Teaching STEM Online

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

The complexities of teaching STEM online are compounded exponentially by the emergency move to remote online learning, making it even more important that we understand how to best teach and learn STEM online. This presentation provides a foundational context of the problems, complexities & issues in STEM, STEM online, and STEM in a post COVID19 reality. A review of current literature is presented, and pilot study is suggested.




Extended Abstract

The COVID19 pandemic has changed everything for all of us. According to a report from research firm Entangled Solutions (April 2020), it is estimated that 4,234 higher education institutions and 25.8 million students have had their educational activities, or education interrupted and impacted in some way due to the current pandemic. An Inside HigherEd survey of college presidents reported that during the time between March and April 2020, a staggaring 98% of all US higher education institutions moved the majority of their face-to-face classes to remote online teaching and learning environments using synchronous, asynchronous, and other remote offline activities and approaches. It was also reported in that survey that 69% of all higher education institutions have invested in new online learning tools and resources, which highlights the move to online and technology-mediated teaching and learning environments. This disruption is profound and unprecedented in our lifetimes. There are many concerns both short- and long-term in higher education with a persistent spector of uncertainty as we all attempt to adjust to the new normals of social distancing, mask wearing, and remote work, teaching, and learning. Access to digital devices, online tools, and platforms, as well as to reliable high speed broadband Internet are ongoing concerns and challenges for many, especially for the poor in rural and urban areas and from under-represented minority populations. Another concern is faculty buy-in, their readiness for online teaching, and providing adequate and timely professional development for vast numbers of traditional face-to-face faculty, adjuncts and teaching assistants, which goes hand-in-hand with concerns of maintaining and ensuring high academic standards, quality, and rigor in remote online teaching and learning environments. A key distinction between traditional online teaching and learning, and remote online teaching and learning, is that this sudden shift to remote online teaching and learning occurred due to a sudden emergency with no time to plan or prepare for a transition to an online/technology-enhanced teaching and learning environment. And, neither faculty, nor students planned, nor elected to teach or learn remotely online. Whereas, in traditional online/distance learning, online courses and faculty are fully-planned, resourced, and supported with online faculty development and course design initiatives, often taking six to nine months before the online instructor is prepared and the online course is delivered. Both faculty and students have deliberately opted in and chosen to teach and learn online. Student readiness for, and receptivity to, remote online learning is, therefore, also a concern, as the face-to-face campus experience is part of the package and often an aspect of the high costs associated with higher education. Campus presidents have reported concerns over maintaining high levels of student motivation, engagement, and satisfaction with their educational experiences. There are growing concerns of student attrition from higher education programs and institutions as a result of the pandemic at a time when higher education in the United States was already enduring major declines in student enrollments due to population changes. The American Council on Education (ACE) has predicted that academic enrollments will drop by 15% next year, including a 25% decline in the number of international students as a result of the pandemic. And, a recent survey by the college review and ranking service Niche, reported on the Impact of Coronavirus on Students’ Academic Progress and College Plans. Among college students:
* 5% felt their college was handling the crisis well.
* 86% have shifted to online learning, only 7% have experienced temporary or semester-long closures.
* 15% of students find online classes as effective as in-person.
* 74% reported that they have sufficient access to technology or Internet access to succeed.
* 66% feel supported by faculty and administrators.
* 70% responded that how a school handles this situation will affect their decision to enroll next year.
* 22% are considering transferring or taking at least one semester off.
* 26% are more likely to consider online education in the future, 55% disagree.
* 65% feel that they can still graduate on time.

It is clear that the issues and challenges of teaching and learning in higher education in a post-COVID19 world are many, and that we will continue to have to grapple with them, learn, adjust and improve our understanding, as well as the measures necessary to address the complexities of our new normal. The complexities of teaching STEM online are compounded exponentially by the emergency move to remote online learning, making it even more important that we understand how to best teach and learn STEM online. A literature review is a first step in understanding what has been studied, what has been found, and where there are gaps in our knowledge and understanding.

This presentation will present the foundational context of problems and complexities in STEM, STEM education, and integrated STEM instruction; how taking STEM online further complicates these issues; and how, in a post COVID19 reality, it is urgent that we better understand and address the issues of teaching STEM well online. A review of current literature is presented, and pilot study is suggested.


  1. Entangled Solutions & Alexander, B. (2020, April 27). COVID-19: Higher Education Resource Center – Entangled Solutions. Retrieved from https://www.entangled.solutions/coronavirus-he 

  2. 1. Inside Higher Ed, & Lederman, D. (2020, April 27). Presidents’ biggest COVID-19 worries? Low-income students and colleges’ financial strain | Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/survey/presidents-biggest-covid-19-worries-low-income-students-and-colleges-financial-strain 

  3. American Council on Education (ACE) (2020, April 9). Higher Education Fourth Supplemental Letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer by Ted Mitchell, ACE President. Retrieved from https://www.acenet.edu/Documents/Letter-Senate-Higher-Ed-Supplemental-Request-040920.pdf 

  4. NICHE & Patch, W. (2020, March 25). Impact of Coronavirus on Students’ Academic Progress and College Plans –. Retrieved from https://www.niche.com/about/enrollment-insights/impact-of-coronavirus-on-students-academic-progress-and-college-plans/#college