University of Texas at Arlington

Report from the TX STEM Librarians Conference, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, July 22

Thinking Beyond the Stacks

Report from the TX STEM Librarians Conference, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, July 22

TX STEM Logo

This year I had the wonderful opportunity to present at the TX STEM Librarians Conference on behalf of UT Arlington Libraries and the Maker Literacies Task Force. I talked about the progress the Task Force has made so far, our plans for a fall pilot test of the Maker Literacies program, and challenges that lie ahead. My presentation was the last one of the day, but it provided a perfect bookend to the morning keynote speaker Dr. Dominick Casadonte, the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas Tech University.

In his presentation, Dr. Casadonte delivered an impassioned and convincing plea for libraries to rise to the needs of today’s STEAM-based educators. In one and a half hours, he breezed through the history of the Arts and Sciences, beginning with Aristotle. He discussed the siloization of academia, and how the arts and sciences have through the years become ever-more isolated from one another, breaking into increasingly-granular silos of knowledge. For example, we’re living in a time where biochemists and molecular biologists don’t read the same scholarly journals, don’t attend the same conferences, and don’t know how to communicate with one another. His argument was that if biochemists and molecular biologists can’t communicate, we can’t expect a biologist to be able to effectively communicate with an artist, engineer or business manager, because the roots of their education have taken them all in such divergent directions.

Dr. Casadonte discussed the genesis of “STEM” education as being a response to the siloing of academia. The concept of STEM was introduced by the National Science Foundation in 1990, but took years to take hold in academia. While the intent of the NSF initiative was to break down barriers in academia, educators and practitioners were recalcitrant and unable to adapt to the interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary requirements of true STEM-based teaching. It took a years-long cultural shift in our ways of thinking to undo our old habits, and only now are we beginning to see the potential for a truly STEM-based curricula in academia.

STEM-based curriculum is an attempt to bring the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics back under one umbrella, where curriculum is problem-based and learning outcomes hinge on the student being able to incorporate aspects of all four into one holistic understanding of the world. It is a good step in the right direction, but Casadonte argues that this isn’t taking interdisciplinarity far enough. STEAM-based education (where the “A” represents the arts and humanities) is the next step toward truly holistic education. Casadonte provided a few examples where the arts have been invaluable in furthering scientific and technical understanding. One such example is the Molecular Flibbook, an open-source video editing platform that allows scientists to visualize molecular processes. The platform was developed in collaboration with molecular scientists, computer scientists, and animation artists. The project could not have succeeded without artists being involved, and that is Casadonte’s point.

He wrapped up his presentation with a list things that librarians can do to support STEAM-based educators. I feel that UT Arlington Libraries are already meeting many of these needs and are probably a step above most libraries in contributing to STEAM-based education. Take a look at the list in the photo and ask yourself “What am I doing to meet these needs? What more can I do?”

STEAM Librarians

written by Martin Wallace, martin.wallace@uta.edu

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