Last Friday my 8th grade son, Alexander, had an opportunity to tour the College of Engineering at Kansas State University. This was his second “official” college visit.

Alexander Fryer at the Kansas State University College of Engineering

Last May, before I presented at TechForum Chicago, he had a chance to visit Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. On both visits, college staff have been a bit surprised that he isn’t in high school yet but wanted college tours. I’m convinced, however, we need to find ways to help our children, grandchildren, and students go on serious college visits LONG BEFORE they start high school. By the time students are juniors or seniors in college, if they haven’t taken the necessary coursework and earned good grades in challenging courses, it’s too late for them to do much if they have an epiphany as a result of college tour like, “Boy I need to really apply myself in school so I can go here and win a good scholarship.” One of the highlights of our visit to Northwestern’s College of Engineering was meeting Ben Slivka. Ben led the team which developed Internet Explorer at Microsoft for many years and really made an impression on Alexander concerning the value of engineering and problem solving skills.

Alexander Fryer and Benjamin Slivka

One of the ideas I’ve been kicking around for about a year is developing a grant-funded program through Storychasers to enable students to both visit university STEM departments as well as participate in day-long, short “job-shadowing” experiences with actual engineers, scientists, and others involved in STEM-related work. If we’re really serious about increasing the number of qualified applicants in STEM fields, we need to get students interested, motivated, and EXCITED about the work available in these career fields when they are in elementary and middle school. High school is too late IMHO.

In this program I’ve been building in my mind, students would be required to create and share short, reflective videos following their college visits and job-shadowing experiences. This would not only provide them with opportunities to reflect more deeply on their experiences and what they learned, but also give others who could not join them for this firsthand experience the chance to vicariously hear a little about what they did, saw and lived. This weekend I had Alexander think about what he might share in a short, narrated slideshow about his tour of the KSU Engineering College. I brainstormed some open-ended questions for him to think about, and today he created (using the application SonicPics on my iPhone along with an iRig microphone) a five minute narrated slideshow. Here’s his video reflection:

This is the planning sheet of questions I wrote for Alexander, and we discussed together prior to his recording of this SonicPics video. He did all the “clicks” to make this video, I was his tech and content coach.

Planning sheet for Alexander's Reflection on his KSU Engineering Tour

Our tour guide at KSU, Richard Reed, recently graduated from the college in Chemical Engineering and is currently in the Master’s program in Nuclear Engineering at K-State. One of the key statistics we heard from Richard involved attrition. Most students drop out of the engineering program in their freshman or sophomore years. Of about 130 students who initially declared chemical engineering in his class at KSU, only 30 graduated on time in four years. It’s a tough program and lots of people opt to change majors within the college of engineering or go a different direction with their academic studies. Richard was a FANTASTIC tour guide, and spent an amazing 2.5 hours with us in all. He’s a great ambassador for KSU and KSU Engineering, and I know gave Alexander lots to think about as he ponders his future options.

On a technical note regarding this video: For some reason the direct upload to YouTube from the Sonic Pics app didn’t encode properly on YouTube. While the entire video is 4:50, once uploaded to YouTube it just showed a time duration of 3:15 and didn’t have the images synced properly. I downloaded the video to my laptop and uploaded it to YouTube, but the result was the same. I think this is a problem with the video codec used by SonicPics. To resolve the problem and make the video display properly on YouTube, I wanted to use QuickTime Pro 7, but a Lion-compatible version is not available online. The .m4v video format from Sonic Pics is apparently not handled well by YouTube’s default conversion process. I opted to download, install and use MPEG Streamclip (free) and exported the video using a variety of different settings as a MPEG4 (.mp4) video file as well as a QuickTime (.mov) file. None of those conversions worked either: The first image of the SonicPics slideshow was skipped and the image sync on the rest was messed up.

After some Google searching, I discovered this Apple support article about installing QuickTime 7 on Mac OS 10.7 Lion. My $70 Lion USB installer was useless for this. I had to locate my old OS 10.6 Snow Leopard install DVD and found the “Optional Installs” package. I was able to use it to install QuickTime 7, and then enter my Pro code in the preference setting to activate the Pro conversion features.

Install Optional Installs - QuickTime 7

Using the “Audio/Video issues with .MOV and .MP4” YouTube support help article, I exported the .m4v SonicPics video as a QuickTime .mov movie and uploaded it successfully to YouTube. This was a ridiculously long process and took me over an hour to figure out. Hopefully this issue will be resolved in a future version of SonicPics and/or the encoding process utilized by YouTube.

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One Response to Increasing STEM Interest via College Visits & Reflections

  1. Cyndi Danner-Kuhn says:

    Wes:  That is so cool, I think you are correct, kids need exposure to college exploration long before their junior year in high school.

    SONIC PIC:  I love it, but it is a bit buggy!  Like you have tried all kinds of things with little success.  I have moved over to using Voicthread for lots of things.  Although I do like the instant URL sonic pics gives.

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