NSF Dear Colleague Letter: STEM Education for the Future


This NSF Dear Colleague Letter invites proposals to solve educational challenges created by the technology revolution. To effectively respond to many of the problems facing our nation, new scientific advances are needed, as defined in the Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments. Achieving these advances will require changes in what people learn and how they learn it. Through this STEM Education for the Future Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), existing NSF education and workforce development programs encourage innovative proposals to prepare scientists and engineers for work in new contexts created by technology and big data.

Specifically, through this DCL, NSF aims to support STEM educational research and development projects whose results can enable our country to: better prepare its scientific and technical workforce for the future; use technological innovations effectively for education; advance the frontiers of science; and adapt to both new work environments and new education pathways needed to prepare students at all levels for those environments.

Technology, Computation, and Big Data are driving changes to daily life. Computing, sensing, data storage, data access, communication, and hardware technologies continue to change our lives and work. These technologies produce unprecedented volumes of data and vast interconnectivity capabilities, such as data provided by ubiquitous sensing and the Internet of Things. Personal, behavioral, transactional, and environmental data in a myriad of formats (numerical, image, audio, and others) are available at ever greater speeds, propelling innovations such as artificial intelligence-aided automation. Such automation in the home, office, and classroom also challenges long-standing expectations about privacy, security, and the veracity of the underlying data

Although it is expected that technology, computation, and big data will have positive impacts on the human condition, the world still faces persistent societal, cultural, and economic challenges, e.g., hunger, poverty, our dynamic Earth, and energy security. Moreover, we must continue work to ensure equitable access to precisely those technologies that give rise to these changes. Equally important is the challenge of ensuring equitable access to high quality education, which leads directly to questions important to the NSF: How do these new technologies change the way we learn and do science, math, and engineering? How do we navigate such change? How do we use technological innovations to ensure full participation of all groups in the STEM workforce?

To answer these questions related to learning, researchers will need to cross disciplines, define the potential impact of technologies, and develop new technical competencies. Furthermore, all scientific and technical workers will need new knowledge and skills so they can perform new tasks or perform current tasks with new tools.

This DCL seeks proposals related to harnessing the data revolution and the future of work at the human-technology frontier. This DCL encourages educational research and development proposals that are original, creative, and transformative, and that can help the nation educate the STEM workforce of the future, in contexts of:

All proposals responding to this DCL should address education issues related to FW-HTF, HDR, or to both. Proposals can also include activities that are relevant to other NSF Big Ideas.

This DCL will support three categories of proposals:

  1. Proposals focused on educational transformation: These proposals will leverage technology, computation and/or big data to develop, implement, and analyze educational interventions designed to prepare a diverse workforce, researchers, and innovators of the future. Proposals that explore how students learn to integrate knowledge across disciplines to solve complex problems fall into this category.
  3. Proposals focused on the science of teaching and learning: These proposals will leverage technology, computation and/or big data to develop, implement, and analyze new tools for assessing and evaluating convergent education strategies that aim to promote student learning at all levels.
  5. Planning grants, Research Coordination Networks, Conference Proposals: These proposals will create communities of STEM educators to address convergent curriculum and pedagogical challenges across disciplinary boundaries brought about by the human-technology frontier, the data revolution, or both.

This DCL emphasizes proposals that cross departmental and disciplinary boundaries. This DCL encourages original proposals for curricular innovations that cross boundaries, so that students gain the tools and knowledge needed to thrive in the technology revolution and become the creators/innovators of the future.

This DCL encourages proposals that reflect a coordinated effort from interdisciplinary research teams of at least two PIs from different disciplines. Such teams can make learning a convergence experience and accomplish learning goals that are not otherwise achievable. Examples include, but are not limited to: computational skills in an application area such as genetics; automation and sensing in natural and manufactured environments; calculus, modeling and simulation of physical contexts and objects; art, psychology, conceptual design and mechanical design for better product development; or sociology and earth sciences to address adaptation to our environment. Proposals that use convergence approaches to instill the development of needed non-technical abilities for the 21st century are also appropriate, including ones that focus on development of teamwork, higher level thinking, problem solving, creativity, adaptability, and the ability to communicate across disciplinary boundaries.

In summary, competitive proposals will propose an approach that reflects convergence in education and human resource development, using technology and data beyond disciplinary boundaries to create student outcomes that will benefit society.

For more information on responding to the STEM Education for the Future DCL, view the full DCL on NSF's website:




STEM Career Opportunities and Workforce Development
Youth Motivation and Interests in STEM