I’ve recently started to see references to STEAM, which is STEM with an added A. Nothing to do with old fashioned trains or kettles, although the former could be part of it. 

Most people are probably familiar with the term STEM as an acronym formed from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. There has been lots of promotion in the last five years or so to promote STEM to kids, especially girls, so that we have enough technically minded people to run our economy in the future. 


STEAM is based on a fundamental premise that the Arts are as important to our way of life as the STEM subjects. However the point of STEAM isn’t a reactionary attempt to recover balance. It’s more that effective innovation embraces the power of story and culture as much as engineering and technology. People need to understand Arts and Science, the old binary choice was a false dichotomy (as are most binary choices – real life works on multi-dimensional spectra). 

Examples of STEAM

Reflecting on some of the work I’ve done I think STEAM is a better description of when we work well. I’ve been involved as a product owner in designing digital systems. That obviously hits the STEM subjects well, all of them are needed. However the Arts are also essential. Lots of what we do is working with people to develop user stories, tapping into the creative side to produce pleasing design that people find intuitive. 

I saw this too when I studied T317 (Innovation and Design for Change). That was a series of tools for solving real world problems and coming up with creative solutions. There was a whole toolkit there to help understand the problems from different perspectives, and also to look at technical and cultural aspects of solutions. 


So having read a bit about it, and also reflected on some of my more positive projects, I’m strongly in favour of studying Arts alongside STEM, or STEAM as we ought to call it. 

But then I’m slightly biased, I’ve studied both at undergraduate level, and have come away with both a BSc and a BA. 

What do you think?