3 ways technology can bridge the STEM-Humanities divide

As STEM becomes increasingly promoted and Liberal Arts defunded, can technology serve as mediator?

If my English Liberal Arts degree was mocked 10 years ago, you can imagine what students majoring in French Literature must be going through today. In fact, according to the New York Times, even state governors are denying funding for some humanities students.

In fact, according to the same article, “when it comes to dividing the pot of money devoted to higher education, at least 15 states offer some type of bonus or premium for certain high-demand degrees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.” (To learn more about these high-demand degrees, read: “3 blossoming fields of study with massive potential.”)

But as anyone invested in education knows, focusing on one end of the curricular spectrum is never wise: too much focus on the humanities and there goes scientific progress bolstering the economy; too much focus on STEM and there goes creativity and reasoning bolstering the human species.

So can technology provide the much-needed bridge for cross-curricular harmony; and if so, how?

(Next page: 3 ways technology could bridge the STEM-humanities divide)

3 Ways Technology Can Mediate

1. The Technology of Communication: One of the best skills that humanities majors usually learn is the art of communication, thanks to what feels like hundreds of essay papers culminating in theses that must be argued in order to graduate. However, with the onset of social media and online community platforms, technology has the potential to help incorporate a STEM aspect of communication in the form of data science—one of the most coveted career fields today.

Already, the University of Texas allows students to learn to monitor and analyze social media conversations and their impact using NUVI monitoring dashboards. AdGrad is the social media brand and the curriculum is part of the School of Advertising & Public Relations. Students work in teams to create content calendars and original content for the school’s channels and its hub, AdGradLife. In the fall, AdGrad will have three teams working to produce original content for social media channels.

“These days, everything is analytics-driven, or it should be,” said teacher Dr. Gary Wilcox. “The analytics drive the original content strategy, as well as the content management strategy. It’s an analytics-driven business. The sooner everyone understands that, the faster they’ll integrate.”

Other social media + data science programs include students in the Social Media Analytics Command Center (SMACC) at Illinois State University, which incorporates students in the School of Communication, PR who learn how social media influences public opinion, how companies use it to manage crisis situations, and to monitor their own social media campaigns; Journalism students who learn how social media fits into the 24-hour news cycle and how it is supplementing traditional media as a news source; Mass Media majors who use it to develop content for the campus-run TV station, radio station and paper; and the Department of Marketing students who participate in a social media strategy incubator where they team up with local businesses in their community to create a social profile and monitor conversations in the social space about the businesses product/service, their competitors, and other key performance indicators.

Learn more about these programs here:

2. The Engineered Idea: When you think of Maker Spaces and 3D printing, Architecture, Engineering and Life Science may be some of the first fields of study that come to mind. But some innovative colleges and universities are giving humanities majors not only more visual learning opportunities through 3D printing, but must-needed technical skills in engineering machinery.

For example, writes Dr. Conor MacCormack, co-founder and CEO of Mcor, History and Anthropology majors can use 3D printing to revitalize ancient artifacts and bring history to life.

“Imagine studying an ancient Greek war and 3D printing an accurate replica of a Greek soldier’s helmet for study. Whether it’s using 3D printing to analyze and restore skull deformation from priests found in an Incan temple or scanning artifacts (like a 3000 year old mummy) to provide exact 3D printed replicas for research and study, 3D printing connects students with precise copies of artifacts that would otherwise be ‘unattainable’ to access due to their rarity, delicate nature or price.”

MacCormack also notes that Fine Art majors have the potential to hone their craft by studying the artistic form of master artists using 3D printing. “Replicating a full-color 3D model of any fine art object can parallel details not visible from a 2D textbook, such as the texture of a sculpture. Not only can 3D printing convey far more information and meaning than a 2D image, it also exposes students to next generation processes of fine art restoration and conservation.

3D printing can also enable students to combine their creativity with technology to realize their own unique vision.”

Already, Keith Brown, a professor at The Manchester School of Art, is pushing new boundaries in sculpture by adopting 3D printing to explore design beyond the confines of handcrafting and CAD software to give designs new meaning. The end result helps him articulate geometry and form in a way that transcends physical form, giving students the ability to produce meaningful works of art and sculpture that can’t be produced in any other way.

Read more about 3D printing for a multitude of curricula here:

(Next page: The science of reading)

3. The Science of Reading: Any humanities major knows that finding resources—literature, studies, textbooks—are integral to learning; but even reading materials are undergoing a massive technological revamp, which could provide a wonderful learning opportunity for humanities students if they partnered with the IT and computer science leaders behind these projects.

For example, brilliant computer science minds at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) are developing an intuitive course-based multimedia search engine for students and faculty with the ability for personalized search capability on the near horizon. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the engine is an effort to help both students and faculty better categorize and access information-rich multimedia resources—with the ultimate aim of improving learning. Their creation is called Ultimate Course Search (UCS): an open source, Google-esque search tool that sifts through course-generated multimedia to find specific keywords.

Learn more about the engine and its capabilities here:

College bookstores and libraries are also experiencing a technological revamp thanks to the creation of online text price comparison tools, digital textbooks and online learning resources. Increasingly, data is mined and learning analytics are harnessed from online and digital textbook materials to help provide faculty with insight into student learning and provide students with more personalized reading experiences.

The problem is, according to a report from the Independent College Bookstore Association (ICBA) in partnership with the Campus Computing Survey (CCS), less than half (45 percent) of the faculty surveyed agreed/strongly agreed that digital course materials provide significant added value content not available in print—which could be a great opportunity for humanities majors to provide input into what aspects of reading are most valued and why, as well as what they look for in their learning resources.

Read more about the evolution of the college bookstore and libraries here:

Learn more about the promise of digital textbooks here:


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