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Saturday, February 18, 2012

STEM and Quality - Statistical Thinking Required

by Quality Matters

It is estimated that 30% of the U.S. workforce will reach retirement age in the next four to six years. That is a potentially huge loss of talent and experience to employers. How well are organizations poised to retain years of acquired knowledge before it walks out the door? On the supply side, according to ASQ commissioned research on teens’ pursuit of STEM careers, teens appear to understand that engineering will be second only to medicine for available jobs. However, teens are somewhat reluctant to pursue STEM fields because the cost and time to obtain a STEM degree is deemed too high and involves too much work and study compared to other careers.

The world today has become much flatter; the competition for jobs is no longer isolated to the local community. Technology is easily transferable. Competition is global. In the popular YouTube video Did You Know 3.0, Karl Fisch reveals that India has more honor students than the US has students. Furthermore, the exponential rate of change in technology and information means that 1/2 of what a student learns while earning a 4-year technical degree becomes outdated by their 3rd year.

The same afore-mentioned ASQ sponsored research revealed that many students spend more time browsing the internet or playing computer games than on schoolwork. I am reminded by a Deming quote that states processes are perfectly designed to deliver what they get. So what more can STEM professionals and educators - and society - do to support STEM students? Learning is a process. Every process has inputs that are transformed into outputs. All processes have variation. I believe that school boards, administrators, educators and professionals must apply the concepts of Statistical Thinking to curriculum design and delivery. Furthermore, Abraham Maslow's Hierarcy of Needs reminds us that our physiological and safety needs, and sense of love and belonging must be met before we can achieve self-esteem and self-actualization. Nutrition, mobility, discipline and attendance of our children must be a shared partnership between engaged parents, school boards - and local government - in support of desired outcomes. Effective process feedback mechanisms must be developed and implemented to measure progress and provide early warning of adverse trends. W. Edwards Deming advocated that all managers need to understand the System of Profound Knowledge in order to drive and sustain improvement:

Appreciation of a system: understanding the overall processes involving suppliers, producers, and customers (or recipients) of goods and services;
Knowledge of variation: the range and causes of variation in quality, and use of statistical sampling in measurements;
Theory of knowledge: the concepts explaining knowledge and the limits of what can be known.
Knowledge of psychology: concepts of human nature.The challenges are immense and known: inadequate funding, larger class sizes, infrequent measures, decaying buildings and infrastructure, etc. Engaged stakeholders can better support STEM students by creating a learning environment that encourages personal accountability, teamwork and collaboration, and ignites innovation and creativity while rewarding experimentation - and failure. Learning must become more outcomes focused and less standards based.

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