Conceptualising and implementing interdisciplinary approaches to STEM Education

Year: 2017

Author: Clarke, David, Van Driel, Jan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Although the notion of STEM has rapidly become common around the world, from an education perspective the idea of interdisciplinarity in STEM is still underexplored. The disciplines encompassed by STEM are currently distinguished by associated bodies of practice. Analogous distinctions apply in STEM education, extending to the signature pedagogies that characterize each discipline. However, the current demands of industry contest the disciplinary silos on which the curriculum has been based in favor of adaptable interpersonal and inquiry-based skills. This presentation focuses on the realization of STEM as an interdisciplinary enterprise. From a vocational perspective, it is noteworthy that particular professions, such as Medicine, Engineering and Architecture, have achieved performative interdisciplinarity, calling upon STEM knowledge and practices which achieve their coherent integration within the practices of the profession. Alternatively, from an educational perspective, it would be productive to structure the curriculum around those constructs to which the boundary walls of the STEM disciplines seem most permeable. The identification of such cross-disciplinary constructs may hold the key to a reconceptualization of the organising principles of the curriculum. Contenders for such constructs are: Discourse, Artefacts, Reasoning and Evidence.
Next, it is argued that research and design can be seen as activities that cut across STEM disciplines. The constructs Discourse, Artefacts, Reasoning and Evidence are central to both research and design, although emphases might be different (e.g., evidence being more important in research whereas design focuses on artefacts). In STEM practices, research and design activities are frequently connected. The promotion of skills in conducting research and in designing artefacts would be an appropriate response to a demand for STEM skills in the workplace, and to the expectation of more STEM-related employment vacancies in the future. Also, research and design activities are proposed to counter the decline of student interest in school science, which is often attributed to school science being perceived as disconnected from the "real world". To address the need to integrate research and design in the classroom, there have been several curriculum innovations, for example Design & Technology in the UK, Technology Education in Finnish upper secondary education, and Research & Design in the Netherlands. These innovations aim at the integration of research and design through a project-based approach. Teacher attitudes to research and design mediate their curricular implementation. This presentation examines research related to societal and industry demands, the curricular efficacy of cross-disciplinary constructs, and teachers as agents of curricular change