Laura Colucci-Gray, Pamela Burnard, Donald Gray, and Carolyn Cooke
“STEAM education,” with its addition of “arts” to STEM subjects, is a complex and contested concept. On the one hand, STEAM builds upon the economic drivers that characterize STEM: an alignment of disciplinary areas that allegedly have the greatest impact on a developed country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). On the other hand, the addition of the arts may point to the recovery of educational aims and purposes that exceed economic growth: for example, by embracing social inclusion, community participation, or sustainability agendas. Central to understanding the different educational opportunities offered by STEAM is the interrogation of the role—and status—of the arts in relation to STEM subjects. The term “art” or “arts” may refer, for example, to the arts as realms/domains of knowledge, such as the humanities and social science disciplines, or to different ways of knowing and experiencing the world enabled by specific art forms, practices, or even pedagogies. In the face of such variety and possibilities, STEAM is a portmanteau term, hosting approaches that originate from different reconfigurations or iterative reconfiguring of disciplinary relationships. A critical discussion of the term “STEAM” will thus require an analysis of published literature alongside a review and discussion of ongoing practices in multiple field(s), which are shaped by and respond to a variety of policy directions and cultural traditions. The outcome is a multilayered and textured account of the limitations and possibilities for and relational understandings of STEAM education.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
For teachers to effectively engage in given pedagogical practices, they need to have beliefs that support these approaches to teaching. These are not philosophical beliefs per se; rather, they are the individual understandings that teachers hold about the nature of knowledge and knowing, which underpin and guide their actions and which are referred to as personal epistemologies. A wide range of paradigms for understanding and studying personal epistemologies is evident in the research literature in this field, but these different perspective and approaches—while varied in outlook and conclusion—point to how important it is that initial teacher education courses allow for the development of sophisticated personal epistemologies through explicit teaching that enables students to think ontologically and epistemologically, and that teacher educators initiate and sustain reflective and discursive practices throughout their courses to promote the best possible outcomes for the children that student teachers will go on to teach in their subsequent careers.
Evidence-based practice (EBP) is a buzzword in contemporary professional debates, for example, in education, medicine, psychiatry, and social policy. It is known as the “what works” agenda, and its focus is on the use of the best available evidence to bring about desirable results or prevent undesirable ones. We immediately see here that EBP is practical in nature, that evidence is thought to play a central role, and also that EBP is deeply causal: we intervene into an already existing practice in order to produce an output or to improve the output. If our intervention brings the results we want, we say that it “works.”
How should we understand the causal nature of EBP? Causality is a highly contentious issue in education, and many writers want to banish it altogether. But causation denotes a dynamic relation between factors and is indispensable if one wants to be able to plan the attainment of goals and results. A nuanced and reasonable understanding of causality is therefore necessary to EBP, and this we find in the INUS-condition approach.
The nature and function of evidence is much discussed. The evidence in question is supplied by research, as a response to both political and practical demands that educational research should contribute to practice. In general, evidence speaks to the truth value of claims. In the case of EBP, the evidence emanates from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and presumably speaks to the truth value of claims such as “if we do X, it will lead to result Y.” But what does research evidence really tell us? It is argued here that a positive RCT result will tell you that X worked where the RCT was conducted and that an RCT does not yield general results.
Causality and evidence come together in the practitioner perspective. Here we shift from finding causes to using them to bring about desirable results. This puts contextual matters at center stage: will X work in this particular context? It is argued that much heterogeneous contextual evidence is required to make X relevant for new contexts. If EBP is to be a success, research evidence and contextual evidence must be brought together.
Classroom behavior management has consistently been recognized as a central issue of importance in staff well-being, student success, and school culture. For decades, theories and models on how best to “manage” the behavior of students for a productive classroom have showed an increasing trend away from teacher-controlled reactive approaches to misbehavior toward more student-centered strategies to prevent misbehavior. Focusing on managing student behavior, either reactively or proactively, is coming at the problem from the wrong direction. The student behaviors that most affect teaching and learning in our classrooms are low-level disruptive, or “disengaged,” behaviors. These disengaged behaviors are best understood as indications of a student’s weakened affective or cognitive engagement with school. Schools wishing to have less disengaged behaviors need to refocus their lens on these behaviors, from how to “manage” them to how to strengthen targeted areas of engagement. This has direct implications for reforming classroom practices as well as school polices on behavior management.
Education was a strategy in the colonization of large parts of the globe by European colonial powers. Postcolonialism, a diverse school of thought, demands that the ongoing destructive consequences of the colonial era be exposed, analyzed, and addressed through action. Postcolonial literature, while illuminating the dehumanizing effects of colonization, has understandably focused on the hegemony of Western culture and its effects on education, but it has been vulnerable to criticism that it ought also to pay attention to colonialism as the capitalist exploitation of colonies and former colonies, for their wealth and labor and as markets for manufactured goods. Postcolonial education addresses cultural imperialism by recognizing and unsettling its legacy in the school curriculum and the Western assumptions about knowledge and the world that underpin it, fostering a pedagogy of critique and transformation in the metropole and the periphery. Globalization in the 21st century has intensified interactions between the metropole and former colonies, in an increasingly integrated world system in which neo-liberal influences have created a new form of empire that embraces education. While demands for the restoration of indigenous forms of education are understandable as a response to cultural dispossession, new directions in postcolonial educational thought will also need to accommodate hybridity and to attend to the material conditions of global inequality.
Artists who teach or teachers who make art? To explore the identity of the artist-teacher in contemporary educational contexts, the ethical differences between the two fields of art and learning need to be considered. Equity is sought between the needs of the learner and the demands of an artist’s practice; a tension exists here because the nurture of the learner and the challenge of art can be in conflict. The dual role of artist and of teacher have to be continually navigated in order to maintain the composite and ever-changing identity of the artist-teacher. The answer to the question of how to teach art comes through investigating attitudes to knowledge in terms of the hermeneutical discourses of “reproduction” and “production” as a means to understand developments in pedagogy for art education since the Renaissance. An understanding of the specific epistemological discourses that must be navigated by artist-teachers when they develop strategies for learning explicate the role of art practices in considering the question: What to teach? The answer lies in debates around technical skills and the capacity for critical thought.