Introducing STEAM To The Classroom Through User Experience Design and Design Thinking

Fredrick Royster
6 min readOct 2, 2023

An Issues In Art Education Mini Research Paper, Illinois State University

We’re entering the third decade of the 21st century, and the world is getting more complex, with problems like climate change, drought, hunger, and poverty, and health emergencies like COVID-19, SARS, and Ebola. We need to prepare our kids for solving these complicated problems with education and knowledge that can sustain humanity and the environment.

The multidisciplinary education model of STEAM (the combination of science, technology, arts, engineering, and math) has shown promising results in arming our future leaders, scientists, and innovators, giving them the skills to solve these pressing issues.

According to Bertrand and Namakusa STEAM projects not only teach children about technological and scientific innovation, but also transferable skills that can apply to any career or discipline.

“students learned character-building skills that were exemplified in the curriculum documents, such as curiosity and imagination, oral and written communication, perseverance and adaptability, collaboration, and critical thinking and problem-solving.” (Bertrand & Namukasa, 2020)

Even though the STEAM model has yielded promising results, some school districts have had difficulty introducing it into their curriculum.

“Integrating STEM subjects within the school curriculum can be quite challenging. Teachers need to find ways to weave science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into existing lesson plans. Teachers also need to create cross-curricular connections that make the learning relevant to their students. This is often quite difficult, especially when teachers have to balance the demands of standardized testing requirements and maintain a focus on their student’s academic progress.” (Jane, 2022)

User Experience Design and Design Thinking To The Rescue

It makes sense to capitalize on Generation Z and Alpha’s obsession with smart and digital devices like smartphones, tablets, and social media apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram to introduce STEAM concepts.

All of the apps, websites, and video games tweens and teens use need to be designed and tested to create a digital experience that is both easy to use but also intuitive, enticing and keeps users coming back for more. This is done through the user experience design and design thinking process.

What is User Experience (UX) Design?

According to the Interaction Design Foundation, UX design is how design teams make products that are enjoyable and helpful to use. It’s all about the whole process of getting and using a product, from branding and design to usability and function. (Norman, n.d.)

UX design is not limited to the design of apps and websites. It encompasses almost all of our digital interactions, from talking to Alexa and Siri to wearables like the Fitbit and Apple Watch to operating our automobile infotainment systems and climate controls, to the menu systems that help us find our favorite TV shows on Hulu and Netflix, to the cockpit design and instrumentation of an airplane or helicopter.

AELA Magazine emphasizes how UX design is the perfect marriage of art and science.

“It can seem that UX design is all about art and creativity. After all, people working in this field must sketch, develop interfaces and wireframes, and create prototypes. So it can seem rather artistic, right?”

But it’s not that simple. The UX field relies greatly on engineering and science, turning to objective data to analyze users and scenarios and monitor indicators. (Aela, 2022)

Why is UX Design A Good Example of the STEAM Model?

UX design is an excellent example of the STEAM model because it incorporates elements of science, technology, engineering, art, and math in a team/collaborative environment.

“STEAM education and Design Thinking are both models for interdisciplinary collaboration and problem solving to foster economic innovation, develop 21st-century skills and entrepreneurial literacy, and prepare students to work within a capitalist designer economy” (Graham, 2020,)

Psychology is employed by UX designers to comprehend how people interact with technology. They use applications and software such as Figma or Adobe XD to create prototypes and test designs. They use art to create visually appealing designs and icons. They use math to calculate things like layout, spacing, and grid systems, along with computer programming languages to code the software, websites, and apps.

But the biggest draw of using UX design to teach STEAM principles is that it uses the Design Thinking method closely tied to the Scientific Method. (Aela, 2022)

The Scientific Method Consists Of

Asking a Question: The “who, why, what, where and when”

Conducting Research: Collecting information about your question.

Developing a Hypothesis: An assumption on how an experiment will go that a can be tested and validated

Testing the Hypothesis: An experiment to test see if your hypothesis was correct

Analyzing the Data: Seeing if the results support the hypothesis. If the prediction about the experiment is wrong, scientists will analyze what goes wrong, then formulate a new hypothesis and test that, repeating the process over again. (Aela, 2022)

The “Double Diamond” method used in design thinking/user experience design uses many of the same principles as the scientific method but uses different terminology.
The steps of the “Double Diamond” technique are
Discover
Define
Develop
Deliver

Image Courtesy of the Interaction Design Foundation

The discovery and definition stages are like the first steps of the scientific method, where you ask a question, do some research, and come up with a hypothesis.

The developing and delivering stages in UX Design are like experimenting and analyzing results in the scientific method. In both cases, the goal is to collect data and evidence to evaluate a product or service. In UX Design, this data is collected through user testing, which helps to identify success metrics and assess how well the product or service has met its goal. (Aela, 2022)

What Transferable Skills Do Students Learn from UX Design
A CBS 19 news editorial from Charlottesville, Virginia, came to the same conclusions as Bertrand and Namukasa that teaching web development (a part of the user experience design process) to kids help build the “soft” transferable skills that a modern 21st-century worker needs to be successful like problem solving, communication skills, and resilience. (Syndication Cloud, 2021)

A teacher from Bertrand and Namukasa study on teaching STEAM to young kids commented that:

“Whether it regards sustainability or, you know, just compassion in the world, solving some of these food and hunger issues, water resources issues, and I think that preparing our students to connect with their learning is a viable skill that they can take with them in the future. You know [for example, collaboration and communication skills] where there are so many different entry-level projects and contests [in these STEAM learning activities], where students are really creating things that are being used in our community and are being used to solve real-world problems. And I think that’s when I find my kids the most engaged when they can actually see that thinking.” (Bertrand & Namukasa, 2020)

User experience design can help kids build resilience and perseverance by teaching them to deal with failure and learn from their mistakes. This is because user experience design is an iterative process where designers test and iterate on their designs based on user feedback. This process can sometimes be frustrating, but it teaches kids how to persevere and improve their work. This means going back and reworking the prototype and testing again. It helps teach the valuable lesson to keep going and learn from one’s mistakes.

“One of the main character-building skills mentioned during the interviews was perseverance. The instructors/teachers encouraged students to make mistakes and take risks. The student’s learning experience, the “making process,” and the product made were important in each STEAM program.” (Aela, 2022)

Conclusion:
Design thinking is an excellent way to introduce STEAM to public education because it mirrors the scientific method and helps develop transferable skills such as collaboration, creativity, communication, problem solving, perseverance, and resilience.

References

Aela. (2022, March 11). UX Design: Science or Art? Aela School. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from https://aelaschool.com/en/userexperience/ux-design-science-art/

Bertrand, M. B., & Namukasa, I. K. (2020, June 24). STEAM education: student learning and transferable skills. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning, 13(1), 43–55. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JRIT-01-2020-0003/full/html

Graham, M. A. (2020, May 5). Deconstructing The Bright Future of STEAM. Art Education, 73(3), 6–12. Taylor & Francis Online. 10.1080/00043125.2020.1717820

Jane, R. (2022, August 30). ✍️. 21st Century Education. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from https://21stcented.com/the-challenges-and-opportunities-of-implementing-stem-education-in-schools

Norman, D. (n.d.). What is User Experience (UX) Design? | IxDF. The Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/ux-design

Syndication Cloud. (2021, April 14). Web Development for Kids: 5 Benefits of Leaning How to Build a Website. CBS19 News -. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from https://www.cbs19news.com/story/43665899/web-development-for-kids-5-benefits-of-leaning-how-to-build-a-website

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Fredrick Royster

Lapsed Web Designer*UI/UX Professional* Electronic Dance Music Aficionado * Chicagoland (except that stint in Croatia!)