The Need to Teach Digital Communication
Offering STEM to students is becoming more and more popular in schools across the nation, as the STEM job market has exploded in the last two decades. It has gotten so popular that some schools have been marketing themselves with a complete STEM framework. However, with the increased offering of STEM courses to students, comes an increased need in STEM teachers.
For the most part, schools are turning to the traditional fields of math and science to find teachers for STEM courses. That seems to make sense – after all, science and math both make up part of the STEM acronym. However, focusing solely on the fields of science and math show a fundamental misunderstanding of what is needed to offer comprehensive coverage for students in STEM.
STEM needs language teachers.
There are two extremely important reasons for this. The first, is programming. One of the largest components of the STEM field is learning to code. What better way to learn a literal new language (with grammar, syntax, etc.) than have it taught by a teacher trained in languages? While a programming language and a conversational language (like English or Spanish) serve different uses, the same underlying structures are used. By not hiring language teachers, districts are selling themselves, and their students short.
But more importantly, digital communication needs to be taught. Too many students (and too many adults) do not know how to communicate effectively online.
Scroll through Youtube comments. Take a look at facebook, reddit, twitter. Look at the impact of fake news and biased journalism. Read about any number of cyberbullying stories in the news, and their tragic end. These are real, relevant issues that are impacting our world in a major way, and yet our STEM courses are focusing on robotics.
We need teachers that can not only engage in the communication issues we see throughout our social media platforms, but also teachers that can educate our students on how to best navigate the generally unsupervised depths of the internet.
Too many students learn from their peers about online communication. Too many students learn from Youtube, from Snapchat and from their own Instagram feed about how to respond to others. Too many students are unable to recognize how digital actions have real life consequences. Too many students unquestioningly believe what they read online.
You can replace “student” with “people”, and the above paragraph reads just as true.
So what can we do?
We need to refocus STEM. STEM has many components, from programming to designing to engineering. The arts have been added to create STEAM. While a new acronym is not necessary, we need to add a communication component. It is not enough to ask media specialists to do one lesson a week on digital citizenship. It is not enough to ask homeroom teachers to talk about online bullying, or to have a school-wide hashtag.
STEM programs need to commit to one of the largest needs in our student population today. STEM programs need to hire language teachers, and explicitly teach digital communication to our students. Otherwise, we are sending our students into an increasingly digital world without the skills they need to navigate it.