Collaborating to Meet an Emerging Need: The MA Teaching in STEM Success Story
As many professional and continuing education units know, program development and success depends upon the unique blend of faculty champions, regional partnerships, process know-how and lots of communication, creativity and collegiality!
Shippensburg University’s faculty conceived of an innovative, flexible, career-changing program though Professional Continuing and Distance Education (PCDE) to address teacher shortages in STEM. The purpose of the original grant application to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) was to serve high-needs districts in their pursuit of qualified science teachers. This cross-discipline graduate program was the first in the state system and one of a few in the state. Built to attract professionals with bachelor’s degrees in science ripe for a second career, a career change, or a way to give back, the 18-month master’s program combined both online and face-to face interactions in short term modules equipped with extensive field work with local science teachers which provided participants significant flexibility in meeting the PDE requirements. The short-term courses developed as modules prepare the cohort to produce academic work and performance-based assessment in the area of science pedagogy, classroom management, special needs accommodation under the umbrella of applied and action research.
Launching the Program
Launched as a small cohort outside of the traditional department structure, this innovative and unique interdisciplinary model has allowed for a collaborative initiative that has truly met the needs for the students, regional workforce needs, and the grant requirements. Thoughtful design and implementation of the programmatic offerings met the required changes for PDE and university processes.
A student-centered approach meant cohort students received a learning experience focused on faculty-student interactions, with high-touch, concierge-type support services from staff, university offices and faculty. Participants were allowed to continue in their professional careers or find district positions as substitutes throughout the program. The intensive and accelerated cohort model offered the benefits of context and community whereby students and faculty formed relationships of trust and a true collective learning experience.
While the first two cohorts were specifically science education, additional queries were raised at about the midpoint of the second cohort. First, questions were raised by prospective students about whether we had the ability to offer a similar program for other areas such as mathematics. Second, there were questions about ways to address the fact that the undergraduate program in Information Technology, Business Education (ITBE) would be put in moratorium. In discussion and consultation with faulty from those respective areas, staff and administration from PCDE, a decision was made to modify the existing MAT in Science Education to be a MAT in STEM Education as there was much overlap with the foundation and methods courses. Meetings that expanded the original planning team were held and a decision was made to expand to STEM areas, which would allow students to then be certified in science areas, mathematics, or information technology business education. This decision also broadened the pool of applicants, making the program more sustainable. The first cohort for the STEM MAT started in the fall of 2016 and will graduate this coming December.
Additionally, this expansion provided opportunities for students in the cohort to discuss interdisciplinary ideas as part of the coursework; collaborate on projects where and when appropriate; and start to work with peers in a professional learning network. Conversations were wide-reaching when students enrolled in one discipline would express a view or comment on an event and other disciplines offered their perspective. One such example was related to ITBE students discussing how assessments in technology or related fields were geared around total application of concepts within a scenario. Those enrolled in science areas could view how scenarios could best be utilized and connect that to problem- or project-based learning aspects in their field.
The planning team has discussed several options for future possibilities including the pursuit of a private foundation grant that would allow us to significantly expand this program. We have received notification that the potential of this award may be in the works as a phase-two school. Regardless, the collaboration between the faculty, administration, staff, and students will continue to develop, evolve, and meet the needs of this unique population of students. Our fourth cohort is beginning this fall and we have already begun to make those important connections.
As the future STEM demand in teaching increases, there will be a need for transitioning people in the STEM career areas into the teaching field. Cutting edge opportunities allow us to offer this support, structure, and service to the students while at the same time meeting school district demand for these teaching positions. Ultimately, it is not only our students who benefit from an innovative and collaborative approach to meeting their needs, but also the students they teach in their classrooms. It is often stated that teachers often teach in the way they were taught. Therefore, it is our expectation that this flexibility, collaboration, and attention to the needs of their students will continue into the future.