Recent reports indicate a decline in undergraduate student enrollment in science and engineering fields as well as a decline in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals in the United States. Moreover, one of the existing challenges of science educators in the 21st century is to improve student awareness of STEM careers in a way that leads to retention in science majors and substantive expansion of the STEM workforce in the future.
This article presents online instructional strategies that address career management objectives in science and engineering courses that may improve student interest in STEM occupations and participation in science-related careers.
Online pedagogical strategies that support career management
Career management is a multifaceted process that includes establishing specific career goals and developing a realistic strategy for achieving those goals. The information below presents helpful instructional strategies that can be employed by online STEM faculty to address career management objectives in science and engineering courses.
The following instructional approaches focus on exploration of career choices, effective career planning and decision making, and improving student academic confidence through active learning techniques.
- Use STEM career decision models and assignments. Making an informed STEM career decision is an extremely important part of the career management process. While there are many career decision models in the literature, most models involve self-assessment of strengths, weaknesses, personality, skills, and career interests (Luzzo & Severy, 2008). In the beginning of the course, online instructors could present a basic STEM-related career decision model to students and assign at least one career decision-making assignment (e.g., career decision-making worksheet) that would be due at the end of the semester. Very helpful online STEM assessment devices can be found at http://vcc.asu.edu/sca. A brief career-decision reflection essay could also be assigned early in the semester to allow students the opportunity to document their thoughts and perceptions throughout the STEM career-decision process and may expand the impact of the overall assignment. Moreover, an understanding of students' professional interests could also assist in internship and graduate and professional school selection. The Internet is an excellent source for career decision-making worksheets and user-friendly activities.
Once located, career decision-making worksheets can be modified for your students and course.
- Design online assignments that allow students the opportunity to explore specific science and engineering careers. These assignments could include career-related essays in which students analyze the advantages and disadvantages of specific science careers. Hall et al. (2011) notes that increasing exposure to a wide array of STEM fields may expand students' understanding of occupational prospects beyond the traditional science careers (e.g., physician, engineer) and will assist in the ability of students to determine interest in a science-related field. Career exploration assignments could also involve interviews with STEM professionals. Interview assignments would give students the opportunity to research a specific career by conducting an interview with an actual scientist. Interview questions would be designed to elucidate specific educational prerequisites, professional training requirements, personal motivation for career engagement, beneficial professional organizations, and essential scientific communication skills necessary for career entry and advancement. Interviews would help students develop a better understanding of STEM-related careers and may enhance networking opportunities, which are also essential to improving students' career interests. Additionally, discussion boards and synchronous video-based STEM-career student presentations utilizing Skype or another online communication software tool would allow online students the opportunity to present career exploration assignment information to their peers and allow students the opportunity to ask questions of their peers about different careers, in real time.
- Incorporate innovative online problem-based learning (PBL) assignments. PBL is an effective pedagogical method that is designed to enhance critical-thinking skills and problem-solving skills (Ferreira & Trudel, 2012). Problem-based learning is a student-centered instructional method involving cooperative learning, student projects, instructor facilitation, active learning, open-ended problems, presentation of conclusions, and student evaluation (e.g., case studies and virtual laboratories). Since PBL cognitive outcomes are particularly germane to scientists and engineers, the successful completion of PBL assignments may improve career self-efficacy and stimulate student motivation to pursue a STEM field.
- Integrate career planning software (e.g., System of Integrated Guidance and Information [SIGI3]) in the STEM online course. This would further support career management outcomes. Career plans are designed to explicate aims, benefits, potential obstacles, realistic timelines, and methods for achieving career goals. Career plan worksheets can also be found on the Internet and incorporated into the online course.
- Include scientific or academic skills-based webinars in the online course. A webinar is a synchronous educational presentation that allows for active student participation. Although some webinars can be accessed for a nominal fee, many can be accessed at no cost to the institution or online instructor. The use of webinars that focus on laboratory skills, career management skills, contemporary scientific advances, or scientific study skills could also positively affect students' academic outcomes and contribute to higher career self-efficacy.
- Use pre-tests and post-tests to evaluate student comprehension following academic interventions. Administering online career-related qualitative questionnaires or quantitative surveys (e.g., Iowa Vocational Purpose Inventory) is an excellent way to assess student knowledge. The Iowa Vocational Purpose Inventory measures student occupational preparedness, career goals and interests, and motivation to pursue a specific occupational field (Hood & Zerwas, 1997). A mixed-methods approach can be employed to determine if STEM career management interventions were successful.
Most science textbooks lack information about specific careers. To lessen the effects of this informational deficiency, online instructors could supplement textbook information by creating instructional information designed to educate students about careers in science that correspond to specific science course content. Online instructors could also construct online quiz questions and online exam questions to probe student understanding of the supplementary career-related material. It is clear that incorporating the above career-based pedagogical strategies in every online STEM course could have positive synergistic effects on students' STEM career management skills.
As with any instructional strategy, online instructors must provide clear and detailed instructions to students to promote their success. Additionally, a carefully designed rubric must be created. The rubric must present measurable performance-based criteria in order to adequately assess student proficiency. We contend that exposing students to a wide range of career choices and exposing them to career-decision and career-planning activities in online science courses is an effective strategy to improve student career engagement, commitment to pursue a science career after graduation, and future employment in STEM fields. Furthermore, additional research is warranted to explore the factors that influence STEM career choice. Additional research will lead to the development and implementation of student-centered online approaches designed to attract students to the STEM workforce.
Ferreira, M., & Trudel, A. (2012). The impact of problem-based learning (PBL) on student attitudes toward science, problem-solving skills, and sense of community in the classroom. Journal of Classroom Interaction,
Hall, C., Dickerson, J., Batts, D., Kauffmann, P., & Bosse, M. (2011). Are we missing opportunities to encourage interest in STEM fields? Journal of Technology Education,
Hood, A.B., & Zerwas, S.C. (1997). The Iowa vocational purpose inventory. In A. Hood (Ed.), The Iowa student development inventories
(2nd ed.) (pp. 93–108). Iowa City, IA: HITECH Press.
Luzzo, D.A., & Severy, L. (2008). Making career decisions that count: A practical guide
(3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
This work was supported by a grant funded by the National Science Foundation (HRD-811728).
Lawrence O. Flowers is an assistant professor of microbiology at Fayetteville State University. Lamont A. Flowers is the distinguished professor of educational leadership at Clemson University.