Specifically, he talked about the very important roles that writing, communication, social and critical thinking skills occupy in this effort. Throughout the webcast, Mr. Rudin engaged the audience with many questions and encouraged them to comment away.
In fact, there were so many questions and comments that we ran out of time before he could address them all. Therefore, we asked him to provide his thoughts on some of the ones not addressed. He agreed, and the following are his responses. We took the liberty of slightly editing some of the participants' posts for the sake of clarity, and please be aware that the latter comments are suggestions people made for incorporating these skills into STEM education.
How can we make parents understand the foundational value of the humanities in developing their children for life and work success? [That is, versus] the "skills" customer-based approach that has failed us so far[?]
Rudin: I would argue that we have to make a long-term commitment to changing the mindset on this topic. One option is to bring employers into the conversation early—including bringing employers into the Parent-Teacher night discussions. Another is to give students access to mentors from the world of work who can explain to them (and perhaps their parents) the importance of the humanities. But it will not be easy and we have to be both persistent and patient.
How do I encourage my STEM college to incorporate more active writing [that includes] grammar/ APA[?] My masters students have indicated to me [that] the basic information is not taught and that professors expect them to know APA/grammar at their level. Those masters students have to take workshops outside of [their] courses to learn how to incorporate correct writing skills.
Rudin: One option is to bring local employers to campus to share their experiences and help faculty and administrators understand the importance of communication (writing and speaking, individually and with groups) to explain the growing importance of communication in the workplace. And, employers need to get faculty, administrators and students into the workplace to observe the critical role of effective communication in workplace success.
While composition skills are ready bridges from language studies [to] STEM studies, reading skills are often overlooked. What would you suggest to encourage critical reading skills in the STEM classroom?
Rudin: Others are much better versed on the literature and evidence than I, but careful coaching and mentoring, and opportunities for purposeful reading (that is, reading that requires some kind of follow-up action), may incentivize students to re-read and work diligently toward better comprehension. Some opportunities that may encourage stronger critical reading include: a writing exercise, a group presentation, or a group activity.
[It's] very strange to me that we see the world so compartmentalized. Some of the most talented scientists I know are also very creative people.
Rudin: Agreed! Many physicians are also artists. Many engineers see great value in the role of the humanities and the arts in their work. Here is an interesting link that is relevant to our webinar: http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/walter-isaacson-lecture
Critical thinking: My final modern physics exam, long ago, posed a problem involving a unique environment, with no quantified details. We were expected to write about the process by which the question might be answered.
Rudin: And how did the project turn out? We need more of this kind of experience, which is a better reflection of the uncertainties and ambiguities of the real world of work, and which forces students to explain the rationale for the approaches they took. These kinds of exercises build problem-solving, critical thinking and communication skills.
You could utilize workforce development professionals to convince those students that employers in all fields require these soft skills.
Rudin: Agreed! Bring those professionals into the classroom! Or better yet, get the students into the employers' settings for a day, a week or a summer!
I find it interesting how Communications courses haven't been mentioned yet. At the high school level, they are not mandated, but considered an elective in the state of Texas. At the college level, they are considered a "humanities" course, which can be filled by alternate courses.
Rudin: I agree that "Communications" courses are important. I would also argue that every course should include a communications component, including science, math and technology courses, in which activities to share findings and results are built into the course curriculum.
In my school, we offer externships, internships, and work-study opportunities that really help students to gain real-world work experience.
Terrific! We need much more of this—congratulations on being ahead of the curve!
[Regarding the issue of] group work - you have to assess the quality of the group work, as well as the product of the group work. Few people do this. If group skills are important - [then] they HAVE to be assessed.
Rudin: We need better ways to encourage, guide and measure group work in our academic programs.
Team projects done as presentations
Rudin: Agreed. Team projects and presentations are a good way to prepare students for the real world of work—not just in the sciences, but virtually any field.