STEM Technician Students Surveyed About Remote Instruction

Marilyn Barger, Executive Director, Florida Advanced Technological Education Center, and Lakshmi Jayaram, President, Inquiry Research Group

During the recent “virtual” Spring Meeting of the Florida Forum on Engineering Technology, participants expressed concern about technician students’ experience in moving to remote instruction this semester due to COVID-19. Based on early reports from community college partners, the transition has been challenging, and some programs indicated students are even considering withdrawing from their programs. As one faculty member explained: “They have given up. [Students] feel they can’t do this online without support.” There was interest in discussing this topic further at the next ET Forum due to both the uncertainty related to the return of in-person instruction and the perceived need to improve student comfort and confidence in online learning. To help inform that discussion, the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE) and the Inquiry Research Group LLC teamed up to create a small pilot survey to collect some initial feedback from Florida technician students about their online experience this past semester.

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NSF Grants Put Lane Community College Programs Ahead of the Curve

Brenda Cervantes, Project Specialist, Water & Energy Programs, Lane Community College, Eugene, OR

Technical careers require hands-on educational experiences and with an online curriculum the challenge is to provide students with that experiential component. In the past decade with funding through two NSF ATE grants, Lane Community College (LCC) transitioned its traditional classroom Energy Management program into an online instructional program with hands-on lab experiences available. The Independent Learner Energy Education Design project provides instruction in LCC’s online Energy Management (Building Controls Option) program coupled with fieldwork facilitated by regional power utility mentors.

Of particular interest, however, in this time when classrooms are going virtual to meet the needs of social distancing, is their transformed Water Conservation Technician (WCT) program, which has been moved to a completely online instructional environment.

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GeoTech Center Goes Virtual for Professional Development Conference

Vincent A. DiNoto Jr., Director and Principal Investigator of the National Geospatial Center of Excellence, Jefferson Community and Technical College, Louisville, KY

In response to COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gathering, the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence (GeoTech Center) has modified its conference and regional professional workshop delivery for the remainder of the year. This year, GeoTech will hold its annual GeoEd’20 Conference on June 9th and 10th in a virtual format for the first time in conference history, while keeping many of the features of past conferences.  There will continue to be sessions on a variety of topics in geospatial technologies.  Over the two days multiple concurrent sessions will be offered in two-hour blocks through interactive desktop video.  While the conference is entirely virtual, it will still have valuable content and pedagogy presented, cutting edge technologies discussed and times allocated for networking. In addition to the learning sessions, there will be keynote speakers during “a virtual luncheon” and a “virtual happy hour” session designed for participant networking.

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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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The ABCs of I4.0: What Technicians Need to Know about Incoming Technologies

Mariano Carreras, International Training Manager, SMC International • August 15, 2019

New technologies are emerging that are, or soon will be, a part of a technician’s day-to-day routine in manufacturing plants. One sweeping trend is that most of the new technologies are related to data—the ”fuel” that is driving processes. With improved data, we can make better decisions, so technicians need to be aware of how and why data is gathered, how data flows and what to do with it. Adoption of new technologies will vary according to the type and size of industry, of course, and the cost of equipment and training, but here are some that will change the role of the technicians interacting with them.

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Special Interest Group Hosts Forward-Looking Conversations to Address the Future of Work

Tiffiney Gray, Project Manager, CORD • August 9, 2019

Technology advancements associated with Industry 4.0—including more sophisticated automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning—present both the need and the opportunity to reimagine and retool technician training to meet the knowledge and skill demands of a rapidly-changing workplace. With support from the NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, the Preparing Technicians for the Future of Work project convened a Special Interest Group comprised of industry leaders and technician educators at HI-TEC in St. Louis, Missouri. The project facilitated discussions between industry representatives and ATE leaders with a variety of expertise (e.g., advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, information technology, cybersecurity, etc.) to determine ways to actively prepare for the impacts of emerging technologies on the future of work and on the skilled technical workforce. 

The group’s discussions also underscored the need to significantly broaden the skill set of the 20th-century technician to cultivate the advanced technician of the 21st century. Discussions centered around three cross-disciplinary trends (identified by participants in earlier convenings) that represent knowledge and skills to be integrated as essential elements of STEM associate degree programs alongside traditional technical skills: data knowledge and analysis, advanced digital literacy, and business knowledge and processes.

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Leadership 4.0: People Development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Thomas Lichtenberger, President and CEO, Festo Didactic 
May 21, 2019

When thinking about manufacturing in America, what comes to mind? Big data processing, cloud-based systems, advanced robotics, and artificial intelligence? If not, they should. The significance of these technologies cannot be overstated. Take AI for example. When used for predictive maintenance AI’s greatest value to manufacturing comes from predictive maintenance, yielding $0.5 trillion to $0.7 trillion across the world’s businesses.1 So this Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, has ushered in an unprecedented technological revolution, and with it, paradigm shifts that affect us all. The complexities and infinite possibilities of Industry 4.0 can be wondrous, and overwhelming. For many automation companies, it’s presenting a management challenge in terms of ensuring individuals, teams, and the organizational structure as a whole can adjust accordingly when new technology and software is introduced. 

In this fast-moving innovative environment, what is to be expected and what will be required from Industry 4.0 leaders? How should we adapt in what has been defined by Oxford Leadership2 as a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) environment? Radical changes in the work environment present a call to action to rethink and revamp our collective approach to leadership and organizational change.

Leadership 4.03, a relatively new concept, was designed as a blueprint for workforce adaptability in the Industrial Internet of Things era. It aims to harness the talents of individuals in order to maximize technological advancements. Fifty years ago, the average lifespan for most large companies was 60 years, today it’s 15 years. Advancing people development and closing the skills gap is becoming more urgent since leadership can make or break a company’s ability to adapt and remain agile amidst rising global competition, frequent market changes, and volatility.

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Whose Responsibility is Information Security, Anyway? And How Do We Address This in Our Future Education Programs?

Dawn Montemayer, Virtual CSO, CyberRisk Solutions • April 5, 2019

When I first started in Information Security, securing the environment was thought to be the Chief Information Security Officer’s responsibility. This, of course, was in the brick and mortar times, with limited functions being done through the internet. There were firewalls at the perimeter to keep the bad guys out. All of this has changed over the last few decades (I know I’m dating myself here!). With the proliferation of mobile technology, online services, and pretty much every business operating in multiple locations across the globe, there is no longer a true perimeter. This has given us an opportunity to rethink Information Security and how its principles should be taught within the educational programs of tomorrow.

To respond to the dynamics of an ever-changing environment, every person in the organization must understand their role in building and maintaining a secure environment. This means that at the core of information security, security awareness must be a living, breathing program in which the business and IT stakeholders can feed information back into the process in a meaningful way, thus creating a feedback loop. The feedback coming in should describe specific information on how controls can be implemented or enhanced in a more efficient way for the business unit’s specific area. Stakeholders need to address the level of risk present while maintaining or increasing the level of security in place.

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