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STEM Conference 2021

STEM Conference 2021: Rethinking STEM Higher Education

This one-day virtual conference featured a programme of live keynote speakers and panel sessions, plus live parallel workshops and interactive breakout sessions, an extensive programme of on-demand oral presentations and a virtual poster exhibition.

Virtual conference platform

The STEM Conference 2021 virtual conference platform is open until 11 February at 5pm for delegates to browse on-demand presentations, posters, networking areas, exhibitor stands and to catch up on live sessions from the day. 

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Under the overarching theme of Rethinking STEM Higher Education, the 2021 STEM conference provided an opportunity to reflect on, learn from, and further progress our responses to the COVID-19 crisis, to ensure that approaches to STEM education are more resilient, effective and inclusive as well as identifying new opportunities that have arisen from the pandemic.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has shaken the world and changed our lives, possibly forever. The STEM disciplines, and their staff, have been in the forefront of leading our national response to the virus: working collaboratively with medical institutions and industry to design and update life-saving equipment for the NHS; undertaking national and international research initiatives to understand the virus and its global spread; exploring all avenues to expedite the creation of a vaccine; and not least in redesigning curricula to ensure STEM students receive a learning experience that meets expectations and learning outcomes despite being in lockdown.

The conference took place over a single day, delivered via our virtual conference platform. It featured a programme of live keynote speakers and panel sessions, plus live parallel workshops and interactive breakout sessions, an extensive programme of on-demand oral presentations and a virtual poster exhibition.

Join the conversation at #STEMConf21

Date: 28 January 2021

Location: Online

Who: All higher education professionals

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Conference outcomes

The conference:

  • created space for delegates to engage with creative thinking, and rethinking, around STEM teaching and learning issues to enhance the student experience;
  • increased knowledge and confidence of delegates to enhance their STEM teaching practice and have a positive impact on the success of their students; and
  • allowed delegates to engage with leaders and influencers from across the HE sector who share a passion for continuous improvement and enhancement of STEM teaching and learning in HE. 
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Conference themes

The overarching theme for the conference was Rethinking STEM education and it addressed the following thematic areas:

Rethinking practice-based education

Social distancing requirements will limit the ability to access the physical course delivery locations – the laboratories, computer suites and maker spaces that are critical to the student experience. How can we ensure that students have the opportunity to develop the practical and creative skills required for STEM disciplines?


The pandemic has encouraged us to think about the importance of presence and the value for all students and staff to be connected to their discipline and learning community. What effective collaborative practices – amongst and between staff and students can be developed within and beyond the STEM discipline or individual institutions?

Rethinking assessment

Cancellation of the traditional three-hour summative examination assessments triggered a rapid rethink in how to change assessment instruments whilst ensuring they remained valid, verifiable and equitable. But the ‘learn-assess-forget’ approach to learning ‘encouraged’ by closed book examinations never provided authentic assessment of skills, competencies and behaviours that students need for lifelong employability. What changes to formative or summative assessment practices can be implemented that promote meaningful learning and positive learning behaviours?


The requirement to work differently has provided an opportunity to reimagine who, what, when and how we teach. To ensure that we do not go backwards in terms of EDI and social mobility success cannot be dependent on access to WiFi and technology, a secure home environment, good mental and physical health or financial security. How can we provide access to learning to all students regardless of health or wealth? How can we prevent the pandemic compounding current inequalities? What changes can be made to ensure that STEM education emerges more equitable and inclusive for staff and students?
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Conference programme

STEM Conference 2021: Rethinking STEM Higher Education

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Conference abstracts

Live session abstracts

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Pre-recorded session abstracts

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Poster session abstracts

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A new digital conferencing experience

This year's STEM Conference was delivered virtually on 28 January 2021. It was re-designed as an immersive and engaging digital experience and offered delegates the following features:

  • a full day of live-streamed sessions of keynotes, panel discussions and workshops addressing current issues in STEM education
  • On-demand presentations from sector leaders
  • opportunity to interact with other delegates from around the world in a virtual networking space
  • virtual poster exhibition space 
  • full online support throughout the day
  • access to all the digital content for 14 days after the conference
  • virtual exhibition space, where delegates can visit virtual stands hosted by our conference sponsors


STEM Conference 2021: Rethinking STEM Higher Education - conference platform
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Keynote speakers

Dr Andrew Garrard

Dr Andrew Garrard is the deputy head of the department for Multidisciplinary Engineering Education at the University of Sheffield. Andrew was instrumental in establishing the operation of the department which is dedicated to professionally delivering all the practical teaching to students in the Faculty of Engineering. As the department’s Director of Academic Operations he leads the team of academics, with specialisms across a broad range of engineering disciplines, to provide quality practical education through innovation and scale.

Find out more about Andrew

Andrew Garrard

Professor Elena Rodríguez Falcón

Elena joined The University of Sheffield in 2001 where she was the founder of the University of Sheffield Enterprise (USE); Institutional Director of Learning Inclusive Learning and Teaching; Director of Enterprise Education and Director of Women in Engineering, going on to become Director of Communications and External Relations of Engineering, whilst holding a Chair in Enterprise and Engineering Education.

In 2018 Elena moved away from Sheffield becoming President & CEO of NMITE. Now leading the creation of the most ambitious and radical disruptor in engineering higher education in the UK.

Find out more about Elena

Professor Elena Rodríguez Falcón



Dr Catherine Hack

Dr Kay Hack is the Principal Adviser (Learning and Teaching) for Advance-HE. Her role includes developing, managing and promoting excellence in teaching and learning, both generally and within STEM disciplines. She delivers a range of services to the HE sector, including supporting strategic leadership and change in HEIs and building and maintaining strong relationships with the STEM community, PSRBs, government and other organisations and individuals.

Dr Kay Hack
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Events sponsors

Learning Science Logo

Learning Science are award-winning internationally-recognised innovators of technology enhanced learning for university STEM courses. Combining expertise in science education and interactive web technologies they create leading edge, online resources in partnership with the academic teaching and learning community. They are a specialist technology partner with a mission to help educators make the right choices in the rapidly advancing landscape of digital learning.

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Digital Ed

DigitalEd is a cloud-based software company with a simple and resonant purpose to shape the world through digital learning. At DigitalEd we’ve used our beliefs, values and core pillars of software development to build the Möbius platform, the most innovative and comprehensive learning platform for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

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We’re the world’s learning company. We work in partnership with UK educators and institutions to help them succeed through delivering world-class learning experiences. Whether it’s by providing personalised interactive course resources, institution-wide assessment, course design or online tutoring services, our focus is on helping you and your students get results.

If you would like to find out more about how Pearson can help your institution, please get in touch at

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Labster is a company dedicated to developing fully interactive advanced lab simulations based on mathematical algorithms that support open-ended investigations. We combine these with gamification elements such as an immersive 3D universe, storytelling and a scoring system which stimulates students’ natural curiosity and highlights the connection between science and the real world. The labs are being used by California State University, Harvard, Gwinnett Technical College, MIT, Exeter University, University of New Haven, Stanford, University of New England, Trinity College, University of Hong Kong and Berkeley among others internationally.

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Related blogs

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STEM Conference 2020 Highlights

To view the highlights of last year's STEM Conference 2020, please visit our web page here.