-credentials (and a possible universal scoring system), it may help employers more aptly evaluate performance and match people with jobs or roles that they will excel in.

A path forward — it’s all about balance and accessibility

While China’s proposed system of rating its citizens and corporations may well seem like something straight out of the popular series Black Mirror, the availability of technology to monitor and collect our most private information is more readily available than ever before.

Image: Getty / Hong Kong businesswoman silhouette

 

Instead of being divided over an ever-encroaching reach of government and capital on our personal information, we should take a proactive approach to leverage technology for solutions that allow us to communicate our strengths, without being penalised for negligible shortcomings.

Increased positive transparency will lead to greater connectivity, and our ability to share information is what has allowed us to progress to our current point in modern society.

However, without care and forethought, we may find ourselves stuck in a technologically advanced, undemocratic system that offers little room for personal or professional advancement.

If the western world were to adopt a more specialised system for ‘rating’ citizens, the viable approach would be to marry the solutions outlined above with a means of offering a greater focus on wellbeing, access to education and advancement for all members of society.

Before we can set up a scoreboard, we must do our best to secure it with the latest decentralised technologies, empowering those who ‘cross on red’, and decide to pursue other means besides a traditional academic track.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on March 6th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

The Future STEM of Education Needs Mixed Reality

Image: Getty / Virtual Reality Hero

While the future of work is already happening, what about the future of education? And how will mixed reality come into play?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

As we round out the decade, the scope of what technology can make possible in our scientific explorations seems almost limitless. As new innovations arise, technologies will scale, and access to these tools increases.

With easier access to ever-more powerful consumer electronics, is it possible that everyday students and teachers in STEM classrooms across the globe will soon be able to leverage even more powerful tools in their pursuit of deep core concepts, experimentation and discovery?

STEM has been used for nearly two decades to refer to the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Incorporating it in primary schools not only helps make students better prepared for higher education, it also creates a stronger rising workforce of future problem-solvers and critical thinkers.

But STEM is not only an acronym; it’s also a way of looking at the world. Examples abound of STEM’s increasing reach, as well as its potential to change our students, our school and our future capacity for innovation across industries. And, increasingly, there have been some incredibly exciting innovations in the field of mixed reality.

The term mixed reality encompasses both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) — technologies that may fundamentally change the way that educators can approach STEM in classrooms all across the globe.

The power of mixed reality

A recent piece in EdTech magazine listed access to STEM through VR as one of the top three trends expected to shape education in 2017. The reason? VR can encourage motivation, build collaboration and offer educators an expanded tool belt of ‘real world’ learning opportunities — all without students and teachers having to leave their classroom.

As opposed to AR, which only overlays some digital objects in the 3D world — think Pokémon Go or Google Glasses, for example — VR creates a totally immersive world. This is currently achieved through special systems or headsets designed specifically to immerse users into an alternate or ‘virtual’ world that they can explore as if they were in the real world.

And EdSurge reports that companies who create educational applications of their tech products are eager to collaborate with educators — and not just to turn a profit. Utilising well-designed STEM programmes and products can help to improve student outcomes, and create a more educated class of citizens who remain connected and skilled in STEM content areas.

So, what do some of the possibilities look like for mixed reality in both STEM fields and classrooms? A recent piece in Digital Bodies reports that these technologies can reach as far as our solar system.

It said: “Using OnSight — a NASA and Microsoft-developed software tool — researchers no longer study images of Mars. They can use holographic teleportation to examine the planet’s surface from a first-person perspective. The 3D terrain is rendered through images received from the Curiosity rover as well as orbiting satellites.”

Utilising this kind of technology can help bring the natural world right into the classroom, and universities are taking note.

At Stanford University, the Virtual Human Interaction Lab has already begun to exponentially widen learning possibilities for students and researchers. The lab offers students the chance to explore totally immersive VR environments to learn about the factors shaping our modern lives — like the acidification of the ocean — through a virtually hands-on lens.

Students are not only able to ‘see’ the concepts they’re learning about in action, but also interact with the virtual environment to actively participate in the scientific method, all by just slipping on a headset.

And, at Texas A&M University, not only are undergraduates and graduate students getting to access their Immersive Mechanics Visualization Lab, but professors are also partnering remotely with high-school students to help them use immersive 3D technologies to participate in the global F1 in Schools competition, which tasks students to use robotics technology to build the car of the future.

Image: Getty/ AR Mechanic

Students at the lab can get feedback on their 3D designs from actual aerodynamics experts who, using this immersive technology, can ‘walk around’ the car designs and provide concrete feedback on ways students can improve their designs.

It’s a powerful way to connect students with experts outside of their community, using a technology elegant, inspiring and effective enough to give them an edge on the competition.

These examples illustrate the power of mixed reality to bridge conceptual learning with real-world learning. And it’s not just the education world that’s getting in on the movement. The industry of video game development has begun a kind of renaissance — artistic and economic — with the inclusion of VR offerings.

As more capital streams into this industry, it’s more important than ever before for schools of all kinds to remain on the ground floor of innovation so that young people from all walks of life can access the learning potential that VR can offer.

Next steps in a digital world

There has never been a more urgent time for out-of-the-box solutions for the challenges of our modern world. In schools across the globe, children are facing difficulties, and so are the adults running the systems that are supposed to serve them.

One potential upside? Our current crisis in education is also an opportunity for disruption, innovation and a fresh start. And mixed reality may be one option for doing just that.

While VR is the more dramatic of the two, less-immersive AR can be an excellent way to reach students where they are, by capitalising on the increased use of screen time that has become a reality for modern students.

AR can also level the playing field of student equity by eliminating the need for expensive materials, including specialised gear. This may sound counterintuitive, but innovations in AR have led to increased democratisation of technology access — for example, using cardboard viewers as a low-cost alternative to costly digital viewers.

As more educators and innovators come together to collaborate, we can find creative, low-cost methods of scaling these technologies for the everyday teacher, together. And examples of this work already happening are all around us.

In January 2018, the annual Educause Learning Initiative meeting brought together institutions and organisations to work under the theme of ‘Achieving Student Success Through New Models of Learning’.

In that same month, innovators from a range of industries came out for the Consumer Technology Association (CES) Expo, which offered a dizzying range of workshops for marketers and other stakeholders devoted to figuring out the best way to leverage mixed reality in industries from advertising to education.

The future of STEM education can be built on the shoulders of the mixed reality revolution. Simply put, when traditionalism fails, innovation flourishes. And, through true educational innovation, we may finally find meaningful solutions to the systemic problems that have outpaced our capacity for too long.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on February 5th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

Tax Return 2.0: How Blockchain Technology Can Bring America’s Budget Into The Future

Image: Getty / Blockchain mining rig

Can blockchain technology help you determine where your tax dollars get spent — at the time of filing?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

As the holidays wind down, many Americans start anticipating what can be a dreaded time of year for individuals and business alike: tax season. 2018 brings a fresh wave of worry and hope with the latest changes to the tax code, but one key issue stays the same — citizens have very little input into how their taxes are used by the federal government. For those unwilling to go full Thoreau on the problem (i.e., refuse to pay taxes and risk jail time), we typically just grumble about the injustice and submit our forms by April 15 anyway. But what if there was another way? To consider a unique solution, we must first understand the revolutionary technology that can get us there — blockchain.

Blockchain Basics

The most well-known use of blockchain technology right now is likely Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency established in 2008. But what is blockchain technology, and how does it allow our digital transactions to be more secure than ever before?

Put simply, blockchain technology eliminates the current system of transactions in which every party involved has their own record of what happened during the transaction. Instead, blockchain creates a single, unalterable record of transactions that make up “blocks.” This is a permanent, indisputable record of authenticity and authorization that allows transactions to be secure and trusted over a digital network.

As BlockGeeks puts it, “Picture a spreadsheet that is duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers. Then imagine that this network is designed to regularly update this spreadsheet and you have a basic understanding of the blockchain.”

The key idea here is that everyone involved is engaging with the same record. A single record of the transaction means less wiggle room for altering the information that occurs when we rely on multiple copies of redundant records.

The record of transactions itself becomes the form of trust. Not even a system administrator can delete a digital sequence in the chain, so users have full transparency around the transactions that are occurring. And what, exactly, are these data “sequences”? They are defined as: “a kind of self-auditing ecosystem of digital value, the network reconciles every transaction that happens in ten-minute intervals. Each group of these transactions is referred to as a ‘block.’”

Federal Tax Spending: Where We Are (And How Blockchain Can Help)

So, what does blockchain technology have to do with taxes? Since this technology is both secure and robust enough to deal with a range of transaction types, it could actually be used to allow each taxpayer to set their own preference ratios of our national budget when filing. The result is that people would feel much more engaged when paying their taxes, and we’d have a stronger democratic society overall.

Image: Getty / Tax files

 

Before we get into an example of how this works, let’s take a quick review of how our current federal budget is allocated, courtesy of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Our budget is divided into mandatory spending programs and discretionary spending programs, but the total breakdown is as follows:

• Social Security: In 2016, 24% of the federal budget, or $916 billion, paid for Social Security, a program which provides for retirement income, as well as income for disabled workers and the families of deceased and disabled workers.

• Healthcare Subsidies: The combined total of Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP and healthcare marketplace subsidies amounted to 26 percent of the budget in 2016, or $1 trillion.

• Defense and International Security: In 2016, 16% of the budget, or $605 billion, was used for defense and international security.

• Safety Net programs: 9% of the federal budget, or $366 billion, supports programs for families facing hardship, including SNAP food assistance and the Earned Income Tax Credit program (EITC).

• Interest on Debt: In 2016, interest payments on debt owed took up $240 billion, or about 6% of the budget.

• Everything Else: The remaining 19% of our federal budget is tasked with covering all other needs, including benefits for federal retirees and veterans (8%), infrastructure (2%), education (2%), science and medical research (2%), non-security related international programs (1%) and the remaining 3% is for all other federal spending.

If blockchain technology was used for tax returns, a dedicated portion of each tax return would go to the mandatory spending, which includes social security, healthcare, veteran’s benefits, transportation and food and agriculture. The remaining amount (discretionary spending, of which over 50% is devoted to military and defense) could be categorized and the filer will be able to determine what percentage of their taxable income would go toward which area of need. As an example, an individual who really values STEM education could direct 75% of their discretionary amount towards K-12 education, which currently receives a tiny sliver of the overall federal budget.

Image: Getty / US Tax Return with US Treasury Check

 

With blockchain as a way to authenticate and authorize these allocations, we can look at a family who owes $10,000 in federal taxes. 60% would go toward mandatory spending, or approximately $6,000 of their annual taxes, which is allocated as needed for the programs listed above. The remaining $4,000 would be divvied up based upon the interests of the taxpayer, but no category would be left completely blank. With every taxpayer contributing at least something to every category, we could get a better sense of our shared priorities and feel that we’re contributing to the budget in a meaningful way that truly reflects our values.

Technology experts agree that blockchain will continue to serve as a powerful tool in a range of industries, so why can’t we use it to overhaul our democracy? Not only would this approach boost engagement and allow voters to have a real say in government spending, but it could create powerful shifts in how we fund the programs that matter to us most.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on January 22nd, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

Can STEM Education Help Promote Peace & Prosperity?

Image: @stemdotorg / STEM Peace

 

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Headlines about automation and job loss dominate the news daily, and an anxiety about the future of work is present not only here in the U.S., but across the entire globe. But within these fears about the impact of technology on jobs, there is also a bright sliver of hope for the future. The nature of work is changing, and new opportunities in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields (STEM), may yet bring about a new age of peace and prosperity for citizens of our country, and beyond.

The Poverty Problem (and the STEM Solution)

Poverty rates nationally and internationally have continued on a path of steady improvement, but there is still much work to be done so that all members of our international community can live a life of peace and prosperity. According to the most recent estimates from the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen by 35 percent since 1990, and yet that number is still incredibly high: more than 10 percent of the world’s population makes do on less than $2.00 per day.

In the U.S., poverty statistics paint a similar picture. The latest census figuresindicate that poverty rates have declined in recent years, but 13.5 percent of Americans still live in poverty, a figure 1% higher than the pre-recession rate in 2007. That’s over 43 million people living on just over $12,000 for a single person household, or less than $25,000 annually for a family of four.

The scope of the problem of poverty on our planet cannot be overstated, but, fortunately, the potential impact of STEM education has an outsized footprint as well. An education based approach to creating peace and prosperity in our lifetime is not only possible, it’s vital if we are to create a rising world community of leaders prepared to create solutions, as well as greater equity and safety.

How STEM Expands Opportunities for Peace and Prosperity

Increasing access to STEM education for youth who are currently in school or adults looking for retraining opportunities is an excellent way to boost access to income and increase stability. According to a 2015 report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), health, and business majors are the highest paying, leading to average annual wages of $37,000 or more at the entry level and an average of $65,000 or more annually over the course of a recipient’s career.”

But much work still needs to be done to ensure that greater access to STEM education actually helps alleviate some of the current inequities that serve as a barrier to peace and prosperity, including the gender gap. A 2017 World Bank blog notes that the gender gap between women and men employed in STEM continues to be quite significant, but that “recent work suggests that correcting gender segregation in employment and in entrepreneurship could increase aggregate productivity globally by as much as 16 percent.”

In other words, if we collectively work to ensure that all people are granted greater access to high quality STEM education, and are then provided equal access to work in the STEM field, we could see a massive boost to our prosperity on a global scale.

Image: @stemdotorg / International STEM

 

Pursuing a career in STEM is individually rewarding for both the mind and the pocketbook, but it’s our collective efforts to get more young people into STEM that has the potential to, quite literally, transform our world economy from a place of crisis, into one of peace, prosperity, and solutions for the myriad concerns of our modern times.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…