STEM STEM STEM …

I’ve not really engaged with the emergent STEM culture online. A two-day conference is, therefore a real opportunity to try and better understand teacher motivations, belief, and practices. As ‘design and technology’ teacher I tend to take the view “why is this new to you?” when it comes to teachers from all disciplines discovering how creative, curious and enthusiastic many kids can be. On the other hand, I ask myself, what these people were doing before someone showed them a “maker” handbook of 101 things or pointed at the pearly king and queen of PBL etc.,

At this level, STEM, like other recent emerging cultural-focus points, such as ‘design thinkgin’ helps raise awareness of design and technology more broadly. This is not to say it changes practice or revises prevsiously held beliefs or attitudes .

STEM speficicially impacts cultural conceptions and knowledge about Science, Maths, Design, Technology and Art. The question is: why have these people not been working together before now? .. the answer lies in the medium and the message.

Those of us working in these fields are probably successful and don’t welcome yet another attempt to introduce a ‘deficit’ debate. STEM is manifested as a ‘slogam’  to appear new  – and superiour to inferred ‘older’ ideas and methods.

The hidden agenda creates new revenue streams for selected elites and corporations. This well known subdefuge is achieved by valorization – using teachers and laneway experts to endore and amplify the central message to make it appear true.

In reality, schools have been teaching STEM for decades and some teachers may have taken the time to visit the HSC work of students, but few will have asked the TAS department if they can ‘borrow’ their workshop makerspace. Why is that?

Mulder (2006) argues the medium determines what information can and cannot be transmitted. As STEM is a vibrant topic on teacher-dominated-mediums such as Twitter, the main discourse predicably follows the on-going commercialization and technological determinism. It favours wealthy urban technofiles. As humans  generally believe the ‘future’ is going be better, these mediums support sufficient environmental factors, such as in-group bias, out-grouping those with opposing view etc., in otder to to sustain the on-going vision of the future message – experienced vicariously through selectivity and competition and individual undertanding and desire to belong.

STEM (to me) is best understood in the context of children expressing themselves through the interplay of digital and non-digital media and the practice of social skills and cultural competencies. This is now new! This can be easily applied to the previous ‘wave’ or ‘trend’ towards ICTs, Web2.0 etc.,

Arguably, there is now migration of teachers and laneway experts from the ICT marketplace to a new STEM marketplace because of the economic and political shifts.

Previously, the non-digital vs digital shift objectified and vilified ‘traditional’ approaches (which include the practices in the STEM areas). For example, the need to discontinue workbooks and posters.

Today the dialogue is about robots and duct tape, reclaiming the ‘maker’ space . It seems to ignore broader culture – particularly entertainment including video games. For example; why not build replica props, get into Cosplay and merge their gaming and film and comic interests with technology. Why do we once again return to ‘adult’ ideals about what is pro-socilisation – in a world where Trump is on the cusp of being President while the powerful kill innocent civilians in ‘wars’ few people really understand. Do adults believe the future will be better, if teachers somehow create a pathway to the post-war society – which was also the on-ramp for consumerism.

I’d argue workbooks and posters are well and truely back.  Where Computing Science was looted to allow ICT, Web2.0 to be commodified and generalized – so it is with Industrial Design, Technology, and Science. The fact is, that STEM further erodes the science lab, workshop and visual art room. It’s a playground for the rich and those who see commercial value in jumping into it – and promoting it online.

Where Computing Science was deminished economically, physically and culturally to allow ICT, Web2.0 to be commodified and generalized -this is now being applied to Industrial Design, Technology, and Science. The fact is, that STEM further erodes the science lab, workshop and visual art room. It’s a playground for the rich and those who see commercial value in jumping into it – and promoting it online.

So far, there is a lack of data, analysis and evidence on offer. Where the above faculties have been arguing for more funding for years — they are unlikely to get it now, unless they conform and comply to the new STEM agenda.

This means businessmen give keynotes about ‘the future’, sidestepping data and evidence again. STEM activities are not ‘new’ and when talking to kids about what they do – when not in STEM class – guess what, they are doing workbooks and other modernist practices. Of course, they like it, the alternative is teacher-dominated, content and skills focus. There in limited evidence to suggest this is constructively aligned to University.

University, it was said, is not producing sufficient maths, science, medical and engineering graduates (no source). The inferrence is that schools are not driving interest or that the school curriculum is once again – in deficit. What is omitted is any discussion about political policy, youth under-employment, casualisation of the workforce etc., For many, the cost of being at university is simply too high.

I can only conclude from this: STEM will not solve the lack of graduates or their willingness to work for corporations – let alone be successful entrapreneurs. While we are hinting at creating STEM teachers, we’re still ignoring the need to improve Media Education and in so doing, infuse that with existing disciplines – Maths, Science, Engineering, Technology and Art.

There are some inherent problems with generalising.This is evident in the communication of STEM ideals. Parents are homogenous groups, technology is generalised and ‘jobs of the future’ lack any meaningful explanations. We are left with ‘stories’ based almost entirely on personal belief and agendas.

There is an assumption that the purpose of STEM education is to deliver bodies to univiversities and corporations, parents can be discussed as homogemous entity, that providing ‘sources’ of claimed facts doesn’t matter … and that the development of a child, includes a plurality of interests and abilities expressed though thier communication in transmedia forms. A wicked problem is a complex problem – embedded in the socio-political economy and a long history of disadvantage towards certain (non elite) groups in society.

The key new media literacies – for active and fulfilling participation in society involve much more than 4 letter buzzwords. Play, Distributed Cognition and Transmedia Navigation are key to living in the “digital age”. We are dealing with a generation where over eighty percent of their ‘down time’ is spent on media and eighty percent of that is spent watching movies and videos. STEM does not change this reality and I think there needs to be a lot more added to the discussion: the growing equity gap; the participation gap; the gender gap; low SES access; disabilities; universal design; policy and much more.

As it is, kids are having a hard time self-regulating media and technology. Making things is a way to develop problem-solving and design thinking skills, Reggio can help move an inquiry forward – but the underlying need is not to erode what we already have and replace it with STEM. We need to be wary of ICT Integrators and App-Gurus who are now talking about STEM in their keynotes and pithy tales of reform and change.

As ever, I’m much more interested in media cultures and games than I am in laneway topics such as STEM. I’m yet to see any ‘new’ or ‘unique’ properties in what is being displayed, but alarming bias and generalizations in the ‘online’ discussion.

Perhaps Day 2 will move me forward … perhaps not. I’m concerned that we’re repeating the issues of the past because we’re being told it’s better — and forgetting what we can already do.

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