Framing Next Steps in Research for ITEST

Joyce Malyn-Smith is a national expert on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce development. She has a deep knowledge of how learners develop skills to prepare for productive and rewarding work life. And, she has a special interest in the innovation economy and how technology and informal learning can spark creativity and cultivate and sustain students' interest in STEM careers. From 2003 to 2013, she served as the PI of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) Learning Resource Center (LRC) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). She leads a 20+ year body of work at Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), focusing on STEM career and workforce development. 

It seems that for decades we have struggled to figure out how to provide our youth with the best possible education that will lead to high paying jobs that offer a gateway to a prosperous future. We all seek prosperity. Prosperity reduces financial anxieties, helps renters become home owners, expands options for selecting communities in which we live and schools our children attend, increases opportunities for higher education, contributes to family stability, and, in general, greatly increases the amount of control we have over our lives.  

NSF’s ITEST (Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers) program promotes PreK-12 students’ interests and capacities to participate in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communications technology (ICT) workforce of the future.  ITEST is, therefore, an ideal testbed for researching what it takes to create robust pathways leading towards well-compensated technology-enriched careers.

Last August STELAR’s Data and Impact Working Group convened to discuss what types of data should be collected by ITEST projects to provide evidence that the program was setting youth on a STEM career trajectory.  Kirk Knestsis of Hezel Associates, David Reider of Education Design, and I formed a subgroup to explore this issue in depth.  Our result, “Workforce Education Models for K–12 STEM Education Programs: Reflections on, and Implications for the NSF ITEST Program,” was published online recently by the Journal of Science Education and Technology, and is freely available on both the publisher and STELAR website.

In the article we present an overview of the theoretical foundations of career development and how they influenced our ongoing exploration.  We share the ITEST STEM Education Helix model developed by an ITEST working group in 2012 to visualize STEM career development in schools. Building on this work, and based on our review ITEST program elements and exploration of ITEST projects funded to date, we propose a STEM Workforce Education Theoretical Logic Model to help program designers and researchers address challenges particular to designing, implementing and studying education innovations in ITEST programs. We conducted a small exploratory study to test the model fit with examples from recent ITEST projects and produced five short case studies highlighting connections to  the these models. 

Our investigations helped us to understand better the important distinction between STEM content and STEM career outcomes, and the relationships among critical components of the ITEST program. We view this paper as a first step in framing ongoing discussions and a research agenda designed to report on ITEST’s workforce education achievements. To provide evidence of impact of the ITEST program on STEM career trajectories, we call for new studies to develop instruments, methods, and recommendations focusing on the STEM career and workforce education components discussed in this paper. 

Read the publication: Workforce Education Models for K–12 STEM Education Programs: Reflections on, and Implications for the NSF ITEST Program 

Join the authors for a STELAR Webinar: ITEST’s STEM Workforce Education Model to discuss these findings on October 6, at 3 pm ET.