June 25, 2012

Project will help students plan for college, careers

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale is part of an initiative that will help students prepare for college and careers.

The project involves creating a shared learning infrastructure online where teachers can go to connect with a wide array of free resources available to benefit their students.  In addition to materials that focus on traditional academic skills, the website will include information and links that identify the skills and traits necessary for students to succeed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The state of Illinois received $42 million through the federal government’s “Race to the Top” initiative, with the funding focused on nine STEM education pathways.   The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Education, with additional funding for the development of a Shared Learning Collaborative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  

The project’s goal is to empower students by helping them more easily explore academic and career opportunities and interests in nine key areas:  energy; finance; health science; information technology; research and development; architecture and construction; agriculture, food and natural resources; manufacturing; and transportation, distribution and logistics.

SIU Carbondale is working with the Bloomington School District, Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois to build a shared learning infrastructure that will provide teachers with access to open source educational materials, said John Washburn, visiting professor and director of the Center for Workforce Development.

The center, which is part of SIU Carbondale’s Workforce Education and Development department in the College of Education and Human Services, is handling the project for the University.  The $169,982 grant is just the beginning for the initiative that will focus on using advances in technology infrastructure to create collaborative learning experiences. 

This is the first step of a process that will involve the allocation of up to $12 million in resources for the new technology infrastructure.  Washburn and Jeanne Kitchens, associate director of the Center for Workforce Development, are spearheading the work at SIU Carbondale.  Thus far, the work has involved study of the potential for using open source technologies for workforce development activities and mapping a strategy for doing so.      

The STEM education initiative is part of the Illinois Pathways program, which is designed to prepare students for college and careers.  The program will support statewide partnerships between the public and private sectors in Learning Exchanges to better coordinate resources and planning. 

There are countless free resources available online, but the idea is to bring everything together into one, easy-to-access website where teachers can find what they need to help their students prepare for college and career success, Washburn said.

“It’s going to be a one-stop access point,” he said.  

The first phase of the project involved studying the design of specifications for the shared learning infrastructure.  In January, the design specifications will be used to build the Shared Learning Collaborative, providing technology tools and filters for finding, interpreting, organizing and retrieving data that is important to educators, students and parents, Washburn said. 

To learn more about the Illinois Pathways initiative and the STEM learning project, look online at www.illinoisworknet.com under the “Illinois Pathways” banner.