Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning has become a necessity for K9-16 education. Virtual classwork has been administered through platforms such as Google Classroom, Clever, and iReady. During the summer of 2021, the City University of New York (C.U.N.Y) York College campus hosted its NASA MAA MUREP (Minority University Research and Education Project Aerospace Academy) program virtually using a combination of Zoom, Google Docs, and even Canva, which some students requested as a more intuitive alternative to Microsoft PowerPoint. Students were mentored to use the scientific method to explore their interests in the STEM field, with a geoscience or environmental science focus where possible. Students were trained to 1) obtain peer reviewed articles from reputable sources such as Nature Geoscience, GSA Today, as well as databases such as Springer and Google Scholar, 2) locate reputable raw datasets from sources such as the EPA, NASA, NOAA, NIH, AMS, USGS, census.gov and many others, 3) analyze and discuss such data with a hypothesis in mind and represent the data in graphical form using Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, and 4) ultimately form a conclusion based on the hypothesis.
Since many government bodies and reputable scientific teams worldwide conduct extensive sampling and data collection (while making this data publicly available), this virtual education approach allows the exploration of STEM topics without necessitating field or laboratory sampling. Availability of open access information pertaining to benchmark publications through the internet, it has opened a plethora of opportunities for more scientific research.
The innovative combination of virtual learning tools along with email communications, allowed students to meet for 2 hours sessions multiple times a week and receive individualized attention and mentorship to generate final E-posters to present their work. Topics included: the effects of air pollution on respiratory health, acid rain in the northeastern United States, and pollution along the Yangtze River (China). The virtual platforms also enabled students to share their work-in-progress for feedback from peers, as well as allowed the students to use other forms of communication such as chat instead of only voice-communication or only face-to-face interaction. This flexibility gave an additional level of confidence to the participating students.