HP Blogs

Re-Imagining STEMx Education: New Approaches to Teaching & Learning for a High Tech World




Article by Jim Vanides (p. 5-112) excerpted from "EDtech Revolution in Education: The State of Digital and Distance Learning", ASTRA STEMconnector (2013), available for free download at








Re-Imagining STEMx Education:

New Approaches to Teaching & Learning for a High Tech World


These are exciting times to be an educator and a learner. New (and familiar) technologies are enabling unprecedented shifts in teaching and learning. Powerful new learning experiences are now possible – experiences that enable more students to succeed. Learners no longer need to be constrained by place or time. There is more computing power in a smartphone than the computers that filled the Apollo space capsule, changing how we live, learn, and connect with people and information. Inquiry and curiosity take on new possibilities, accelerated by technologies that enable our instant-on, always connected world. Creativity, collaboration, and innovation, it seems, are today’s precious commodities that fuel our flat, interconnected economy. This is the world our students are graduating into.


The education transformation for this new reality is underway – and it begins with re-imagining what learning and teaching can be – and needs to be – as we prepare our students to become contributing citizens in this high tech world.


Why Re-Imagine STEMx?


Let’s begin with updating the STEM acronym. Too many countries are working overtime to do a better job preparing their students for the previous century. The world has changed since US educators coined the acronym STEM. If our goal is preparing students to address the big challenges facing the world today and beyond, there are at least 20 letters missing from the acronym. Disease, hunger, environmental disasters, poverty, and more, require more than just science, technology, engineering, and math. The “x” in STEMx is the variable that encompasses missing disciplines such as computer science (CS), and new disciplines that don’t fit easily into the silo-thinking implicit in the old acronym. In addition, the “x” includes a myriad of 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving, creativity, writing, speaking, and more, are critically important – not only for high-tech workers, but for all citizens who live in this high-tech world.


Let’s be honest with our students: In an innovation-economy, you won’t be hired just because of what (and who) you know – the top candidates are hired because of how they can learn. You don’t get hired to answer the questions in the back of the chapter. You get hired to answer questions that haven’t even been asked yet. This has actually been true for some time. What has changed is that “knowledge” is expanding exponentially and new disciplines are being defined as you read this, so clearly there is no curriculum refresh cycle that will ever keep pace.


The other reality is that global collaboration is critical. STEMx professionals work across multiple timezones and cultures every day. As a result, students who experience project-based, inquiry-based, challenge-based learning in a context that requires international collaboration graduate with a tremendous advantage. Global fluency, it turns out, is the new resume differentiator.


EdTech makes STEMx possible


We have known for some time that technology alone is not the panacea that solves all education woes. Pedagogy and technology, it turns out, are two variables that interact together. Take one without the other, and the effect size is small. But when you thoughtfully combine great pedagogy with the right technologies, you can create powerful learning experiences that really do move the needle on student achievement.


This is the framework on which we built the HP Catalyst Initiative – a collaboration among more than 60 institutions across 15 countries who are exploring the future of STEMx education. Launched in 2010, teams of educators from schools, colleges, universities, and non-profit organizations were brought together into six international consortia to explore how technology could enhance STEMx learning in grades 6 (lower secondary) through grade “16” (undergraduate college and university).


The Catalyst Initiative also explores how international collaboration can enhance innovation. The results to date are summarized in a new OECD case study, Sparking Innovation in STEM Education with Technology and Collaboration.


There are many innovative practices that have come to light as a result of this work, all of which are made possible by one or more technologies:


Creators, not Consumers


To quote Larry Rosenstock, founder of High Tech High in San Diego, “Students should be creators, not consumers…” The technologies to engage students as creators continue to evolve and simplify, creating new ways to introduce students to many aspects of STEMx.


Dr. Mano Talavier from Longwood University (Virginia, USA) is an HP Catalyst grant recipient and a newly appointed HP Catalyst Academy Fellow. She has been introducing middle school girls to “computational thinking” through the design of programmable textiles. LED’s, Arduino boards, and graphical programming using Scratch are among the enabling technologies – in addition to computers and sewing machines!


Debbie Forster, COO of AppsforGood.org (UK), is a new HP Catalyst Academy Fellow. She is creating a mini-course to support teachers who are adopting the Apps for Good model of engaging middle school and high school students in solving real world challenges through app design – and introducing students to the power of design thinking that begins with a real human need.


Dr. Sherry Lassiter (founder, FabFoundation.org) and high school teacher Nick Digiorgio are also HP Catalyst Academy Fellows. They are bringing the informal education world of Fab Labs and the Maker community into the formal education system, making engineering design relevant and engaging for student – just in time for the upcoming Next Generation Science Standards being discussed in the US. Technologies that support this “hands-on” renaissance range from the mundane to the magical digital fabrication technologies like 3D printing.


Insight: Knowing what you don’t know


Education leaders such as Paul Black from Kings College, London, have long asserted that it is formative (not summative) assessment that helps students learn. One can even build a case that immediacy is what matters most, for both teachers and students. When real-time feedback helps you know what you don’t know, then deeper learning can begin.


Dr. Frank Kowalski and Susan Kowalski, Colorado School of Mines, are Catalyst grantees and HP Catalyst Academy Fellows. Their team has developed what is currently the world’s simplest way to facilitate real-time “graphical polling” through free web service called InkSurvey. Through tablets or pcs, students respond to open ended questions whose answers require a diagram or drawing – and the anonymous responses are discussed real-time during lectures or group discussions. Graphical polling itself has actually been around for at least 10 years. But with the simplicity of InkSurvey and the declining cost of tablets and laptops, this approach is easier than ever before.

What seems like a simple intervention turns out to have a tremendous impact on teaching and student understanding. In one example, students in a chemical engineering course started with only 45% competency averaged over 6 difficult topics; understanding increased to 58% through playing with simulations, but leapt up to 78% after discussions mediated through InkSurvey.

Access to STEMx Learning


Technology can also help to bridge the STEMx equity divide, but providing students access to powerful learning experiences their schools have not been able to provide.


Dr. Kemi Jona, Northwestern University (USA), also an HP Catalyst Academy Fellow, has worked been using support from the HP Catalyst program to expand Project ACCESS that provides remote labs for secondary students. These are not virtual simulations, but rather access via a web-browser to sophisticated scientific equipment located hundreds or thousands of miles away. The model has been tested by more than 4,700 students and is shown to be effective in raising student understanding.


Prof. Raghu Raman from Amrita University (India) is an HP Catalyst grantee and is using the support to address the challenge that 50% of secondary students in India do not have access to well equipped science labs. The Center for Research in Advanced Technologies for Education (CREATE) has developed sophisticated 2D and 3D web-based science lab simulations that include theory, practice, and real-time assessment. This approach has been tested by over 20,000 students and is now being adopted by the Indian Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).


Beyond Customized/Adaptive to Personalized/Personal Learning


One of the most exciting arenas for emerging edtech is driven by broad agreement that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to learning. In fact, one size doesn’t fit an individual’s lifetime of learning, either. The ability to create multiple pathways through difficult subjects is just the beginning. Ultimately, the students who will succeed at school and the life that awaits them are the ones who know how to develop a personal learning network that extends beyond “school” to informal education opportunities and a web of experts, coaches, tutors and peers. These “new learners” have the world open to them – and there is no limit to what they can do.


EdTech for STEMx Teachers


It is clear that education technology is not just for students. In fact, technology enables professional collaboration, personal learning networks, and new approaches to online learning for teachers. To complement existing webinars and intensive online courses available to teachers, the HP Catalyst initiative has launched the HP Catalyst Academy, an online professional learning network for STEMx teachers. The Catalyst Academy offers a variety of online mini-courses that are practical, fun, and convenient for busy teachers. It also provides a new form of professional recognition through digital badges. Teachers can sign up at www.catalyst-academy.org.


So this is, indeed, an exciting time to be an educator – and a student. Curiosity and inquiry are being unfettered, learning (and teaching) is enriched with global collaboration, and new learning opportunities abound. Let’s work together to make this kind of STEMx education a reality for all students…









Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Global Education Program Manager
Sustainability & Social Innovation

Follow me on Twitter @jgvanides


   FB-f-Logo__blue_29.png    be a fan on Facebook www.facebook.com/hpcatalyst


twitter-bird-light-bgs-sm.pngFollow hashtag #hpcatalyst on Twitter



Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Do you mean 
About the Author
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
footer image