#STEAMShare: Experimenting with STEAM

Students on our Foundation Year in Fashion and Textiles recently took part in a collaborative workshop with BCU’s STEAMhouse.

STEAMhouse is a unique centre dedicated to providing a space for collaboration, innovation and the development of new ideas, start-ups and ventures. The project is based on the concept of STEAM, which places the arts at the centre of traditional scientific subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths to increase innovation.

Easing transition through collaboration

STEAMhouse’s Patrick Bek, Head of Service Innovation and Experimentation, and Sophie Tarr, Business Partnership Manager, were invited to co-design and deliver two STEAM focussed workshops for students that would encourage collaboration and support their transition back to university post-lockdown.

The first workshop gave students the chance to explore how STEAM and STEAMhouse might benefit their BCU journey, and provide space to engage in conversation and get to know each other outside of their friendship groups. The second session, scheduled for early 2022, will be hosted at the new STEAMhouse building and students will be invited to try out some of the practical collaboration methods used at STEAMhouse, and explore how they might apply them in their own practice.

Introduction to STEAM and STEAMhouse

With 40 students taking part, it was necessary for the first workshop to be informal, accessible and energetic. Students were first introduced to STEAMhouse and the story of its origins in Birmingham’s creative quarter right up to the establishment of the new facility on Belmont Row, before hearing about real-world inspiring examples of STEAM-like work in practice.

Students engaged with examples from Research and Engagement, Problem-solving and Idea Generation, and Experimenting and Making. They then took part in three collaborative activities inspired by STEAMhouse’s principles: Conversation, Exploration, Collaboration, Openness, and Newness.

“We want to embed more of a STEAM focus in our teaching sessions to encourage our students to think in a more creative way when approaching their design briefs, and also to challenge our way of delivering projects. Initially, the students were quite anxious to get involved but Patrick and Sophia managed to make the tasks engaging and exciting ensuring that we all wanted to join in and take part in the activities.”
Louise Martin - Course Director, Foundation Year in Fashion and Textiles

Activity one: Playing with different perspectives

Collaboration between people with different perspectives is at the heart of STEAM practice. To play with this idea, the team created a game that impelled the group to second guess the thoughts and opinions of their peers about topics related to their studies, in order to uncover unknown perspectives. Patrick and Sophia then invited conversation about what the students had discovered, what surprised them and how it made them feel.

Activity two: Curious conversations

While energy levels were up, students were asked to write down three questions on post-it notes. These could be anything, the only brief was to be thoughtful, curious and creative. Students and staff then met one-on-one for one minute meetings, asking one of the questions they were holding.

After asking and listening to the answer, they handed over their question to their partner and so on until everyone had met and the questions were mixed up all around the group. Everyone then stuck the questions they were holding up on the wall for all to see. Questions ranged from delightfully random to thoughtfully curious including: Do you think you know what’s best for you in life? Are you a sheep or goat person? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Why did you choose to study fashion and textiles?

Activity three: Living Objects

The final activity was designed to enable students to collaborate through associative thinking exercises and was inspired by Biomimetic Design. The aim was to create a new concept for an object of any kind, inspired by nature. The group was split into teams of five who were asked to brainstorm three living things and three objects.

In their groups, students reviewed their choices and decided on a favourite from each category. They then drew or wrote as many characteristics and attributes of the living thing as they could before working together to come up with design ideas for their object, inspired by the characteristics they identified. Groups then presented their ideas and process to the group. Ideas that emerged included:

  • A stab proof, insulated, lightweight Kevlar trousers inspired by bear claws.
  • An insulated mug that emphasises the aroma of liquid it holds, inspired by rats.
  • A guitar inspired by the vivid pigmentation found in butterflies.

The session concluded with a group reflection and an invitation to the next workshop which will be hosted at the new STEAMhouse facility in early 2022.

“We would definitely recommend this workshop to colleagues as a great way of encouraging the students to approach problem solving and ideas generation in a new way. These are important skills for all students and we would love to embed these skills further in our own programme of studies.”
Natalie Martin - Lecturer, Foundation Year in Fashion and Textiles

Find out more about our Fashion and Textiles courses with a Foundation Year