Examining the use of micro-internships to leverage scalable learning for STEM workforce development among people experiencing homelessness
Effective Years: 2021-2024
Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Southern Methodist University will investigate the efficacy of a Work-Learn model for providing individuals experiencing homelessness with the skills and scaffolding that will enable them to enter the job market. The research team will examine the impact of integrating micro-internships with online courses targeting computer science skills for homeless adult learners and analyze the interaction among group dynamics and learner success and barriers and successful learning outcomes. The research focuses on theoretical and empirical connections between online education and job opportunities. The Work-Learn model could potentially produce scalable online training that is adaptable for previously underreached populations. The project will advance the state of knowledge in educational theory regarding the nexus between marginalized learners and educational technology. The research will extend the knowledge base about online and career technical education by testing the hypothesis that the Work-Learn model can transform MOOCS to support the success of homeless populations.
The target participants for the study are individuals experiencing homelessness in the Omaha metropolitan area. The research goal is to test the efficacy of the Work-Learn model in supporting the ability of homeless persons to complete a MOOC and successfully transition to information technology (IT) sector jobs. To achieve this goal, the researchers will investigate four research questions: (1) How can the Work-Learn model incentivize learners and support persistence in completing learning tasks and challenges? (2) Do peer learning structures work as effectively with persons experiencing homelessness as with traditional MOOC students? (3) What learner attributes and experiences are associated with success? and (4) How does industry partnership support re-training of persons experiencing homelessness for IT jobs? The research team will develop and implement course modules, in a peer learning context, addressing computational thinking, COBOL, and Python that enable learners to learn by doing in a MOOC environment. They will engage homeless shelter staff and private-sector partners to support skills development and paid micro-internship placement. The team will investigate how these partnerships function to support this population of learners and how learners’ well-being is impacted. The research design will address the research questions and generate formative and summative data through interviews and focus groups. The researchers will collect artifacts to illuminate shelter policies and general shelter culture. The team will use R and descriptive statistics to analyze and report the survey data, artifacts, and MOOC completion data. The research results will inform interventions that employ scalable technology to re-skill or up-skill adults who do not have access to workforce training tailored to high-demand and financially stable technology jobs and careers.
The project is supported by the EHR Core Research Program that funds STEM education research projects focused on STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM fields, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.