Developing Human Social Networks to Identify and Develop Data-Driven Metrics and Methods

Alan Cheville
Bucknell University

As access to information grows learners across the lifespan are able to find and use information to meet varying needs, both work- and personal-related. There is a need to understand how new technologically-driven capabilities are changing not only how people become educated, but at a more fundamental level what it means to be educated and how people broadly perceive affordances and barriers for their own education.The guiding question of this study is to understand how five broad societal trends are beginning to impact upon existing educational programs and structures. One trend is the tension between industry’s desire for STEM graduates and actual demand, which is related to changing qualifications. The second is the increasing access to information—including engineering coursework—that was formerly available only in degree programs. The third trend is the increasing rate at which engineers must acquire new knowledge and skills which is driven by increasing time-to-market pressures and shortening engineering design cycles. The fourth is an increasing degree of interconnection which drives a need for systems thinking, particularly in smart systems, or “systems of systems”. The final trend is a slow shift towards more automation which will shift what skills are valued in the workforce and thus employability. These trends together may radically alter how engineering education is perceived, valued, and delivered. Through workshops, panels, and later (as COVID made such events impossible), through individual interviews, this project explored how individuals are reacting to these broad changes. Faculty, industry, students, and technology developers see these broad trends affecting their education in different ways, and their views shifted as the pandemic acted as an accelerant to trends at the education-technology interface. The study found T three “sticky engagements”—the digital revolution, the role of technological obstructionists, and the inevitability of technological advancement—around which there were considerable disagreements and misalignments due to positionality in the engineering ecosystem. We find surprising permeability of boundaries between stakeholder groups and found a more nuanced picture of the EdTech revolution than the widely-accepted narrative of an adversarial relationship between educators and educational technology. Similarly, the popular narrative that circulates about the inevitability of the EdTech Revolution and the collapse of brick-and-mortar institutions also proves to be a universalizing statement that is not truly espoused by anyone we spoke with. By understanding the broader narratives that underlie individuals’ positionality in the larger ecosystem of education and technology these results imply there are potentially fertile grounds for new forms of collaboration. While new forms of collaboration may be inhibited by structural aspects of STEM education that are extremely difficult to change, for example funding models or existing IT infrastructure, understanding ways groups engage around narratives, and the fact these narratives are highly nuanced points to new directions for improving STEM education.


Sarah Appelhans, Bucknell University, Lewisburg PA; Atsushi Akera, RPI, Troy NY