Purposeful Pursuits: Leveraging the Epistemic Practices of the Arts and Sciences
But many young people face signifcant economic, cultural, historical, and/or social obstacles that distance them from STEM as a meaningful or viable option— these range from under-resourced schools, race- and gender-based discrimination, to the dominant cultural norms of STEM professions or the historical uses of STEM to oppress or disadvantage socio-economically marginalized communities (Philip and Azevedo 2017). As a result, participation in STEM-organized hobby groups, academic programs, and professions remains low among many racial, ethnic, and gender groups (Dawson 2017). One solution to this imbalance has been to reposition STEM as STEAM—integrating the arts and design in ways that can have wider appeal to a broader cross section of young people. Integrating the arts and sciences is not only a strategy for broadening appeal, it also refects the ways in which participation in civic, academic, and professional activities is becoming increasingly hybridized, requiring communication, design, and technological skills. A STEAM approach to broadening participation or inclusion can be relevant across the four distinct “discourses of equity” that Philip and Azevedo (2017) posit underpin research on equity in out-of-school STEM. They argue that equity in informal STEM education is seldom articulated but variously conceptualized as (a) supporting student achievement in school STEM, (b) building student STEM learning interest and identity through more authentic engagement with STEM, (c) democratizing STEM by locating its presence and uses in everyday life, or (d) understanding how STEM can be taken up by social justice movements as a tool for achieving transformation and change. How informal STEM programs advance equity can thus vary widely, depending on their conceptualization of equity.
As STEAM becomes more deeply theorized, it may be valuable to consider the evidence base that suggests that engaging in the epistemic practices of a discipline will lead to deeper disciplinary learning and more productive learning identities (e.g., see NGSS or Common Core in the USA). In other words, integrating purpose and meaning into engagement with the disciplines links epistemological and ontological processes of development. Further, an epistemic approach (unlike a conceptsbased approach) is potentially relevant across the four distinct discourses of equity articulated by Philip and Azevedo; i.e., it can enrich programs focused on STEM school achievement as well as those concerned with broader social transformation. But what are the epistemic practices of the “discipline” of STEAM?