Taking a look at the STEM Education landscape: Strengths of Engineering Skill-Based Volunteering and Online Programs that inform our work

A literature review is a necessary component of most publications, demonstrating familiarity with the field and key research findings while also situating your work in the broader context of that research. Understanding this aim, as we crafted a proposal for an NSF AISL grant this past winter, we decided to expand our understanding of “literature” to include programs and initiatives addressing the same issues as Iridescent’s programs. We focused on the practices of: 
  1. engaging STEM mentors (particularly professional engineers) 
  2. involving parents and families in children’s learning
  3. exploring STEM content through online platforms and services
We hoped to understand what other programs were doing to address the question of engaging underrepresented populations–to learn from and adapt their best practices–and also to understand where our work fit into this broader picture. In part, we were looking for a way to answer the question: “What makes Iridescent programs unique?”
In conducting our review, we compiled the following tables:

Strengths of Engineering Skill-Based Volunteering and Online Programs that inform our work


Family Science:

Online Learning:

Looking at this collection of programs and organizations helped us better understand what we’re doing, and what we’re aiming to do. As we set the three categories and classified programs into those categories, we began to understand the way we combine these separate aspects. We had to look back to our early days to trace the influence of San Jose’s Family Science Nights, or the over-arching influence of the philosophy behind Engineers without Borders, or the model of online-hosted curriculum Engineering is Elementary embodies…but in collecting all of these programs into tables we were able to see our work occurring at the intersection of these categories.

We looked at projects designed to offer online mentorship courses to university STEM students (the SUNY mentorship program; COSIA) and projects developed to produce online curriculum/content from STEM students and professionals for classrooms or websites (Portal to the Public, Engineering is Elementary; Using Science Academies Project), and saw similarity in our aims with our Engineers as Teachers program and the Curiosity Machine.
However, we were also able to understand the unique nature of our own program–our system of teaching engineers to communicate their research to a public, non-technical audience through structured Family Science Courses (similar to San Jose Discovery Museum Family Science and Engineering Nights, or the AASS Science Nights, but consistently, over a five week course period instead of one night, and for free), and then having that continue into families’ homes, with the Curiosity Machine (which combines the Engineering curriculum and OEEDC of other sites like EiE or DIY with one-on-one mentorship). We were able to understand how the emphasis on one-on-one mentorship for Open Ended Design Challenges of the Curiosity Machine is unique for a website, but also for engineers who seek deeper connections, wanting to reach younger learners (while being mindful of realistic time commitments). 
It was through considering the field, reviewing other programs and their practices and expertise that we were able to situate our own, and fully articulate how our chain or pipeline of programs knits together their (and our own) best practices in a unique way. In short, we had to look around to understand where we fit in.

References: Our jumping off point for this review was Change the Equation