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Building a better workforce

Breakthrough Star Hengtao Tang studies how to make STEM courses more effective for SC schoolchildren

Hengtao Tang stands outside a building

South Carolina’s economic future depends on a world-class workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That’s why assistant professor Hengtao Tang is studying how to make STEM courses more effective, inclusive and accessible to a wider range of people.

Funding and scholarship. Since coming to USC in 2019, Tang’s work on self-regulated learning and AI-scaffolded STEM education has garnered funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education. He has published 34 peer-reviewed journal articles, two book chapters and seven proceedings.

Research snapshot. Tang uses multimodal data analytics to help instructors track and better understand how well their students are regulating learning and collaborating in order to solve authentic STEM problems. He also looks at how students’ participation across the duration of online courses predicts their performance.

Improving affordability. Another area of interest is investigating how well K-12 teachers use open education resources to make course materials more affordable and accessible for online learners. Tang’s articles on OER received a Best Mixed Methods Journal Article Award and a Distance Education Best Practice Award from the Association for Educational Communications and Technology in 2020.

What’s next. Tang plans to use artificial intelligence to improve STEM learning environments in South Carolina, with an emphasis on fostering AI and data-science literacy among underrepresented minority students. He also hopes to integrate STEM education with a better understanding of how science can impact lives, both positively and negatively.

“STEM jobs are expected to grow, but the number of STEM professionals developed by our education system cannot keep pace with the rapidly increasing demands. The findings of my research project have the potential of broadening student participation in STEM education and providing an effective learning experience to a broader scope of learners, especially those who otherwise have no access to higher education.”


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The University of South Carolina’s 2023 Breakthrough Stars represent the very best among the ranks of the university’s assistant and associate professors. Their success will help propel the university for years to come.

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