Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Requirement for Teaching STEM/STEAM

While researching online for information to compliment my Technology & Society course, I came across Richard Lachman’s article in The Conversation, STEAM not STEM: Why Scientists need arts training. In this document, he asks the question, “how else do our universities teach empathy, ethics and citizenship than through our arts and humanities fields?” It makes perfect sense. Technology in education has embraced the STEM/STEAM concept by highlighting coding, virtual/augmented reality, science/math, engineering, digital art and robotic-type training at all grade levels to provide students with the necessary skills for future careers. With technology changing the landscape in so many areas, it is vital that we keep up with the latest trends and advancements. It is no secret that college graduates now need the appropriate skills to work with apps, programs and devices in environments where artificial intelligence and robots are integrated into daily lives.

Walk into any K-12 classroom during the “Hour of Code” week and you will see teachers and students spending a great deal of time participating in coding activities. Software companies are highlighting their latest and greatest apps for augmented reality, mobile app creation, video game design, robotics and drone engineering. These programs are currently being offered to schools across the nation and teachers are quickly adding them to their course work. The options are endless to keep our students ahead of the curve and knowledgeable about all types of STEM/STEAM ideas.

But as Lachman points out, the missing link lies in what the students will do with this knowledge and how its use will affect society? What about ethics and empathy associated with technology use? The idea of teaching ethics and empathy at the college level through humanities courses is important, but I think it needs to start even earlier. At the beginning of each semester, I ask my high school students, “what is the definition of ethics and what does empathy mean?” I usually get an array of answers and some just don’t even understand what I am talking about. By the end of the course, students seem to comprehend this vocabulary and its effect on society as a whole. They begin to realize that there is accountability and consequences when using technology in various fields. Unfortunately, this type of course is usually an elective in most school systems and this area certainly needs to be revisited.

Without ethics and empathy, teaching STEM / STEAM courses is only part of the process. I currently teach a Tech & Society course within a Tech & Engineering department, but a course like this can easily be added to any discipline. Looking at the “A” in STEAM, we can go beyond the standard arts curriculum to include these important concepts in a required course. The future of our students and how they will make effective decisions in society truly depends upon it.

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