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Community Tools Needed to Improve STEM Education

I recently attended the STEM Business Leaders Breakfast concerning tapping Massachusetts potential in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

by Kate Brodock
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I recently attended the STEM Business Leaders Breakfast concerning tapping Massachusetts’ potential in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. The goal of the initiative, which is part of the national Tapping America’s Potential (TAP) Coalition, is to act as a “voice to the business community’s deep concern about sustaining U.S. scientific and technological leadership into the future.”

On a statewide level, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education hopes to achieve the following:

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  • Double the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees by 2020;
  • Double the number of STEM teachers, grade 7 through 12, by 2020.

These goals are supported by a set of three national and state recommendations:

  • Make building public support for improvements in STEM performance a statewide priority.
  • Motivate Massachusetts students and adults, using a variety of incentives, to study and enter STEM careers and remain in the state after graduation.
  • Improve K-12 STEM teaching to foster student achievement and meet increased demand.

To date, most of the work done toward these goals and recommendations has been organizational and has focused on bringing together business and education leaders in MA to recommend next steps in bringing this program to fruition.

Many of the attendees and speakers at the STEM breakfast continually used words such as “outreach,” “connecting,” “information sharing,” “collaboration” — and even “community” — when addressing how they envision many of the STEM programs would need to be created and maintained.

Social media and STEM education

This is where I’d like to expand on the conversation that was focused on how we go about building communities, connecting with core audiences and collaborating across a wide range of industries and schools. How we do it quickly, with the highest probability for success and the most cost-effective implementation.

The answer, I believe, is rooted in online communities, open-source collaboration technology and social networking — all tools that are founded in the very social, emotional and collaborative framework that STEM proponents hope to build in our state and beyond.

Here are a few ideas on how these technologies can work to get people excited and engaged in the STEM programs:

1. Connecting to a target audience. In order to double the number of STEM bachelor degrees, 10,000 more students need to get excited enough about these fields to begin, continue with and finish the requirements to obtain college degrees. As many attendees at last week’s event pointed out, this task also includes attracting children to this field at a younger age, so that by the time they were entering college they would be motivated to study these fields. Where can you find them? Online. This demographic loves the online space. Wouldn’t it make sense to find them there? Much of the “social media” philosophy is based on the idea of “going to them” in order to have the most influence.

2. Developing a collaborative atmosphere. Due to the complexity of the system of supporters that STEM has, and the number of organizations and groups that are involved in its success, it’s hard to develop a network and an infrastructure to deal with the information flow and collaboration necessary to get the best results from the coalition. Numerous Web 2.0 tools could be incredibly beneficial. The social media space offers solutions for sharing information, managing its flow, allowing for collaboration and nurturing an environment that produces the best joint efforts of a group of people who may not be able to work face-to-face on a regular basis.

3. Getting emotional. All of the above thoughts come back to one main thing: Emotional connection. STEM education is hoping to get students and teachers excited about these fields. Excited to the point of not wanting to do anything else. Aside from being able to connect, collaborate and build a community online, social media is a ripe environment to encourage enthusiasm and emotion about important topics without being face-to-face. By nature of the number of connections you’re able to make, the depth of discussion you’re able to have, the level of community you’re able to build, and the amount of information you’re able to share, emotion is one of the easiest things to connect on in this space. And, in my opinion, excitement is one of the easiest emotions to nurture online.

Kate Brodock is founder and strategic guru of Other Side Group, a marketing strategy and new-media consulting firm based in Boston. She can be reached at