Rema Amawi, the Lecturer of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology, speaks about the challenges faced by the education sector during the pandemic and beyond
How has the pandemic affected the education sector in the region?
In my opinion, the pandemic has made the education sector more flexible, and pushed educators to think more outside of the box. Sometimes, we don’t know our own limits and boundaries of expansion till we are actually faced with a situation that tests those limits.
In fact, we are much more resilient than we realize, and the pandemic helped us see that. It also opened up opportunities for international collaboration and allowed for great work to come out of it, which was not limited to a specific geography and facilitated providing quality education to students around the world. Simply put, the pandemic has shown us that we can put no boundaries on education.
Is there a digital disconnect with the use of educational tools and most learning happening online?
This is the third semester that is experiencing fully online learning due to this pandemic, and looking back, one can safely say that the digital disconnect is getting bridged as we advance from one semester to the next. We adapted, learned a new set of skills, and utilized various digital solutions such as publishers’ platforms, video conferencing software, collaboration tools, and virtual laboratory experiments, all aimed to provide our students with a full learning experience at the safety of their homes. In summary, we first got it to work, then improved it, and now we are working on perfecting it.
What is the importance of STEM education?
An approach that we always emphasize in our science courses is the scientific method which helps the students develop their research skills, follow their curiosity, intuition, develop a plan, and see it through by experimentation. After which, they analyze their results, make conclusions, and think even further about how to improve it the second time around. Keep trying till it works, right? In summary: to question, to explore, to become an independent thinker, and a researcher.
What are the challenges involved with STEM education?
I think one of the biggest challenges faced in sciences during the pandemic is the transposition of laboratory experiments from the lab environment to virtual delivery. As the significance of the laboratory experiments in completing the students’ understanding of the topics and material covered, and further in developing essential understanding of and skill in laboratory science, it was vital not to entirely lose this practical component of their learning.
As a result, we worked with an American company to develop tailored biology and chemistry laboratory kits that were shipped to students, enabling them to perform the experiments in the safety of their own homes, supported by live demonstration and supervision via Zoom. The first week was dedicated to learning standard safe practices – which in this case was within students’ homes – such as wearing lab coats, gloves, and safety goggles, having long hair tied up, allocating an empty bench to work on in a well-ventilated area, learning proper disposal of solutions, and much more.
Subsequent weeks moved more completely into lab work. We are currently in Week 7, and the home kit provision has been very successful so far based on current and expected enrollment numbers and students’ feedback. The cooperation of the students, of course, in following the safety regulations and preparing and performing the experimental procedures, has been essential in the success and the implementation of this plan, and they have made us very proud.