Spurring Interest Through Engagement: Social Media And STEM Social media is a powerful tool to improve communication between millennials and STEM professionals.

By Jimmy Rohampton

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Social media is a unique phenomenon that creates some challenges for the first hyper-connected generation, but instant access to information has some advantages, especially for educating on important subjects like Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Social media often gets a bad rap. It has practically taken over the lives of millennials, disrupting the way they communicate and leading to expectations of instant gratification. Some say social media has degraded education by creating a generation with no patience to sit and learn. However, there are actually plenty of ways it can help, such as helping streamline STEM education.

"Social media at its core serves as a gateway of information," says Sean Go, co-founder of GoFurther Careers. "Most of it is gossip, viral memes and other pieces of entertainment value, but not all. Social media platforms make it easy to discuss interests and follow news about the changing face of STEM research. Platforms like Instagram and Tumblr are prime examples where millennials can easily access information in their preferred medium- visuals. Hashtags like #STEM, #SciChat and #DesignThinking make it easy for millennials interested in STEM to meet other like minds and learn more about the field. This improved access to information also benefits educators, helping them learn the latest techniques to improve learning in their classrooms."

Spurring Interest Through Engagement
Social media platforms also make it easier to engage a millennial audience about the field. A prime example of this is NASA Google+ Hangout sessions, which bring student questions straight to the researchers and build awareness about their projects. Never before have students been able to communicate directly with someone in Antarctica or outer space.

Reddit is another platform that makes it easy for millennials and STEM professionals to engage with each other. The platform is known for hosting Ask Me Anything forums (AMAs). Scientists, engineers and researchers from a wide variety of STEM professions regularly host AMAs to build a connection with young people. They answer questions about their work, give advice on how to break into a STEM career, and offer up all sorts of valuable information to help Millennials succeed in the field.

Social media is helping STEM students find helpful professional role models in their field, and it is paying off. One group of computer science researchers even created an algorithm to match up Twitter college student users with Linkedin professionals in STEM related fields. They hope that by connecting students with role models, students will be more likely to stick to the STEM career path.

Social Media in the classroom
Social media has done a lot to improve communication between millennials and STEM professionals, but it is also revolutionizing how STEM subjects are taught. One great example is a kind of social network developed by Washington State University. The software provides social programming features integrated into Microsoft Visual Studio. Dr. Hundhausen, the program's creator, says it integrates a programming environment with a Facebook-style activity feed. Another professor at the University of Southampton uses Twitter and Storify to improve Q&A for his mathematics classes. He realized that some students simply aren't comfortable asking questions publicly, so he introduced the option to submit Tweets instead. Every class period he logs into Twitter and attempts to answer the questions as they come in. Since Tweets aren't permanent, he also uses Storify to summarize his lessons and give student another social resource to improve learning.

Social Networks for Students and Teachers
Educators are doing a lot to integrate the social networks Millennials already use into their teaching strategies. But there are also a wide variety of social learning platforms that are designed specifically for education, including the following:

  • Twiducate - for classroom communication.
  • Edmodo - Like Facebook, but just for education.
  • Edublogs - Classroom blogs to encourage student collaboration.
  • My Experiment - A science social network designed for advanced high school students.

STEM education is a big concern in America today. There has been a 17% growth in demand for STEM jobs in recent years, while many high school grads are unprepared for the rigor of studying to be a STEM professional. Together, the available social learning networks assist with all STEM subjects for all educational levels. As more teachers take advantage of these tools for education, we can expect the gap in STEM professionals today to slowly be filled by engaged millennials.

A Look to the Future
Even before platforms like Twitter and Facebook came on the scene, STEM research was always a social endeavor. For hundreds of years, scientists and engineers have been working together to discover and create, using pen and paper correspondence and academic publications.

That has been slow work, but now that social networks make communication instant, STEM researchers have an opportunity. By using social media to educate the next generation of STEM professionals, we can arm the world with a hyper-connected workforce to streamline research and innovation in these fields.

Related: To Grow Their Participation In STEM, Women Need To Come Together
Jimmy Rohampton

Freelance writer & Business consultant

Jimmy is a freelance writer, blogger, and business consultant. He helps people master blogging and online marketing at HowToCreateABlog.org. Jimmy has written for The Huffington Post, Engadget and Tech Cocktail to name a few.

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