The Role of Art in STEM Education

I hear and read a lot about the value of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education nowadays. There’s no denying that those subjects are vastly important in the grand scheme of the 21st century.


But there is relatively little attention paid to the role that art can and should play in a STEM education. There are definitely movements in that direction in isolated pockets of academia and industry, but that impulse has not gained enough traction yet that the concept of STEM has turned to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math).


The Fall 2015 issue of The Seven Hills School Magazine contains an article that highlights how much art and it’s processes, both technical and creative, are an integral part of STEM. (Seven Hills is a K-12 school in Cincinnati, OH.) It’s one of the few articles I’ve read that shows this connection and how it is being applied in the curriculum at all levels of the school.


When you think about it, every time we teach our students how to mix paint, graph a drawing, apply emulsions, and create glazes, we are teaching them to use chemistry and math. Making 3D art requires engineering concepts and tools. Software programs and digital printers are vital tools for art creation. So how is art not a part of STEM?!


As Seven Hills middle-school art teacher Elissa Donovan says in the article, “Science, math, technology and engineering provide building blocks. Art is the key to imagination, the inspiration to arrange these blocks in new ways.”


We all should advocate for art to be a part of STEM education, and should devise our art curricula in such a way that STEM becomes STEAM.


Course Evaluations and Their Uses- Initial Thoughts

It surprises me that we haven’t yet made a post about course evaluations. Perhaps because this blog focuses more on preparing to teach and then actually teaching a course, we have paid relatively little attention to date to what happens at the end of a course besides handing out grades.

It is important, however, to pay attention to course evaluations, because they play such a significant role in tools that teachers can use to self-evaluate, but also because administrations use them to evaluate teaching effectiveness. This latter point is incredibly important for those who are in a tenure-track position, but also important for all others whose performance will be measured in part through course evaluations.

For starters, please read the article “How to Use Student Evaluations Wisely” by Professor David D. Perlmutter,, Dean of the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University.

In it, he discusses how such evaluations can be and are used both by administrators as well as by faculty. In future posts, I will discuss my take on course evaluations and address some of the points Professor Perlmutter makes.

Pedagogy Now! Creating Effective Evaluation Techniques

Thanks to everyone who attended our CAA workshop, Creating Effective Evaluation Techniques. We had a great time presenting and got a lot of feedback through all the fabulous questions and comments.
As promised, here is our powerpoint presentation PDF. Please feel free to give us any feedback, to ask us questions via the blog or email, or to ask us to address particular issues in the blog. We are also happy to come to your school to do a workshop tailored to your program’s needs. Contact us here:


Grading Rubric for Studio Art Visual Thesis

In the University of Cincinnati’s School of Art, Fine Arts majors are required to spend their entire senior year working on their thesis projects. These projects consist of two parts: the written thesis and the visual thesis. )For information on the rubric for the written thesis, click this link.)

The Senior Thesis Seminar course is set up to provide guidance and support for the seniors as they actualize their projects. This course has three learning outcomes, one of which is directly related to the visual work they are doing:

“Students will demonstrate substantial professional accomplishment in a coherent body of artwork through exhibition in DAAPWorks.” (Ed. The title of the senior end-of-year show.)

Here is the rubric that is used by faculty to grade the visual thesis projects. There are six major categories that faculty want to evaluate, and this rubric makes clear that they are not all weighted equally. The standards of excellence for each category are well-defined, although it should be noted that tweaking is done to the wording every year, depending on who is teaching the course.

Grading Rubric for Studio Art Written Thesis

Many studio art programs require not only a visual thesis of artwork, but also a written thesis that accompanies the visual work. Given that the students are writing about their creative process and research methodologies, this kind of written document can be challenging to grade for professors.

Here is a rubric that is used by faculty in the School of Art at the University of Cincinnati to grade the written thesis papers of their studio art seniors. Please note that they chose to focus the grading process on three main areas: Content, Sources and Mechanics. These items cover everything that faculty want to see in the document, and enabled them to keep the rubric relatively simple.

This rubric also ties in directly to one of the three learning outcomes for the course, specifically:

“Students will demonstrate their ability to research and articulate their visual thesis project and its connections to art history, to contemporary art, and the cultural milieu through verbal and written critical discourse.”

This rubric enables faculty to see very clearly which students are achieving that  outcome and which aren’t.

For information about the rubric for the visual part of the thesis, click on this link.

Technology in the Classroom- Use of Laptops, Notebooks & Smartphones

The issue of whether students should be allowed to use their laptops, smartphones, notebook computers, etc. while class is going on has been a hot topic for many professors for a long time now. This is a topic for which there is no one perfect solution, as use of these devices can make total sense for some courses but not for others. While more and more professors seem to be finding ways to integrate the use of these devices into their classes in a way that is acceptable to both them and to the students themselves, it still remains a challenge.

David Gooblar recently published an article in his Pedagogy Unbound blog in which he cites a method used by two professors at the University of British Columbia. At the start of the semester, they have the students themselves collaborate on a usage policy that everyone in the class will be expected to follow throughout the term. This approach has the advantage of making the students be part of the solution to the problem, thus increasing the probability of their buying into whatever policies are decided upon. (The solution that seems to be least-successful is the one in which the professor dictates the terms of usage to the students. That seems to light the fire of student ingenuity as they then try to find ways around whatever you’ve dictated.)

In a lecture class of roughly 70 students, I prefer a more hybrid solution. I would address this issue on the first day of class. A colleague of mine who is a psychology professor had polled her students about what they found to be the top five most annoying classroom behaviors exhibited by fellow students during class. Number one on their list was “side conversations”, closely followed by “laptop and cell phone use”. For each point on the list, I asked my students to articulate why they thought that item was on the list. What made that behavior particularly annoying?

They determined that, in the case of laptops and cell phones, it was the distraction factor, I then gave them a few minutes to discuss amongst themselves possible solutions. They spoke up and in the end agreed to try to minimize disruptive use of technology.

I went on to tell them that they would have plenty of opportunities to use both laptops and smartphones during class time, as there were times that I would expect them to conduct in-class research or to participate in online polls, take notes, etc. But I also told them that there would be times when it would not only be inappropriate but unnecessary to be on their devices and that, at those times, I would require that they be put to sleep or turned off.

I am convinced that this kind of open conversation on the first day was the reason why  the use of technological devices never became a problem in that class, despite its size. It also helped that I asked them to use their devices at minimum in every second class, even if only for a few minutes. This seemed to diffuse some of the pent up need to power up a screen and allowed them to focus better for the remainder of the class.

Teaching Philosophy- Assessment Rubric

By the time you are ready to assess your statement of teaching philosophy, you should have already measured it against the questions listed in my prior post “Teaching Philosphy- How Strong is It?”. It is assumed that it has gone through numerous revisions in order to make it as strong as possible.

Now is the time to assess the statement using the following rubric, which was adapted by Vicki Daiello, Assistant Professor of Art Education at the University of Cincinnati, from an original devised by the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of MInnesota.

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