Problem-Based Learning in Advanced Photonics Manufacturing Education

Many manufacturing industries in the Northeast region of the United States have added photonics technologies into their manufacturing processes. A recent study of companies in the region revealed a critical need for more optics and photonics technicians. The demand for these technicians is growing rapidly and surpasses the total number of graduates each year in this technical field. It is essential to motivate, engage, and prepare more students for careers as technicians in advanced photonics manufacturing. A proven method for recruitment is to provide students with meaningful learning experiences that captivate their interest with the kinds of technical problems and challenges technicians encounter on the job. Problem-based learning (PBL) is a powerful method for motivating students, and simultaneously developing the problem solving and critical thinking skills required for the workplace. Springfield Technical Community College is currently the only two-year institution in New England that offers programs in optics and photonics technology. These programs combine project-based and problem-based activities with extensive hands-on experience on state-of-the-art equipment. In this project, the college will work with regional industries and organizations in advanced photonics manufacturing to expand the available library of PBL activities in its programs. Workshops on using PBL in advanced photonics manufacturing education will also be provided to high school and community college instructors across the Northeast. The project will contribute to meeting the demand for well-skilled photonics technicians in the nation's workforce.

The overarching goal of this project is to increase the number of photonics technicians prepared with the knowledge and skills needed to sustain and grow the advanced photonics manufacturing industry in the Northeast region of the United States. The proposed effort will build on previous work by the investigators to promote use of the PBL approach in developing problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork skills among students. The project will: 1) create eight new multimedia PBL modules featuring real-world problems developed with input from industry partners across New England and New York; 2) provide professional development for high school and college-level educators on photonics technologies and strategies for using the PBL pedagogy; 3) develop a comprehensive recruitment strategy for increasing the number of high school and community college students who pursue career pathways in photonics; and 4) research the efficacy of the PBL approach on improving technician education in advanced photonics manufacturing. Materials developed in the project will be freely available on the project website, and results will be widely disseminated.

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