Designing STEAM Learning Environments

Designing STEAM Learning Environments

Haidee A. Jackson, James D. Basham, Kelli Thomas, Cassandra L. Hunt
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2517-3.ch001
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This chapter highlights some of the technological changes in society that have led to an increased need to consider instructional and design challenges in implementing STEAM education. Specifically, the chapter discusses how challenges related to designing learning environments in STEAM education can be mediated through application of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. Consideration is given towards designing for flexible and useable STEAM learning spaces by thinking about and planning for learner variability as a key component towards designing inclusive, humanistic educational experiences. In addition, STEAM learning spaces are discussed in terms of catalyzing learner creativity, providing for individualizing instruction, and empowering 21st century learners to develop collaborative, problem-solving tools, and soft skills.
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The increased focus on the crosscutting approaches of curriculum design and education systems emerged from the needs in producing a global citizenry that is prepared for modernity (Basham, Israel, & Maynard, 2010). There is little doubt that the world has changed and is continuing to change. As a global society, we are in the midst of disruption across all aspects of life, from the way we socialize, consume news and information, to buying goods, and work. The World Economic Forum (Schwab, 2016) has identified these changes as the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution.

The revolutions of the past have shaped the schools of today and the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution will reshape the education system of the future. As identified in Basham, Han, Zhang, and Yang (in press) the first industrial revolution (circa 1760s) brought machine based manufacturing and railroads to existence. These changes started to shift populations of people living and surviving in rural villages and towns to larger population centers driven by the new capitalist economy. During this time, the value of education moved informal apprenticeship models to support the rural area to more formalized education models for educating more people. Schools and universities started to develop specialized areas of preparation and training to prepare the workforce for survival in the new economy.

The second industrial revolution (circa 1870s) was about developing technological solutions for society's changing needs. With a more educated populace, came the development and adoption of technological solutions and early standards-based systems in manufacturing, production, health care, sanitation, and communications at scale. During this time, society witnessed the development of steel, expansion of railroads, internal combustible engine, electrification, assembly line factory models, and scientific management of manufacturing and business systems. The education system modeled the newly found need for standardization through forming standards and a level based education system. This increased focus on specializations, beginning the science of education, and a focus on the efficiency of student learning in the system.

The third industrial revolution (circa 1950s) emerged with a focus on globalization of systems through standardized processes and increased capabilities in communications. Today, this is represented in the adoption of digital systems across society in areas such as manufacturing, communications, commerce, and daily life. The education system reacted through development and acceptance of national and international standards, support for wide-scale achievement measures, the classification of learners with differences and disabilities, and increased scientific focus on education and learning. This all placed a greater focus on specializations across education.

Today, education is beginning another revolutionary shift in modernity. The fourth industrial revolution is being shaped by the global decentralization and increased acceptance of interdisciplinary innovation and the rapid adoption of innovation across society. Together, these core components are supporting a rapidly increasing and self-reinforcing process in iterative development, which supports continued change and ongoing disruption throughout society. The education system is in a chaotic state attempting to find a balance between the needs of the past while preparing learners for the future.

Recognizing a need for change, there has been an increased focus on the crosscutting approaches integrated across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). While the terminology may be up for debate, the basic premise and rationale of STEM education has always integrated the transdisciplinary understandings of four subject areas to encompass a more holistic view of societal development (Basham et al, 2010). Thus, whether called STEM or science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM), the focus should be to prepare a citizenry for the future that includes the associated knowledge and skills integrated into the arts and humanities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Learning Experience: The series of events and interactions within the comprised with a goal-driven learning process.

Traditional Classroom: These spaces are designed as an arrangement of similar desks placed in rows which are often difficult to rearrange and move about the room.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL): A scientifically based framework focused on supporting the variability of every learner through proactive and iterative design that integrates multiple means of engagement, representation of information, and action and expression of understanding.

Soft Skills: Social skills conducive for effective communication and human interaction.

Universal Design (UD): Design principles originally developed to provide for accessibility, and inclusion in the design of buildings, products, and tools.

Innovative Learning Environment (ILE): A learning environment that uses technology to implement flexible learning and educational design practices in education.

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