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Effect of STEM Digital Media on College Student and Adult Attitudes

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 2920 words Published: 18th May 2020

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A Case for Studying the effect of STEM Digital Media on College Student and Adult Attitudes

Abstract: For children, educational digital media has been shown to be especially effective in increasing positive attitudes towards learning and academic subjects (Fisch, 2004). However, there appears to be no empirical data demonstrating the impact of digital media on college students and other adults. This paper makes a case for an investigation of how undergraduate students in science classrooms and adults beyond college position themselves when viewing educational digital media that is STEM-focused, and how STEM-focused digital media shapes these attitudes towards STEM. More specifically, an investigation of how Black students position themselves in relation to STEM-focused media.

Keywords: STEM, attitudes, digital media, mass media, cultivation theory, social media



To investigate the potential for educational digital media to have a positive impact on college student attitudes towards STEM, it is first necessary to understand how these attitudes form and develop over time. The relationship between career interests and participation in STEM career pathways has been studied most thoroughly with college students (Chen, Gully, Whiteman, & Kilcullen, 2000). Student attitudes toward an academic subject can be broken down into self-efficacy, and relatedness. For students studying in STEM fields, self-efficacy in STEM classrooms can be influenced by societal clues, peers, and past experiences in STEM. Self-efficacy and relatedness are even more important for Black students, and are even predictors of completion and retention (Simon et al., 2015).  The higher a student’s self-efficacy is, the more likely they are to approach a subject with confidence (Bandura, 2010; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Relatedness, for the sake of the context used in the paper, has been defined as “finding a role in relation to others which will make them feel valued, will contribute to their feeling of self‐worth, and will contribute to a feeling of kinship with an increasing number of persons” (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). Relatedness has also been described as one’s need to feel a part of a group as well as loved and cared for (Van den Broeck et al., 2010; Furrer & Skinner, 2003).

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Self-efficacy is comprised of several elements: prior personal experiences of content mastery, vicarious experiences of mastery, social persuasion, and physiological experiences (Wang & Degol, 2013; Bandura, 2006; Stout et al. 2011). The low numbers of Black students and professionals in STEM results in fewer opportunities for Black students to have experiences of mastery in STEM. The small number of popular Black role models in STEM further limits these opportunities that otherwise might have become a contribution to their perception of competence through vicarious experience (Nauta et al., 1998). As there are no apparent tools specifically designed for measuring college students’ attitudes towards STEM in regard to self-efficacy and relatedness, tools made for younger students may need to be adapted to conduct this research. Masnick et al., (2010) developed an instrument to measure student attitudes for STEM in high school.

The Need for Diverse STEM Portrayals

Black people in America face many adversities, many of which derive from the socioeconomic disparities that have existed due to the global history of societal injustices. A sense of relatedness is incredibly important to those who are facing adversity, including being a Black student in a STEM field. Because black people are underrepresented in STEM, the chances of Black students finding someone to relate to and perceive as similar to them in these circumstances are consequently small. Relatedness aids learning because individuals tend to internalize the practices and values of those they perceive as similar to them (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). Consequently, it follows that a strong sense of relatedness in STEM is crucial to the retention of Black people in STEM. For Black learners, this can mean that if they do not relate to their instructor or the material, then there may be a negative impact on learning. Furthermore, stereotype threat and societal expectations have the ability to tear at a Black person’s sense of relatedness in STEM. For example, scholars have shown that students’ “mindsets” play a key role in student achievement in math and science (Dweck, 2006; 2008). Additionally, for students of color a perception of stereotype threat can cause students to question their abilities, hinder performance, and even affect career aspirations (Shapiro & Williams, 2012). Therefore, for Black people watching STEM-related educational media, there could be a disconnect between the viewer and the content, particularly if they do not see themselves, their communities, or their beliefs represented.

Previous research regarding children’s’ perspectives have presented a cause for concern, showing that not only are American children’s attitudes toward STEM are low, but additionally, their ideas about who participates in STEM are also incredibly limited (Master, Cheryan, & Meltzoff, 2017; Stoet & Geary, 2018). This has been shown to be a historical occurrence, as Miller et al., (2018) conducted a meta-analysis that showed that for over the past fifty years when children are asked to draw a scientist, they have consistently produced a majority of drawings depicting white men. These interpretations are not unfounded, as women and people of color are largely underrepresented in STEM fields in the United States (National Science Board, 2010; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2009). This issue has no singular cause, and it is quite complex and multi-faceted, with many contributing factors (Blickenstaff, 2005).

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There is a body of research conducted specifically in STEM learning contexts that highlights the importance of self-perceptions and competence for STEM learners. High school students whose self-perceptions included high levels of math and science competence considered STEM majors for their college education (Sahin et al., 2017). Contrarily, students on the other end of the spectrum, who had low self-perception of competence in math and science were more likely to leave the STEM fields (Nauta, et al., 1998) Another important finding in the literature has been that students with lower levels of self-perception of competence have a difficult time staying in a STEM career field when faced with times of adversity and hardship due to diminished levels motivation and self‐confidence. STEM careers can often be high-stress and demanding, with daunting workloads, all situations where self-perception of competency would be a key factor in one’s decision to stay in the field or not (Lavigne et al., 2007). All of these circumstances are exacerbated by potential social, economic, and instructional factors that limit students’ feelings of relatedness in STEM learning contexts.

A Potential Theoretical Framework

Cultivation theory may be used to discover possible relationships between STEM-related educational media and student attitudes and self-perception in STEM. In this review, there is an emphasis specifically on Black college students in STEM, as Black students are underrepresented in STEM, and are also underrepresented in the media as STEM leaders and characters. The aim of this is to call for an understanding of possible relationships between student perceptions of relatedness, and self-efficacy and STEM-oriented digital media. Cultivation theory has three assumptions; firstly, television is mainly different from other forms of mass media, due to the fact that it is both visual and auditory, which eliminates barriers to access through literacy. Free streaming platforms such as YouTube, where users have the capability to create and share their own audiovisual content, remove cost barriers to access a wide variety of user-created entertainment, including educational media. This and many factors have made audiovisual media the “cultural arm of society,” having a great influence on popular thought and perception (Gerbner, 1978, p.175). Secondly, television or other video media, shapes the way individuals within society think and relate to each other, with a major cultural function being “the stabilization of social patterns and the cultivation of resistance to change.” (Gerbner, 1978, p.175). There are no apparent studies of college student self-perceptions of relatedness and self-efficacy in STEM; however, a longitudinal panel study of racial and gender differences in the relationship between children’s digital media consumption and self-esteem showed that minorities such as black children and female white children self-esteem were impacted negatively as they consumed digital media. Contrarily, white boys’ self-esteem was impacted positively in the study. The study also showed that black children spent an average of 10 extra hours consuming digital media (Martins & Harrison, 2012). Thirdly, although digital media as a whole has a major impact on society, its effects are limited as it is a part of a larger sociocultural system with many factors and moving parts.

In conclusion, as we move toward a society that is seeking to be more inclusive of minorities in STEM, we must address how media plays a role in minorities entering STEM careers. As popular culture has a wide influence on public opinion, it is worth looking at how digital media plays a role in shaping college student and adult attitudes toward STEM as a whole.



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