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ASSOCIATION FOR CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION

Project-based Learning Supports Women in STEM

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December 2, 2013

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Project-Based Learning Supports Women in STEM

A survey of alumni from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, which features a project-based curriculum, explored the long-term impacts of project-based learning. For each of the 39 impact areas assessed, women in particular reported that project-based learning had positively impacted their success. This adds to a growing body of research that project-based learning, a key component of CTE, may help to recruit and retain women into STEM fields.

The project-based learning curriculum at WPI includes two required 9-credit-hour projects that tackle real-world problems from external clients, conducted under faculty guidance.  Almost all alumni responded that project-based learning at WPI had positively impacted them after graduation. Women in particular reported strong positive impacts from project-based learning, particularly in areas of leadership, communication, ethics, cross-cultural understanding, global awareness, social impact and work/life balance. Other research has pointed to women being more motivated to take a contextual and collaborative approach to engineering tasks, supporting the idea that women in particular may respond to a project-based learning curriculum in technical fields (Busch-Vishniak and Jarosz 2004; Kilgore et al. 2007).

As the researchers pointed out to Allie Grasgreen of Inside Higher Ed, if project-based learning were more widely employed on the secondary level, it may encourage young women to start studying STEM at an earlier age. 

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