Enhancing enjoyment by fostering the imagination seems to be effective and is clearly helping enhance education, but maybe not all topics lend themselves to the nontraditional models. STEM fields require a foundation of knowledge that while the lecture may not always be the ideal means of information transfer, I question how much benefit there is for trying to apply these methods to things like Fluid Dynamics. Yes, hands on labs support learning, but there is little room for imagination and creativity around the equations of fluid movements. All through STEM there are core courses that without their foundation, students will be ill equipped to move on to, unfortunately those are also the potentially more engaging courses. Full disclosure, I have no idea how to go about bringing imagination and engagement to a STEM core course.
The new learners of the 21st century featured classroom environments fostering creative learning approaches which allowed the students to explore their interests. I have worked in commercial video production and photography, and while skills like editing and composition can be taught, it takes an already creative mind to truly master the craft, and those creative minds can often master the craft by practice alone. Coding has been described many times as more akin to a language in terms of the learning process, so while it is a STEM aspect being taught in this creative way, I still don’t see a connection to how these approaches would address calculus, or basic chemistry. Specific topics in STEM may benefit from these gamifications and alternative strategies in the classroom. But there are still large amounts of knowledge that needs to be transferred consistently before there is room for creativity and exploration.
I have noticed there is often a relation between engagement and enjoyment, if the topic is not interesting to the students (or myself) the chances to achieve engagement are low, and the non-class related activities will come out on the technologies. I have encountered several topics where due to enjoyment I have greater desire to learn more, and spend more of my time pursuing further learning. Unfortunately, not all of these topics have direct application to pursuing my PhD, but many of them have become hobbies. Finding some means to change the learning experience from that of a standard lecture to focus on fostering enjoyment might build greater engagement, but who truly loves those core STEM courses that are usually offered as a “weed out” course?
In one of the courses I have been involved in, on Fridays the students take over the course. They get to find a part of the material that speaks to them, develop a brief lecture and then spend most of their time leading an activity which they feel facilitates understanding the material of the week. The students on both sides of the room seem to enjoy the flipped classroom days. But the course is a senior level technical elective where we are covering a lot of interpersonal and management theories. The students clearly gain a deeper understanding beyond the simple definitions of the concepts and theories in class, which enables them to adapt them in their work lives, but they still had to suffer through the core STEM coursework to get to this elective course.
I still am not sure how this could be applied to say, fluid dynamics and relay enough knowledge to set the students up for continuing through a course progression. But there is a definite need to enhance those core STEM courses, get more students interested in the fundamentals earlier so that they can master them and apply them later. I only wish there was a straightforward way to make the courses more engaging.