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Bryan high school students in the research program will learn operational knowledge such as digital fabrication, microprocessor electronics and programming, as well as tactical processes such as production and manufacturing. | Image: Getty Images

Technology is no longer the future; it is the present. In a world that centers around it, many feel that schools should provide students with opportunities to participate in technology-based learning experiences. 

The National Science Foundation, through the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program, awarded a team of researchers a grant to design and implement a program for high school students in Career and Technical Education. This program is currently being implemented at the Bryan Independent School District.

“This project will prepare students for the current and future digital economy,” said Dr. Malini Natarajarathinam, co-principal investigator on the project, and associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University. “The future of work favors individuals who are flexible and innovative with a holistic understanding of a range of technologies.”

The study’s goal is to prepare students for a digitally forward future. By using the horizontal approach to learning through integration of knowledge, the students will focus on practical learning and gaining relevant skills. The researchers will be monitoring students throughout the program to determine the impact of this learning experience.

Within this strategy, students are able to learn in a way where each piece of additional knowledge added is integrated into the whole, where relevance is more immediately evident and identity is more pertinently affected.

Dr. Malini Natarajarathinam

During the first year, students will focus on learning operational knowledge such as digital fabrication, microprocessor electronics and programming, as well as tactical processes such as production and manufacturing. The second year will focus on production and deployment cycles leading to design. A part of this process is engaging in real-life scenarios with local schools and businesses to implement these lessons.

“(Students) will then engage in project-based cycles of learning and production where they prepare given educational science kits and deploy these in local elementary school classes,” Natarajarathinam said. “In the second year, the students will progress to a 'strategic' phase of design and innovation where local businesses will present lectures and design challenge problems. Hence, learning in both years will be grounded in the authentic needs of the students' community.”

Once completed, the research team will test the program's effectiveness by testing and analysis of several different aspects of the program. The team hopes to show the strengths of a technology-based program.

“We will assess the impact of this program on students' technology literacy, career preparedness, growth mindset and sense of STEM identity,” Natarajarathinam said.

The study will be completed in 2024. This project is led by Dr. Francis Quek, professor of visualization in the College of Architecture. Other collaborators on the project include Dr. Mathew Kuttolamadom from the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, Dr. Rebecca Schlegel from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Rodney Boehm, director of engineering entrepreneurship, Dr. Sharon Chu from the University of Florida’s Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Dr. Jill Morris and David Reynolds from the Bryan Independent School District, and Jose Quintana, CEO of AdventGX.