COVID-19, Higher-Ed, and What the Future Holds: The View from RCNET

Kevin Cooper, Principal Investigator, Regional Center for Nuclear Education and Training, Indian River State College

The rapid online response in education to the COVID-19 crisis was nothing short of amazing.  Seemingly overnight, all levels of education were required to shift from using a variety of methods to deliver instruction to remote learning.  The instantaneous learning curve and ramp for students, teachers, and administrators displayed the true will and adaptability of humankind.  We adapt, we overcome, and we prosper.

That said, humankind, given time, wants and will return to some state of normalcy. Within a month of “stay-in-place” orders in the United States, there are signs of adaption, acceptance, and safe socializing like quarantining.  As we go forward into the fall 2020 academic year, this need to adapt will hold especially true in education.  Remote learning may be preferred by those with certain learning styles, but for many others, learning is a social activity best done in person.  The social aspect of learning is particularly important in technician STEM fields where hands-on teamwork is a major part of a career.

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InnovATEBIO Goes Virtual to Reach Biotech Instructors and Students

Russ Read, Executive Director. National Center Biotechnology Workforce,
Forsyth Tech Community College, Winston-Salem, NC

Last fall, Austin Community College was awarded a $7.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education program to create the National Biotechnology Education Center–InnovATEBIO–with partners in New York, California, Washington, North Carolina, and Wisconsin (see partners, below). The Center is addressing the rapidly growing need for highly skilled technicians by consolidating several biotech education projects into a national network to share best practices and expand research opportunities for students at two-year institutions.

Because of InnovATEBIO‘s collaborative structure, we know that we can offer quality instruction despite not being in the classroom face-to-face. In fact, through the sharing of data across the nation, we have the opportunity to find out more about what biotech programs are doing and share best practices, resources, and challenges.

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Solving Future Labor Gaps by Engaging Students Early

Emily McGrath, Director of Workforce Development, NextFlex

While a lot of the current focus on the availability of highly skilled manufacturing technicians in the future revolves around the creation of educational pathways, NextFlex realized that wasn’t enough. NextFlex , a consortium that supports the Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) manufacturing ecosystem, conducted a labor study to determine the need for new types of future talent for emerging jobs that don’t yet exist. FHE technology combines printed electronics with traditional semiconductor integrated circuits to create a new type of electronics that are thin, bendable, and wearable for applications including medical devices, printed antennas, soft robotics, and asset monitoring systems.

How do you solve a future labor gap?

The first problem isn’t that pathways don’t exist, it’s that the students aren’t aware of, or interested in, the advanced manufacturing sector to begin with. To tackle this problem, NextFlex developed FlexFactor, a project-based learning program for K-12 students. FlexFactor connects schools, colleges, and a variety of industry partners in new ways to excite students and raise awareness about the education and career pathways that lead to advanced manufacturing jobs. FlexFactor invites both higher education and industry into the classroom to engage with their future talent pool at a critical point in students’ lives.

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Project Facilitates Regional Convening on Future of Work

The nature of work is changing right before our eyes. The effects of accelerating technology advancements on the technician workforce are posing challenges and opportunities for community colleges whose mission includes preparing STEM technicians for the uncertain work of the future. Conversations between educators and employers are underway across the country to identify the cross-cutting knowledge and skills that will be required of STEM technicians and determine how best to equip them to remain competitive in the future workplace.

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I Did That with My Brain! High School Students Explore Physiological Computing

Chris Crawford, Assistant Professor, Computer Science, University of Alabama • September 3, 2019

Advances in Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) are enabling the exploration of novel input techniques. Innovations in this area have resulted in technologies such as neuroprosthetics and brain-controlled wheelchairs. However, there is a lack of research investigating the design of technological tools that prepare the future workforce for this emerging technology. Furthermore, there have been limited investigations of how K-12 technological tools featuring BCI technology support the acquisition of computational thinking skills. Our project, Exploring Physiological Computing Education in the Alabama Black Belt, funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Research on Learning, began addressing this gap by holding Neuro Summer Camp 2019.

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