How art can go hand in hand with science to benefit STEAM learning in colleges

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By the end of this year there will be half a million jobs uncovered in the new technologies sector, according to the latest estimates by the European Commission (EC). The data shows the urgent need for companies to find technological professional profiles very specific.

Immersed in this scenario, a concept that universities are promoting in their higher schools of Engineering and Technology is gaining more and more force: the STEAM learning. This English acronym responds to the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths that are already key and whose importance will increase in the coming years to face the professional challenges that loom on the horizon.

Ante la loss of interest for scientific subjects and studies in the United States, in the 70s of the last century the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) raised the need to include art to collaborate (and even be decisive) with science and thus benefit learning. In this way, the ‘A’ from Arts (Arts-Humanities) in the STEM concept formulated long ago.

From there to the present much water has flowed under the bridge. “Currently, there is a student boom seduced by learning STEAM. Art is marking a path more flexible, humane and sensitive for the teaching and learning of science ”, says De Miguel Álvarez, professor of the Design area of ​​the Higher School of Engineering and Technology (ESIT) of the International University of La Rioja (UNIR). In truth, according to her, the ‘A’ has always been immersed in science and technology projects “The only thing MIT has done has been to show its presence.”

The humanization of the sciences

How art can go hand in hand with science to benefit STEAM learning in colleges
Laura de Miguel, professor in the Design area of ​​the UNIR School of Engineering and Technology (ESIT). @LINK

De Miguel is co-author of the book ‘STEAM: the humanization of science at the University ‘ (Ed. Dextra, 2021), published this year together with Silvia Nuere Menendez-Pidal, professor at the Higher Technical School of Engineering and Industrial Design (ETSIDI) of the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM). Both authors perfectly synthesize the combination of two fields that feed into each other: science and art. Although they have degrees and doctorates in Fine Arts, their respective professional careers have also made them specialize in areas of Design.

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The work includes, in addition to a rich theoretical framework, a section on ‘Experiences’ in which various professional colleagues of the authors narrate some of their activities related to STEAM and carried out in different university training areas. It also includes a section on ‘Shared Reflections’ with various interviews with businessmen, university students and specialists in the areas of science, technology, design and art that analyze the present and future of the STEAM universe in higher education institutions and the Spanish labor market.

“A teaching philosophy”

The digital age has empowered the STEAM universe and made it grow unstoppably. For De Miguel “it could be said that it is a teaching philosophy, as it is not something to be taken and left. It is a comprehensive way of understanding higher education in which the person (teacher, student, end users, etc.) and their experiences are taken into account in each project undertaken. And it is also a model that is alive, a paradigm that can change and change over time ”, he says.

Benefits of STEAM learning

In his book he point out various basic issues associated with this idea, and the benefits of learning STEAM, such as:

  • The perception of relationships: recognize how some disciplines can influence others.
  • Attention to nuances: Small nuances can have big effects.
  • The perspective that problems may have multiple solutions and that questions can lead to multiple answers.
  • The capacity to change goals during the process.
  • The taking of decisions in the absence of a rule. Being able to feel when a decision is correct.
  • The use of imagination as a source of content.
  • The ability to see the world from an aesthetic perspective.
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The STEAM approach that has begun to predominate on Spanish campuses does not limit impregnated art only to painting, drawing or sculpture as solely artistic languages ​​and tools … Nor does it try to introduce art into science as something merely decorative, as recognized by the expert.

Not just art

“That A is not only Art; they are also Humanities”, He clarifies. In other words, it tries to transfer imagination, creativity and to introduce methods that are used in artistic disciplines, in the way of approaching a problem … and in general to the humanities, with special emphasis on the liberal arts (which are those that through education in some way grant freedom of thought to the human being).

All this allows a significant advance in a creative, dynamic and multidisciplinary way in fields of knowledge such as Industry 4.0, Big Data, IoT, artificial intelligence and even cybersecurity, to name just a few.

The trend shows that the areas are not watertight and they need each otherTherefore, the ‘A’ for Art helps to obtain knowledge of the other areas. Another key goes through transversality. “STEAM must be a theoretical-practical framework that somehow stands as transversal and interdisciplinary to the rest of the areas so that all of them benefit each other ”, says the UNIR teacher.

Universities have begun to empower STEAM learning

“The main challenge for universities is to offer more flexible, transversal and academic programs. less airtight that enhance STEAM learning, ”says De Miguel. UNIR’s ESIT strategy is an example that enhances this premise. “We do not limit ourselves simply to offering degrees related to the Arts (such as, for example, those offered from the area of ​​Design). We understand the ‘A’ of STEAM as the cross-sectional area to the rest of the areas, such as Engineering, Technology, Science and Mathematics integrating all of them in our methodology and our way of working ”, emphasizes De Miguel.

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He emphasizes three layers in the STEAM methodology promoted by the center where he works, which provides 100 percent online education: “The first layer, the external one, is the one that refers to the faculty: ESIT teachers lead by example and we work interdisciplinary “, Explain.

The second layer is the teacher digital literacy from ESIT: “We have to be familiar with all languages,” he says. The classroom is the third layer, the core: “We seek to promote methods that the classes humanize more, and we make these methods, related to a STEAM approach, known to fellow teachers who teach the other degrees in the other areas within the School ”.

From his point of view, we must flee from the old idea of ​​the engineer who lives in the pure world of numbers, loads, itineraries, structures, optimizations … And also from the artist who only creates in his cloud, detached from the impact that his creations will have on the people’s lives: “We try to push all our students to be professionals who also focus on the creativity, in adaptability, in solving problems and in working in changing environments ”, he says.

How art can go hand in hand with science to benefit STEAM learning in colleges

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