Why initiate a Shenandoah Valley STEM Collaborative?

by: Elizabeth V. Berkeley

When I read the CFI announcement for the Shenandoah Valley STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Collaboration, I immediately signed up. This pilot group, meeting 6 times over spring semester, invited faculty from STEM or STEM teacher education disciplines from JMU, Blue Ridge Community College, Eastern Mennonite University and Bridgewater College. The purpose of the group is to meet on issues in foundation STEM classes.

Eight people showed up for the first meeting, representing all four institutions. The group represents a breadth and depth of STEM interests: three faculty members teach physiology, three teach math, one teaches psychology research methods, one teaches science education and one teaches computer science.

As has been my previous experience with CFI groups, we were given a general agenda and left to self-organize around the following topics (from the CFI website):

• Build a community of instructors of foundational courses in STEM disciplines.
• Share and learn pedagogical ideas and/or strategies that are used in these courses to create a rigorous learning environment.
• Explore ways that foundational courses can strengthen core competencies (programming student learning objectives).
• Implement different pedagogical ideas and/or strategies that support the previous goals in their own course(s).

We are a lively bunch and over the first two hour meeting quickly came up with several topics that address the second objective. We will present and study on these topics over the next few meetings: 1) what is academic rigor? 2) how to motivate students? and 3) how to assess student learning?

I offered to lead the discussion on assessing student learning, which I will write about in a future blog entry.

I have visions of grand multi-million dollar federal grant proposals and streamlining higher education in the Valley while still maintaining our respective academic cultures. That may happen in the future. But for now, I think it’s a great start that we have motivated faculty from all the institutions gathering together to trade ideas. I look forward to seeing what unfolds from our meetings. If anyone is interested in participating in future iterations of this collaborative, please contact the CFI for more details.

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