History and goals of STEMwire
In March 2012, the Reese News Lab staff submitted a grant proposal to the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The lab proposed launching a digital publication to further the national conversation around STEM education in order to recruit more STEM teachers.
Thanks to a one-year, $50,000 grant, the STEMwire.org project began in August 2012. STEMwire worked with 100Kin10, a partnership of over 100 organizations committed to recruiting 100,000 STEM teachers in 10 years.
During the fall, students hammered out the website’s goals and design. About 10 students created content part time in the spring, and during the summer, a team of four students took over the website full time.
To achieve its main goal, creating conversation about the STEM education movement, STEMwire worked to engage a large audience that would share the website’s content through social media. STEMwire highlighted the 100Kin10’s partner organizations and their work on STEM education and teacher recruitment. To distinguish the publication from other STEM education websites, STEMwire staffers often employed nontraditional story forms and multimedia such as photo and video.
STEMwire’s mission was to advance the conversation about STEM education and STEM teacher recruitment. STEMwire’s content addressed subjects such as teaching standards, professional development, innovative teaching methods and educational organizations.In the website’s STEMpaths section, teachers described the journeys that led them to the classroom. Another regular section on the website was This Week in STEM Education, a weekly roundup of current events in STEM education.
In Barrier Island Workshop helps teachers combine history and STEM , STEMwire staff created a multimedia story about a professional development workshop held on Bald Head Island, N.C. The STEMwire team combined video, text and photos to tell the story of the workshop. Professional development is an important topic in the conversation about STEM education, so STEMwire needed to tell the full story of one of these workshops.
In Eight organizations promote women in STEM, STEMwire reporter Anna Starnes created a list of eight organizations that help encourage and retain girls in STEM fields. Starnes wanted to find a way to address the topic of gender disparity in STEM fields without writing just another article explaining it. She found organizations that encourage girls to get involved in STEM and decided to use a list to make it easy to read. She also noted that list articles are popular on social media and hoped that this format would help get readers interested. For the story School librarians can be crucial partners in STEM, STEMwire reporter Hetali Lodaya was looking for a story about technology when she stumbled across an academic paper by Mega Subramaniam about the link between libraries and STEM teachers. She wrote a traditional text piece about how STEM librarians can be used as resources for STEM education. It turns out that the school librarian community is strong, and STEMwire was able to reach out to them through Twitter. The story was quickly passed around the community and, within a matter of days, became STEMwire’s most viewed story.
Social media and communications
The STEMwire staff understood from the start that quality content is only effective if accompanied by quality promotion. In the fall, the staff hosted a Twitter party to engage new readers and introduce the STEMwire name. This emphasis on Twitter continued into the summer. Staff took turns managing the Twitter account every day and participated in several Twitter chats and online discussions. The Twitter account grew from 399 to 715 followers over the course of the summer, but more significantly, interactions increased. STEMwire was included on #FollowFriday tweets and belongs to many lists related to STEM and STEM education. Staffers also regularly emailed articles to any individual who was interviewed for a piece. These individuals were encouraged to share the article with their networks as well. Many STEMwire stories were posted on the personal or organizational websites of these individuals.
Analytics and data
As part of the efforts to advance the conversation around STEM education, the STEMwire staff realized the behavior of the audiences would have to be measured and analyzed in ways that could drive future efforts.They used Google Analytics to evaluate the types of stories that were most widely read and widely shared, how content was commonly found and how audiences interacted with the site as a whole. Common variables analyzed included unique page views and the amount of time spent on stories. STEMwire also examined the most common traffic sources to determine the effectiveness of content-sharing methods and whether using targeted terms for search engine optimization enhanced readership. STEMwire also noted whether the audience consisted mostly of new visitors or returning visitors. While STEMwire was always looking to grow and expand its readership, it is important to know whether people are motivated to return to the site and engage with the content.
STEMwire found that for the site overall, new visitors viewed 2.45 pages per visit on average, while returning visitors viewed 5.82 pages per visit on average. This supports the idea that as STEMwire built a dedicated and regular audience, the more that audience engaged with the site and explored the content.