Albert Einstein once said, “all religions, arts, and sciences are branches from the same tree.”1 (Einstein, 2006). This holistic view of all human knowledge and inquiry as fundamentally connected is reflected in the history of higher education—from the traditions of Socrates and Aristotle, to the era of industrialization, to the present day. This view holds that a broad and interwoven education is essential to the preparation of citizens for life, work, and civic participation. An educated and open mind empowers the individual to separate truth from falsehood, superstition and bias from fact, and logic from illogic.
In the United States, broad study in an array of different disciplines—including the arts, humanities, science, and mathematics—as well as in-depth study within a special area of interest, has been a defining characteristic of higher education. But over time, the curriculum at many colleges and universities has become focused and fragmented along disciplinary lines in such a way that some faculty have begun to ask whether students are now struggling to see the connections between different forms of knowledge and approaches to human inquiry. This change in higher education has been driven, in part, by increasing specialization in the academic disciplines and the associated cultural and administrative structure of modern colleges and universities.
1 Einstein’s statement about the branches of the tree was made in a letter to the YMCA in October 1937 against a backdrop of growing fascist power in central Europe. Einstein warned of the dangerous implications of living in a society where long-established foundations of knowledge were corrupted, manipulated, and coerced by political forces.
There is little doubt that disciplinary specialization has helped produce many of the achievements of the past century. Researchers in all academic disciplines have been able to delve more deeply into their areas of expertise, grappling with ever more specialized and fundamental problems. Today, the academic disciplines continue to be extraordinary wellsprings of expertise, creativity, and innovation and have provided a critical infrastructure for educating a highly skilled, if increasingly specialized, workforce. Since World War II, the research and training done at colleges and universities have come to be seen as crucial to economic competitiveness, national security, and social well-being.
Yet many leaders, faculty, scholars, and students have been asking in recent years whether higher education has moved too far from its integrative tradition toward an approach heavily rooted in disciplinary “silos.” These silos represent what many see as an artificial separation of academic disciplines.2 More than 50 years ago, University of California President Clark Kerr sounded an alarm about the disciplinary segregation of the university. The university had become a “multiversity,” he said, held together more by a unitary administrative structure and budget than by a collective commitment to truth or to a notion that knowledge is essentially integrated. As he put it, the modern research university consists of “a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking” (Kerr, 2001, p. 15). Indeed, the committee found that the administrative and budgetary structures at many institutions lend themselves to the disciplinary segregation of knowledge and learning. Such observations suggest that the depth and breadth of students’ exposure to other disciplinary traditions—and, in turn, other ways of understanding and questioning their world—may be limited at many schools.
This report examines an important trend in higher education: efforts to return to—or in some cases to preserve—a more integrative model of higher education that proponents argue will better prepare students for work, life, and citizenship. The model of integrative education examined in this report is both new and old. It is old in that it is rooted in a long-standing tradition of integration in education. It is new in the way it intentionally seeks to integrate knowledge to meet the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century. This movement goes beyond the general education curriculum found at almost every institution of higher education in the United States, in which students take several disconnected courses in different disciplines outside their major. In this new model, the knowledge, modes of inquiry,
2Bass and Eynon (2017) have used this term in a narrower but similar context, writing, “The most influential commercial applications of educational technology have largely been disintegrative—i.e., modular, focusing mainly on efficiency and productivity, and addressing narrow dimensions of learning” (p. 3).
and pedagogies from multiple disciplines are brought together within the context of a single course or program of study. In such a model, professors help students to make the connections between these disciplines in an effort to enrich and improve learning. Some call such efforts “STEAM”3 or “SHTEAM”—acronyms that variously combine science, technology, engineering, the arts, mathematics, and the humanities. Others use the older term “liberal education.” This committee refers to the integration of knowledge and pedagogies in the humanities, arts, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, technology, mathematics, and medicine4 simply as “integration.”
The committee’s task was to examine the impact of integrative educational experiences on student learning and career outcomes. We focused our examination of integration on the evidence related to the nature and impact of integrative courses and programs as they relate to the learning outcomes and competencies currently being called for by both employers and institutions of higher education. These include learning outcomes such as written and oral communication skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings. Though we offer a discussion of the multiple rationales offered by proponents for the value of an integrative approach, and ultimately conclude that integration is one model that shows promise for meeting the broad educational goals shared by institutions of higher education and employers, we do not argue in this report that the disciplines are not of value or that integrative models should necessarily supplant discipline-based courses and programs. Indeed, the committee was not charged with examining other educational approaches in detail. While it is possible, and perhaps even likely, that other educational models may yield similar positive student learning outcomes to those associated with integration, this was not the focus of this study.
Proponents of integration offer multiple rationales for the value of an integrative approach in higher education. Some argue that integration in higher education is needed to address the unprecedented global challenges
3 STEAM is a movement toward greater integration of the arts and humanities with STEM subjects that often takes place within the context of K–12 education. Though this study is focused on higher education, so that integration at the K–12 level was out of the scope of the study, the committee acknowledges that integration at the K–12 level is worthy of study and that K–12 education and higher education are fundamentally connected within the U.S. education system.
4 Although medicine is a postgraduate professional degree such as law or journalism, the committee believes that medicine fits appropriately within the scope of this study because of the groundswell of programs that integrate the arts and humanities with medical training and because of the nature of medicine as an applied, humanistic STEM discipline, much like engineering.
and opportunities of our time (United Nations Development Programme, 2016). Some insist that an integrative approach will better prepare graduates for employment or that it will better prepare graduates for engaged citizenry. Others simply observe that an integrative approach makes learning more fun, engaging, and relevant to students. The committee views these different rationales as deeply connected and in no way mutually exclusive.
Those who see integration as necessary for addressing the challenges of our time argue that the transformative changes of the past and the grand challenges of the present cut across multiple dimensions of human life—material, economic, environmental, social, cultural, technical, political, medical, aesthetic, and moral. They argue that to address the challenges and seize the opportunities of our time will require an education that draws upon all forms of human knowledge creation—the artistic, humanistic, scientific, technological, and medical—and the intersections and connections among them. The world is a human world, and scientific expertise in isolation offers an essential but incomplete foundation for guiding humanity’s future (Box 1-1). At the same time, humanistic and artistic engagement with the world that neglects its significant and ever-expanding scientific and technological dimensions likewise offers an incomplete picture. For example, modern information and communication technologies, developed and scaled through partnerships between engineers, scientists, artists, and humanists, have altered the ways people work, access goods and services, relate to one another, and participate in public life. The influences of these technologies on our society demand more reasoned and inclusive forms of civic engagement, even as they have facilitated new forms of division, distrust, and extremism. Similarly, advances in genome editing are lending new urgency and complexity to age-old questions of human rights, integrity, and dignity. Or take the example of climate change. As rapid, reliable, and inexpensive access to energy has become embedded in the rhythms and norms of social life, the transition to a less carbon-dependent economy is as much a cultural and moral challenge as it is a technological one (Box 1-2). Thus, proponents of educational integration contend that an integration of knowledge is necessary to address the challenges of our time. They argue that narrowed conceptions of the nature of problems—the hallmark of disciplinary specialization—may produce a range of possible solutions that are similarly constrained. As physicist and Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann has suggested, “we must rid ourselves of the notion that careful study of a problem based on a narrow range of issues is the only kind of work to be taken seriously, while integrative thinking is to be relegated to cocktail party conversation” (Schellnhuber, 2010, p. 3).
The argument that an integrative approach to education equips students with the knowledge, skills, and competencies to deal with the complex, multidimensional challenges of the world outside of campus also applies to
the world of work. Importantly, some of the most vocal calls for reform in higher education have come from industry, especially from the technology, engineering, and business sectors. As described in Chapter 2 of this report, employers have noted a mismatch between the skills they want in their employees and the skills many graduates leave higher education with today. Employers insist that the acquisition of highly specialized, discipline-specific skills should not replace equally important and more lasting sets of skills, such as writing and communication, critical thinking, the ability to work on teams, ethical and cultural awareness, and lifelong learning attitudes. Chapter 5 of this report illustrates that such outcomes are associated with courses and programs in higher education that intentionally integrate the arts and humanities with science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine.
Beyond employment, many argue that an integrative approach to higher education will better prepare students to be educated, informed, and active citizens of a modern democracy. To make informed decisions, citizens need to be able to distinguish truth from falsehood and right from wrong. Citizens need to appreciate some of the basic methods and conclusions of science and technology as well as the social, cultural, political, aesthetic, and ethical implications of scientific and technological advances. They need to be able to make sense of other points of view and rapidly changing circumstances. They need to understand the issues addressed through public policies and the impact of decisions in multiple dimensions. Proponents of integration argue that citizens with a broad education that includes the arts, humanities, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine will be better equipped to make decisions on complex societal issues. For example, the political theorist Danielle Allen has argued that people should explore political questions by trying to make the best possible argument, on any given question, from the perspective of someone with whom they disagree or whose experience of life differs fundamentally from their own (Allen, 2004). She also asks us to ask ourselves, when we interact with strangers, whether we have treated them as we would a friend. Advocates of integration see broad, interdisciplinary experiences in college as a route to mastering these difficult skills.
The committee also considered the connection between an integrative approach to education and the importance of diversity and inclusion in higher education. Conceptual arguments for the educational benefits of diversity overlap with the arguments for integrative approaches to learning. Each is rooted in the idea that higher education is an important place to learn about oneself and others by grappling with conflicting arguments, evidence, and experiences, and by gaining an understanding of different viewpoints and perspectives. Disciplinary integration brings together diverse viewpoints, epistemologies, traditions, and pedagogies so that students gain
a more holistic understanding of a topic. In addition, by expanding the pedagogical repertoire of science and engineering courses and programs, educational integration might help to improve the participation of underrepresented groups in the sciences and engineering, such as women and certain racial and ethnic minorities. Traditional science and engineering pedagogies have been shown to discourage women and people of color from pursuing science and engineering majors and careers (PCAST, 2012). The hope is that combinations of pedagogies and subject matter will promote diversity and inclusion. The committee explores this argument and the evidence to support it throughout the report.
Inspired by the multiple arguments in favor of a more integrative model of higher education, many educators and administrators have responded by offering students courses and programs that intentionally integrate knowledge from the arts and humanities with the natural sciences, social sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical disciplines (see “Compendium of Programs and Courses That Integrate the Humanities, Arts, and STEMM” available at https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24988 under the Resources tab for a list of 218 examples that the committee found illustrative). Such courses and programs are diverse. They take inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary approaches to integrate various disciplines, pedagogies, and curricula with the goal of promoting positive student outcomes. Some integrative courses and programs are relatively new, while others have been offered to students for decades. Indeed, many integrative efforts have led to the establishment of “interdisciplines” such as Science, Technology, and Society; Gender Studies; Bioethics; and Computer–Human Interaction, among many others. Such mature fields of inter- and transdisciplinary scholarship have historically arisen at the intersections of existing fields. These interdisciplines represent the potential for academic innovation through integration.
This study reflects a growing concern that an approach to higher education that favors disciplinary segregation is poorly suited to the challenges and opportunities of our time. It examines an alternative approach, which proponents argue may increase long-term opportunities for individual attainment and societal mobility. This report explores the wealth of innovative and promising efforts in undergraduate and graduate education that bridge divisions between these disciplines—what we refer to simply as “integration.” The study is motivated by the recognition that the demands of the day require that colleges and universities revisit, reflect upon, and potentially dominant educational approaches in American institutions of higher learning to ensure that students are graduating with the knowledge, skills, and competencies they will need to thrive in work, life, and civic participation.
Einstein’s statement about the branches of the tree was made in a letter to the YMCA in October 1937 against a backdrop of growing fascist
power in central Europe. Einstein warned of the dangerous implications of living in a society where long-established foundations of knowledge were corrupted, manipulated, and coerced by political forces. The discussions of this study committee from July 2016 to October 2017 about the integration of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) fields, the arts, and the humanities occurred against a backdrop of public challenges of long-established conventions about factual information, the use of evidence, and consensus knowledge. For Einstein, the proper response to threats to knowledge was to return to nineteenth-century principles that would allow societies “to preserve right and the dignity of man” and “allow us to rejoice in humanity” (Einstein, 1956, p. 8). Our committee has explored a different aspect of our common humanity—the integrated nature of human inquiry and its potential to prepare graduates from higher education for the challenges and opportunities of our time.
In this report, we delve more deeply into the rationale for an integrative approach to higher education and examine the evidence behind the assertion that such programs and courses lead to improved educational and career outcomes for students. This process gave the committee a deeper appreciation for the value of different forms of evidence and the practical realities of evidence-based decision making. After an intensive examination of the available evidence, and after deep discussions about the nature of evidence and the limits of measurement, we concluded that the existing evidence on integrative courses and programs points to very encouraging student learning outcomes that align with the twenty first–century professional skills that employers are seeking and the shared learning goals of many higher education institutions for their graduates. Further, we found abundant evidence of tremendous enthusiasm and activity among many in the higher education community to support and experiment with more integrative educational models.
The increasing interest in educational integration of the humanities, arts, and STEMM disciplines among educators, students, employers, and policy makers led the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2016 to create the Committee on Integration of Education in the Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine with the Arts and Humanities at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels. The 22 members of our committee include representatives from academia, business, government, and nonprofit organizations with scholarly expertise in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, and medicine, as well as expertise in the integration of these disciplines. We were charged with examining “the evidence behind the assertion that educational programs that mutually
integrate learning experiences in the humanities and arts with science,5 technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) lead to improved educational and career outcomes for undergraduate and graduate students.” In particular, the statement of task charged the committee to examine the following6:
- Evidence regarding the value of integrating more STEMM curricula and labs into the academic programs of students majoring in the humanities and arts in order to understand the following: (1) how STEMM experiences provide important knowledge about the scientific understanding of the natural world and the characteristics of new technologies, knowledge that is essential for all citizens of a modern democracy; (2) how technology contributes essentially to sound decision making across all professional fields; and (3) how STEMM experiences develop the skills of scientific thinking (a type of critical thinking), innovation, and creativity that may complement and enrich the critical thinking and creativity skills developed by the arts and humanities.
- Evidence regarding the value of integrating curricula and experiences in the arts and humanities—including, history, literature, philosophy, culture, and religion—into college and university STEMM education programs, in order to understand whether and how these experiences (1) prepare STEMM students and workers to be more effective communicators, critical thinkers, problem solvers, and leaders; (2) prepare STEMM graduates to be more creative and effective scientists, engineers, technologists, and health care providers, particularly with respect to understanding the broad social and cultural impacts of applying knowledge to address challenges and opportunities in the workplace and in their communities; and (3) develop skills of critical thinking, innovation, and creativity that may complement and enrich the skills developed by STEMM fields.
- New models and good practices for mutual integration of the arts and humanities and STEMM fields at 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and graduate programs, drawing heavily on an analysis of programs that have been implemented at institutions of higher education.
Integration of the Arts and Humanities into STEMM Fields
Our charge revolves around three basic questions. The first asks whether integrating curricula and experiences in the arts and humanities—including history, literature, philosophy, culture, and religion—into college and university STEMM education programs (1) can prepare STEMM students and workers to be more effective communicators, critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and leaders; (2) can prepare STEMM graduates to be more creative and effective scientists, engineers, technologists, and health care providers, particularly with respect to understanding the broad social and cultural impacts of applying knowledge to address challenges and opportunities in the workplace and in their communities; and (3) can help students develop skills of critical thinking, innovation, and creativity that may complement and enrich the skills developed by STEMM fields. Imbedded in these questions are several hypotheses about the value of educational integration. The first and third questions relate to the idea that the integration of the humanities and arts into the curricula of students majoring in STEMM subjects will promote the development of twenty first–century skills and competencies that employers and educators are both calling for today. The second question relates to the reasoning, that when scientists, technicians, engineers, mathematicians, and health professionals understand more about human history and culture, they can draw from a deeper pool of knowledge in understanding the context of their work and in solving problems. They can avoid professional narrowness both within and outside their fields; for example, they can explain to people outside of STEMM fields what they do and why it is important. They can better understand the social origins and context of their own scientific and technological disciplines. They can learn to think broadly as well as deeply, to be curious, to contend with ambiguity, and to identify gaps and limitations in their knowledge. They can become more adept at self-expression and empathy. They can be better learners, more flexible and valuable professionals, and more enlightened citizens by virtue of having a larger social and moral context in which to do scientific and technical work.
The argument is that the arts and humanities provide instrumental benefits, such as better communication with professionals in fields outside of STEMM, although integration may provide such benefits. Rather, the contention is that success in STEMM fields is enhanced through engagement with the ideas, methods, and contributions of the arts and humanities.
Integration of STEMM Subjects into the Arts and Humanities
The second major question presented by our statement of task relates to the impact of integrating more STEMM curricula and labs into the academic
programs of students majoring in the humanities and arts. Specifically, we were charged with examining whether the integration of knowledge and procedures drawn from STEMM fields into the arts and humanities promotes improved scientific and technical competency and offers new insights into the natural, physical, and human-designed worlds; an understanding of and engagement with the place of science and technology in twenty first–century life, including in its social, historical, aesthetic, and ethical dimensions; and twenty first–century skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving (Gurnon et al., 2013; Ifenthaler et al., 2015; Jarvinen and Jarvinen, 2012; Malavé and Watson, 2000; Olds and Miller, 2004; Pollack and Korol, 2013; Stolk and Martello, 2015; Thigpen et al., 2004; Willson et al., 1995). This argument holds that integrating STEMM knowledge, concepts, and forms of critical thinking into arts and humanities disciplines could strengthen and deepen learning in much the same way that arts and humanities integration benefits learning in the STEMM disciplines. All citizens, one could argue, require a basic working understanding of the scientific and technical, as well as the cultural, details of their lives and environments and the important relationships among them. A well-educated person must have an understanding of the laws of physics, the structure of science, the ways of thinking that govern scientific and technological innovation, and the historical, social, economic, and political significance of science and technology in modern life. Artists and humanists must also understand the scientific and technological context of their craft. An understanding of science and technology can breathe relevance into the work of artists and humanists and support and inspire creative engagement in life, work, and civic engagement.
Moreover, in a century in which jobs, life, and citizenry are increasingly influenced by advances in science and technology, there are greater demands placed on everyone to be scientifically and technologically literate.7 Polls demonstrate that disturbing percentages of Americans have a superficial understanding of such issues as climate change, medical research, gene
7 There is also a growing arts and humanities “illiteracy” in this nation that may disproportionately affect students majoring in STEM subjects in higher education. Many states, in response to severe budgetary constraints and economic factors over the past several decades, cut their K–6 elementary applied arts programs altogether. California’s Proposition 13, enacted in 1978, limited property taxes to 1 percent of the property’s value, which shrank or eliminated many state-funded programs, including arts in education. The State of Utah removed all public elementary arts education in the late 1970s, though in the past several years it has begun to reinstate arts education at the elementary level. It should be noted that this is an integrative model, now funded at more than $10 million per year by the Utah state legislature, for integrative elementary arts education run by the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, administered through the Utah state board of education. The result of a dearth of arts instruction in primary education for four decades is that multiple generations of citizens have grown up without exposure to, or active participation in, the arts through public education.
mapping, or other complex issues in the modern world. The perceived crisis of “scientific illiteracy” among those who will fill the ranks of the citizenry—for example, teachers, parents, employers, policy makers, and voters—receives attention among STEMM educators who fear that the U.S. political structure will not be able to cope with the scientific and technological choices that are necessary in the twenty-first century. A recent report of the National Academies Board on Science Education found that, on controversial issues that require some scientific and medical understanding, such as vaccines or genetic engineering, “people tend to interpret any new information in a way that fits with their worldviews” (National Academies of Sciences, 2016, p. 94).
The need for scientific and technological literacy extends beyond just understanding issues or making informed decisions. Today in the United States technology is integrated into daily life to the degree that it shapes the very decisions we make and the options we choose to consider. For example, the examination of risks present in a voting system will not only involve knowledge about the hardware and software in use, but also require careful consideration of the limitations in a given visual display and how that might shape or influence a voter’s ultimate choice of candidate given fundamental cognitive heuristics and biases. According to its advocates, this kind of capability to grasp knowledge across multiple, sometimes unconnected, domains is one of the biggest benefits to an integrative approach.
Again, the argument for the integration of STEMM into arts and humanities curricula is not just instrumental. The contention is that an agile intellectual curiosity fed and fueled by an education that positions students to be able to understand their world and participate well in public life must include a significant encounter with STEMM knowledge, including a sense of the place of science and technology in modern life. By this reasoning, humanities and arts students need exposure to the ideas and methods associated with STEMM fields to do their jobs and live their lives more fully.
A Mutually Supportive Relationship
From a more general perspective, proponents of integration believe that learning in STEMM fields and in the arts and humanities is mutually supportive. According to this view, STEMM fields, the arts, and the humanities contribute not only to the strength of the nation but also to the strength of each other. In part, this reflects their deep similarities. As Marilyn Deegan has written,
The humanities have more rigour and method than they are often given credit for, and a scientist needs the kind of imagination and flair more often associated with the arts. . . . Researchers working on the human ge-
nome, the poems of John Keats, dark matter, the Tractatus of Wittgenstein, the Bible and the movement of refugees are all engaged in the same ultra-human tasks—how do we interpret ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our environment, our history and our morality. (Deegan, 2014, p. 26)
As a specific example, students who apply their scientific understanding of light to create artistic products could also use their visual aids as a way to communicate scientific ideas and findings, creating an artistic–scientific loop that contributes to creative thinking and the ability to deal with complex problems innovatively (Shen et al., 2015).
From this broader perspective, the benefits of integration are both instrumental and intrinsic. Integrating knowledge from both sides of the “two cultures” divide (as first articulated by C. P. Snow in “The Two Cultures” (1959) and discussed in more detail in Chapter 2) helps students be more effective in using their own discipline’s learning. Scientists need the skills, insights, and methods of humanists and artists to help them understand the broader implications and impacts of their work from a historical to a contemporary sociocultural perspective. Humanists and artists need the skills, insights, and methods of scientists and mathematicians to integrate alternative interpretation and communication methods about phenomena they observe, explore, and integrate into their research and creative forms of expression. From an instrumental perspective, scientists need humanists and artists to help them creatively communicate and interpret their findings and share their processes with nonscientists, while humanists and artists need scientists and mathematicians to help them compile, interpret, and incorporate data and better express themselves through their artistic mediums. Opportunities for encounter, cross-fertilization, and integration between such fields can be generative for all involved, and often in ways that are difficult to imagine and predict from within the disciplines.
These benefits, though significant, are not surprising: the work of individual scientists, engineers, and physicians is driven by their experiences as humans in the world and in society. The questions that scientists ask and seek to answer are not divorced from the human condition, history, culture, society, and aesthetics. Similarly, the work of humanists and artists is fundamentally influenced and informed by scientific and technological developments and discoveries that affect the human condition, the environment in which we live, and the course of human history. Each discipline offers scholars new tools, media, and ideas for humanistic, scientific, technological, medical, and artistic exploration and discovery. Their integration creates opportunities for innovation, greater reflexivity, and deeper understanding of the disciplines and the world those disciplines seek to explore.
Concerns about the fragmentation and specialization of knowledge and the need for more integrative curricular approaches are not new. For instance, the acronym “STEM” (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which has become widely used in recent decades, itself reflects a growing movement, especially at the K–12 level, to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in an integrated fashion. Such an approach can make learning more connected and relevant for students (NAE and NRC, 2014). Yet some have objected to the way STEM integrates some fields while leaving others out. For example, a common observation is that STEM should be revised to STEMM by adding medicine and other fields of study related to health, as reflected in the National Science Foundation (NSF) 2017 charge to our committee. Furthermore, while historically the NSF has included social sciences under the heading of the sciences, STEM is generally considered to include the natural sciences and more quantitative social sciences and not the qualitative and more humanistically oriented social sciences.
Proposals to integrate the arts and humanities into STEM education have given rise to the acronym “STEAM,” in which the “A” indicates some form of integration with the arts. STEAM education is “largely a K–12 initiative conceived to bridge the interdisciplinarity, creativity, and innovation found in both art and science” (Lewis, 2015, p. 262). John Maeda, the former Rhode Island School of Design president who has championed the shift from STEM to STEAM, strongly believes that STEM subjects “alone will not lead to the kind of breathtaking innovation the 21st century demands” (Maeda, 2013, p. 1). The STEM to STEAM transition has the goal of fostering the “true innovation that comes with combining the mind of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist or designer” (Sousa and Pilecki, 2013, para. 2). Some interpretations of “STEAM” use the “A” to imply integration with both the arts and humanities; other acronyms, such as “SHTEAM,” incorporate the humanities explicitly.
In the view of our committee, the question of which acronym captures the essential disciplinary ingredients for a good education is somewhat misleading. Focusing on which disciplines are counted in (or out) has the potential to distract from the question of what educational aims should inform curricula. Rather than taking the separation of disciplines as a given and beginning with the question of which disciplines belong at the table, our committee focused instead on forms of curricular integration that seek to transcend the limitations of disciplinary boundaries by bridging among and integrating scientific, social scientific, engineering, technological, mathematical, medical, humanistic, and artistic approaches. We focused first on the aspirations and achievements of particular efforts at integration, asking
what outcomes they achieve, what novel contributions they offer to higher education, and where they fall short. Only then did we explore the ways in which disciplinary and organizational structures allow or inhibit beneficial approaches.
Following this brief introduction to our task, Chapter 2 further explores the many rationales for an integrative approach to higher education in light of the widely held goals of higher education today. The chapter examines the history and purposes of higher education and considers the demands placed on higher education by employers and students, as well as how the needs and desires of employers and students align with the goals of institutions of higher education. It also explores the innovation-based arguments for an integrative approach in higher education and how integration of the disciplines relates to issues of equity and diversity in education.
In Chapter 3, the committee offers definitions of the humanities, arts, science, engineering, and medicine and describes the characteristics of integration.
Chapter 4 discusses the meaning and nature of “evidence,” the value of considering multiple forms of evidence, and the challenges of collecting evidence in real-world contexts and of generalizing the “evidence of improved educational and career outcomes” that is articulated in our Statement of Task when different stakeholders have different interpretations of positive educational outcomes, measure outcomes in different ways, approach integrative teaching and learning using different pedagogical structures, and integrate different disciplines in a multitude of ways.
Chapter 5 offers an overview of the many cultural and administrative barriers to integration in higher education and discusses strategies for overcoming such barriers.
In Chapter 6, the committee reviews the existing evidence on the impact of integrative educational approaches in undergraduate education, while Chapter 7 focuses on the impact of integrative graduate and medical education on students. Chapter 8 presents our conclusions drawn from the evidence we have reviewed and our consensus recommendations informed by this evidence.
We also include in the report a “Gallery of Illuminating and Inspirational Integrative Practices in Higher Education,” which offers images and descriptions of artistic and humanistic scholarship, education, and practice that have been inspired, influenced, or supported by STEM knowledge, processes, and tools.