September 2020
Monthly News

Top Tips for Virtual Learning - Part 1: Strategies for Engagement

Webinar Supports Council Equity Priority

IT and Cyber Programs Earn 2020 STEM Council Seal of Approval

Top Tips for Virtual Learning - Part 2: Methods of Communication

October 15, 2020 - 10:00 a.m.
Northwest Regional STEM Advisory Board Virtual Meeting

October 22, 2020 - 12:00 p.m.
North Central Regional STEM Advisory Board Virtual Meeting

October 26, 2020 - 12:00 p.m.
Southwest Regional STEM Advisory Board Virtual Meeting
Top Tips for Virtual Learning - Part 1: Strategies for Engagement
The immediate shift to virtual learning has impacted nearly every Iowan. Many are still learning how to best navigate the new virtual territory. The STEM Council sought out best practices and advice for virtual learning from our 2020 STEM Scale-Up Program providers.

Part 1 of this two-part article, focuses on strategies for engagement. Part 2, featured in the fourth article of this newsletter, focuses on methods of communication. These tips and best practices from our Scale-Up Program providers are offered as a resource to help equip others with the tools, resources and strategies to be as effective as possible.

  1. Develop primary objectives for the audience to keep the sessions short and structured.
  2. Identify a user-friendly platform that best meets your needs. Consider an option that is accessible on any device. Attending a virtual training should be a positive experience and this requires the right platform and setup. If there are any applications, software or hardware that need to be learned, factor in time to provide instruction.
  3. Encourage participants to have their video on to see faces. Begin with a participatory activity that encourages creativity. At the beginning of the session, describe the different ways that you will be asking them to participate.
  4. Educators and students may not have access to classrooms, labs and equipment. Look for ways to work around this, such as the use of household materials.
  5. If you have an activity that works really well in a face to face setting, find a way to modify and adapt it to a virtual setting. Be creative and think about items and materials in new and innovative ways.
  6. Try mixing up the activities done while learning synchronously and provide asynchronous activities to allow for a break and flexibility during the day. This offers the opportunity to learn offline, take care of needs and come back a bit refreshed.
  7. Allow time for passive work time. This is when participants are still on the virtual call and have time to work on their own. The facilitator is available for questions or support if needed. This will also reduce the amount of time that participants are looking at a screen during your time together.
  8. Whenever possible, have a dedicated person to support the virtual environment so the facilitator can focus on facilitating and the support person can handle letting people in to the session, sharing links to resources, watching for questions in the chat, setting up breakout rooms and managing other needs that may arise.

(Continued as Part 2 – the final story of this newsletter below.)
Webinar Supports Council
Equity Priority
Dr. Aris Winger, Dr. Pamela Harris and Dr. Dwight Williams facilitated a virtual webinar to follow-up with participants of the Fostering Equity in the STEM Classroom Workshop focused on equity, diversity and inclusion in the STEM classroom.
Following the Fostering Equity in the STEM Classroom Workshop in June, the first of three follow-up webinars was held in mid-September.

Participants were surveyed prior to and after the June workshop to determine the impact and effectiveness of the training. Results showed that the majority of individuals felt more confident in fostering equity and having the necessary skills to foster equity in the STEM classroom than before the workshop.

The recent webinar served as check-in to determine how things have been going for participants, what has changed since the initial workshop and discuss successes and challenges they have been facing since returning to the classroom.

Aris Winger, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Mathematics Enrichment for Diversity and Learning (MEDAL), Pamela Harris, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics at Williams College and Dwight Williams, Ph.D., postdoc research associate at Iowa State University facilitated the webinar. They allowed time to reflect on the discussion and individual goals set during the June workshop, followed by conversation about how the first few weeks of the school year has been going and looking ahead to the future.

“My hope is that we’re coming out of this as better teachers,” said Winger, “It is an honor and a privilege to meet new people who we can impact in positive ways and understand our responsibility to disrupt what the rest of the world may be telling them. When they come into a space that we can control, we can treat them as the valuable people that they are.”

Two additional webinars will be held this Fall to conclude the workshop.

For more information about STEM Council events and programs, please visit our website at
IT and Cyber Programs Earn 2020 STEM Council Seal of Approval
The STEM Council endorsed two STEM programs in Iowa with the Seal of Approval. The Seal of Approval recognizes non-Council programs and events that are helping advance the goals of Iowa STEM, one America’s most ambitious and effective state STEM initiatives.

“The STEM Council recognized the many allies and complementary programs at work in Iowa aligned to our vital work, and charged us with developing a means for recognizing them as partners,” said Jeff Weld, executive director of the Council. “We’re pleased to extend the STEM Council’s Seal of Approval to programs who can leverage the recognition in amplifying their own effectiveness at spreading STEM thinking and the engagement of Iowa communities.”

Security Literacy
One of the programs receiving the Seal of Approval is Cybersecurity Literacy, which is designed to equip educators and professionals to reach out to their respective communities and promote cybersecurity literacy. It is designed to help students be aware of cybersecurity issues and how to take steps towards mitigating these realistic security threats. To help address this problem, a curriculum has been developed that focuses on learning computer security from the user’s point-of-view. The project contains materials for high school educators designed to be easy to understand and use. Students can apply the information they learn to real world situations through class-based discussions, case studies and classroom assignments. All curriculum materials are available to instructors free of charge.

The second recipient is IT-Adventures, an innovative program designed to engage high school students in technology. Students of all experience levels can join their school’s IT-Adventures Club, led by educators and mentors, and select the venture of their choice: robotics, smart-IT and cyber defense. The curriculum offers hands-on, real-world applications of STEM principles in a team-based setting. Students work collaboratively not only with their school teams but across Iowa to spread their learning and grow the community. Clubs receive teaching materials and challenges from IT-Adventures staff to work through, teaching students the curriculum, teamwork and problem solving.

Both programs are the product of Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Dr. Doug Jacobson and his team at Iowa State University.

Seal of Approval applications are invited on a rolling basis for individual programs or periodic events that significantly advance STEM principles and thinking in Iowa communities. Applicants should be unaffiliated with existing STEM Council programs. The Seal is expressly for programs, not intended for individuals, organizations or institutions. Applications are reviewed three time per year: late April, August and December.

Visit for more information on the STEM Council Seal of Approval.
Top Tips for Virtual Learning - Part 2: Methods of Communication
Communication is often referred to as the key to success and is possibly even more important in a virtual learning environment. Below are some tips and best practices from STEM Scale-Up Program providers* to enhance the communication flow in a virtual settings.
  1. Share necessary information well enough in advance of the session.
  2. Set expectations early on. Something will probably go wrong, so share that everyone is in this together and we'll recover from mishaps to make sure learning is still happening. 
  3. Address the realities of the current circumstances. Demonstrate examples of how to use materials now and discuss what implementation looks like in their specific situation. Don’t just present for ‘when things go back to normal’.
  4. Try to limit the number of technology tools used to no more than three to reduce the cognitive load of learning new content and potentially new tools. Choose tools that help engage participants and that are accessible after the lesson or meeting. 
  5. Provide a contact phone number for participants who may have additional questions or needs.
  6. Allow extra wait time - more time than one might use in a face to face scenario. It has the effect of giving audience think time, as well as to navigate that uncertainty about who should go next that arises virtually in the absence of body cues. 
  7. During synchronous meeting time, try to engage people in different ways. Some participants enjoy talking in a large group, while others prefer smaller breakout groups for discussion. Additional support times and social connections such as a morning "coffee hour" allows an opportunity for participants to ask questions or get additional help with something outside of the larger group.
  8. Record sessions for reference afterwards, if appropriate, for participants who may have had technology or Internet access problems. 
  9. For additional assistance outside the lesson or meeting, other methods may include webinars, office hours, increased community access, blog post series, email, social media, conferencing platforms and direct mail to send hands on materials to use during the session.
  10. Encourage feedback from the participants and use asynchronous times to make adjustments to their needs and requests. Consider anonymous surveys to get feedback before and after a lesson or meeting. 

*We thank the following program providers for contributing to this two-part story:
  • Rashonda Carroll, Hand2Mind
  • Samantha Dahlby, NewBoCo
  • Amanda Gentry, Project Lead The Way
  • Dan Meyer, Desmos
  • Jolie Pelds, Science Center of Iowa
Contact the Iowa STEM Operations Center by phone at (319) 273-2959
or by email at