I’m at the Advance HE Stem Conference today and tomorrow. It’s been a while since I was at a general STEM education conference rather than the chemistry (and physics) specific ViCEPHEC or MICER events and I’d forgotten how good it is to get perspectives from other disciplines. The keynote today was Prof. Nazira Karodia of the University of Wolverhampton and her key message was that STEM education needs to step up and become more of a social education, addressing the student as a person and do far more than just immersing a student in discipline specific knowledge. In the context of preparing our students for ‘Industry 4.0’, or the 4th industrial revolution, or for jobs that don’t exist yet (a pervasive theme throughout the sessions I attended), this is a necessary evolution of how we approach the STEM disciplines. Nazira’s talk helped consolidate some of my thinking around the difference between skills and knowledge, and what ‘must know’ knowledge actually looks like in the digital age of readily accessible fingertip facts. The take home message was clear: prepare graduates for work addressing the problems facing humanity.
I then attended a workshop on Metacognition by Dr Jayne Dennis of Queen Mary University London. I was hooked from the start because we were given a puzzle to solve as we waited for the session to begin. I do like a good logic puzzle, and despite being really really knackered, I solved it quickly. Jayne introduced metacognition to us as ‘thinking about thinking’ and discussed the various types of knowledge and regulation of cognition that we are capable. Through data, it’s been found that metacognition is as significant as socioeconomic status in correlating with academic performance and is independent of intelligence, so why aren’t we teaching our students how to think? The puzzles came back to haunt us as we were asked to pair up and one of the pair had to complete a similar puzzle using a think aloud protocol while the other person noted what metacognitive aspects were being used. Think aloud is where you simply share your thoughts out loud as you do a thing and it’s quite tricky not to feel self conscious. The session concluded by us being asked to consider where we might use this in the classroom and I now have a few ideas for the multinuclear magnetic resonance course coming up this semester about modelling expert thinking when solving problems and highlighting some of the metacognitive aspects.
There was an interesting panel discussion on leading sustainability at an institutional level, and a series of posters and talks in the afternoon. The panel discussion reflected some of the themes again: education as a holistic process, involving the student at all stages, and introduced the idea of ‘leading by not leading’ but rather through facilitation. Overall it has been an interesting day and now I have to go finish polishing my talk for tomorrow!