Posts tagged ‘STEM’

STEM as the Goal. STEAM as a Pathway.

Dr. Gary May, Dean of the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech, is one of my role models.  I’ve learned from him on how to broaden participation in computing, what academic leadership looks like, and how to make sure that education gets its due attention, even at a research-intensive university.

He wrote an essay (linked below) critical of the idea of “STEAM” (Science, Technology, the Arts, and Mathematics).  I just recently wrote a blog post saying that STEAM was a good idea (see link here).  I’m not convinced that I’m at odds with Gary’s point.  I suspect that the single acronym, “STEM” or “STEAM,” has too many assumptions built into it.  We probably agree on “STEM,” but may have different interpretations of “STEAM.”

The term “STEM” has come to represent an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in schools. A recent Washington Post article critiques exactly that focus: Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous.

From Gary’s essay, I think he reads “STEAM” to mean “We need to integrate Arts into STEM education.”  Or maybe, “We need to emphasize Arts as well as STEM in our schools.”  Or even, “All STEM majors must also study Art.” Gary argues that STEM is too important to risk diffusing by adding Art into the mix.

That’s not exactly what I mean when I see a value for STEAM.  I agree that STEM is the goal.  I see STEAM as a pathway.

Media Computation is a form of blending STEM plus Art.  I’m teaching computer science by using the manipulation of media at different levels of abstraction (pixels and pictures, samples and sounds, characters and HTML, frames and video) as an inviting entryway into STEM. There are many possible and equally valid pathways into Computing, as one form of STEM.  I am saying that my STEAM approach may bring people to STEM who might not otherwise consider it.  I do have a lot of evidence that MediaComp has engaged and retained students who didn’t used to succeed in CS, and that part of that success has been because students see MediaComp as a “creative” form of computing (see my ICER 2013 paper).

I have heard arguments for STEAM as enhancing STEM.  For example, design studio approaches can enhance engineering education (as in Chris Hundhausen’s work — see link here).  In that sense of STEAM, Art offers ways of investigating and inventing that may enhance engineering design and problem-solving.  That’s about using STEAM to enhance STEM, not to dilute or create new course requirements.  Jessica Hodgins gave an inspiring opening keynote lecture at SIGCSE 2015 (mentioned here) where she talked about classes that combined art and engineering students in teams.  Students learned from each other new perspectives that informed and improved their practice.

“STEM” and “STEAM” as acronyms don’t have enough content to say whether we’ve in favor or against them.  There is a connotation for “STEM” about a goal: More kids need to know STEM subjects, and we should emphasize STEM subjects in school.  For me, STEM is an important goal (meaning an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in schools), and STEAM is one pathway (meaning using art to engage STEM learning, or using art as a valuable perspective for STEM learners) to that goal.

No one — least of all me — is suggesting that STEM majors should not study the arts. The arts are a source of enlightenment and inspiration, and exposure to the arts broadens one’s perspective. Such a broad perspective is crucial to the creativity and critical thinking that is required for effective engineering design and innovation. The humanities fuel inquisitiveness and expansive thinking, providing the scientific mind with larger context and the potential to communicate better.

The clear value of the arts would seem to make adding A to STEM a no-brainer. But when taken too far, this leads to the generic idea of a well-rounded education, which dilutes the essential need and focus for STEM.

via Essay criticizes idea of adding the arts to push for STEM education @insidehighered.

April 10, 2015 at 7:55 am 12 comments

Spatial Visualization Skills FAQs – Engage Engineering

A cool FAQ on the importance of spatial visualization skills in most STEM fields, and the research on how to improve them.

Research has demonstrated that training is an effective way to improve spatial visualization skills Contero et al., 2006; Ferguson, Ball, McDaniel, & Anderson, 2008; Hand, Uttal, Marulis, & Newcombe, 2008; Hsi et al., 1997; Martín-Dorta et al., 2008; Newcombe, 2006; Onyancha, Derov, & Kinsey, 2009; Onyancha, R., Towle, E., & Kinsey, B., 2007; Sorby, 2009; Sorby & Baartmans, 2000; Terlecki, Newcombe, & Little, 2008.  In the area of mental rotation where the largest gender gap in performance exists, training has been effective as well Sorby & Baartmans, 2000; Sorby, Drummer, Hungwe, Parolini, & Molzan, 2006.In one study, students who failed the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test PSVT:R and enrolled in spatial skills training were able to improve their scores on the mental rotation test from approximately 50% to 77% or higher than students who failed the test and did not enroll in the course. These students also got better grades in 1st year STEM courses Sorby, 2009.

via Spatial Visualization Skills FAQs – Engage Engineering.

January 21, 2015 at 8:34 am Leave a comment

STEM is incredibly valuable, but STEAM makes it better

I am sympathetic to this argument for the value of STEAM (STEM+Art), rather than just STEM.  I strongly believe in the value of creative expression in learning STEM subjects.  That’s core to our goals for Media Computation.  I believe that the STEAM perspective is why MediaComp has measurably improved motivation, engagement, and retention.

As a researcher, it’s challenging to measure the value of including art in learning STEM. I’m particularly concerned about the argument below.  Singapore and Japan are less creative because they have less art in school?  If we include more art in our schools, our students will be more innovative?  If we’re already more innovative, and we have too little art classes, why should we believe that adding more art will increase our innovation?

But STEM leaves out a big part of the picture. “It misses the fact that having multiple perspectives are an invaluable aspect of how we learn to become agile, curious human beings,” Maeda said. “The STEM ‘bundle’ is suitable for building a Vulcan civilization, but misses wonderful irrationalities inherent to living life as a human being and in relation to other human beings.” A foundation in STEM education is exceptional at making us more efficient or increasing speed all within set processes, but it’s not so good at growing our curiosity or imagination. Its focus is poor at sparking our creativity. It doesn’t teach us empathy or what it means to relate to others on a deep emotional level. Singapore and Japan are two great examples. “[They] are looked to as exemplar STEM nations, but as nations they suffer the ability to be perceived as creative on a global scale.” Maeda said. Is the United States completely misinformed and heading down the wrong track? Not entirely. Science, technology, engineering and math are great things to teach and focus on, but they can’t do the job alone. In order to prepare our students to lead the world in innovation, we need to focus on the creative thought that gives individuals that innovative edge.

via STEM is incredibly valuable, but if we want the best innovators we must teach the arts – The Washington Post.

December 15, 2014 at 8:22 am 14 comments

Half of STEM graduates in US went to community college at some point #CSEdWeek

Interesting claim from the American Association of Community Colleges — thanks from Cheryl Kiras for this:  Here’s another reason why it’s important to care about all of the education pathways, and to look to community colleges for more (and more diverse) computing undergraduates.


December 11, 2014 at 8:32 am 7 comments

Study finds increased STEM enrollment: Taking from education and business

First the good news: STEM enrollment is up.  Then the surprising news: Humanities are not losing students to STEM.  Rather, it’s the professional fields like education that are losing enrollment.  That makes CS Ed (and other STEM discipline-based education research (DBER) fields) the odd winner-losers.  Yay, there are more students, but there will be fewer STEM teachers in the future to teach them.

Policy makers regularly talk about the need to encourage more undergraduates to pursue science and technology fields. New data suggest that undergraduates at four-year institutions in fact have become much more likely to study those fields, especially engineering and biology.

And while much of the public discussion of STEM enrollments has suggested a STEM vs. liberal arts dichotomy (even though some STEM fields are in fact liberal arts disciplines), the new study suggests that this is not the dynamic truly at play. Rather, STEM enrollments are growing while professional field enrollments (especially business and education) are shrinking.

via Study finds increased STEM enrollment since the recession | Inside Higher Ed.

The ComputerWorldK agrees. They claim that the smart students were going into business, then Wall Street collapsed, and now they’re going into CS and that’s why we’re having sky-rocketing enrollments.

The number of computer science graduates will continue to increase. Computer science enrollments rose by nearly 30% in the 2011-12 academic year, and they increased 23% the year before that.

The trend of enrollment increases since 2010 bodes well for a “future increase in undergraduate computing production,” according to the report.

The recession that hit in 2008 sent IT unemployment soaring, but it may have done more damage to the finance sector, especially in terms of reputation. That prompted some educators at the time to predict that the recession might send math-inclined students from the world of hedge funds to computer science.

via Wall Street’s collapse was computer science’s gain – Computerworld.

August 10, 2014 at 9:34 am 3 comments

Shortage in the IT U.S. labor market? Or just a lack of graduates?

Is the shortage of STEM graduates a myth, as IEEE has been arguing recently?  Is the case for IT different than the case for STEM overall?

I found the analysis linked below interesting.  Most IT workers do not have an IT-related degree.  People with CS degrees are getting snapped up.  The suggestion is that there’s not a shortage of IT workers, because IT workers are drawn from many disciplines.  There may be a shortage of IT workers who have IT training.

IT workers, who make up 59 percent of the entire STEM workforce, are predominantly drawn from fields outside of computer science and mathematics, if they have a college degree at all. Among the IT workforce, 36 percent do not have a four-year college degree; of those who do, only 38 percent have a computer science or math degree, and more than a third (36 percent) do not have a science or technology degree of any kind. Overall, less than a quarter (24 percent) of the IT workforce has at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or math. Of the total IT workforce, two-thirds to three-quarters do not have a technology degree of any type (only 11 percent have an associate degree in any field).4

Although computer science graduates are only one segment of the overall IT workforce, at 24 percent, they are the largest segment by degree (as shown in Figure F, they are 46 percent of college graduates entering the IT workforce, while nearly a third of graduates entering IT do not have a STEM degree). The trend in computer scientist supply is important as a source of trained graduates for IT employers, particularly for the higher-skilled positions and industries, but it is clear that the IT workforce actually draws from a pool of graduates with a broad range of degrees.

via Guestworkers in the high-skill U.S. labor market: An analysis of supply, employment, and wage trends | Economic Policy Institute.

February 13, 2014 at 1:16 am 6 comments

NSF Funding (NEW!): Improving Undergraduate STEM Education

DUE funding is back!  I wrote about TUES being closed down.  This is the next iteration of a program in the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education to support STEM learning.

A well-prepared, innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce is crucial to the Nation’s health and economy. Indeed, recent policy actions and reports have drawn attention to the opportunities and challenges inherent in increasing the number of highly qualified STEM graduates, including STEM teachers. Priorities include educating students to be leaders and innovators in emerging and rapidly changing STEM fields as well as educating a scientifically literate populace; both of these priorities depend on the nature and quality of the undergraduate education experience. In addressing these STEM challenges and priorities, the National Science Foundation invests in research-based and research-generating approaches to understanding STEM learning; to designing, testing, and studying curricular change; to wide dissemination and implementation of best practices; and to broadening participation of individuals and institutions in STEM fields. The goals of these investments include: increasing student retention in STEM, to prepare students well to participate in science for tomorrow, and to improve students’ STEM learning outcomes.

via – EHR – Funding – Improving Undergraduate STEM Education – US National Science Foundation (NSF).

November 9, 2013 at 1:21 am 1 comment

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