Scroll to top

Unlocking STEAM Collaboratively


This STEAM method is intended to help participants engage with and understand different perspectives in relation to an issue or challenge, exploring and synthesising perspectives through techniques that prioritise equality of voice.

It aims to appeal to all hierarchies of a University to create change, and thereby reflects the practical dimension of an HE institution. One suggested topic of investigation is sustainability, but other topics could be used (particularly those that have cross-cutting traction and relevance).


Name: Unlocking STEAM Collaboratively

Partner organization: Birmingham City University

Authors: Claudia Carter, Kathryn Burns, Annette Naudin, Laura Veart, Alessandro Columbano, Charmaine Stint, Tom Cahill-Jones

Aims: To introduce participants to exploring a pertinent topic in a collaborative way that embodies STEAM knowledge, thinking and reflection.

Time: Three-hour workshop (could also be delivered as three one-hour lunchtime sessions)

Original Context:

In developing the method, the BCU team determined that it would allow for all to contribute on an equal footing. Furthermore, underpinned by earlier work in the STEAM.INC project, the method was designed to reflect five principles deemed to be at the core of any STEAM approach, i.e.:

  • being process-driven
  • being collaborative
  • being radically open
  • being curious
  • applying critical thinking.

Group: Students and staff (academic and professional services)

Resources needed:

Access to an online communication and sharing platform such as MS Teams or Zoom, access to Miro (free educational license available). (If delivered as a face-to-face workshop: a room with 4-5 chairs around each table, printed work-sheets, sticky notes, pens etc.)


Respect others’ thoughts and opinions, but no particularly stringent considerations beyond normal health and safety provisions for an online or in-person workshop.

Potential application/ adaptation:

Collaborative; Equality of voice; Cross-cutting; Sustainability; Cross-hierarchy (all levels should be represented)

Case Study:

We consider the method to be representative of STEAM because it tries to build bridges between diverse areas of understanding, particularly those that relate to the Sciences (Natural and Social), Technology, Engineering, Maths and Arts (artistic, cultural and creative practices).

Step 1: WELCOME and STEAM familiarisation
10Welcome and explanations of ground rules and online resources (recap key aspects emailed to participants before the workshop)Structure — Groups with mix in backgrounds /experiences – EQUALITY — Miro (maybe also Padlet, Polly) – Facilitators  — Fast-paced
10STEAM perspectives on topic (e.g. sustainability at your university)One slide for illustrating different knowledges as perspectives across  STEAM to stimulate interest and help with the framing of the topic
Step 2: EXPLORE: be curious, be radically open, collaborate (Miro Board to work and MS Teams to communicate)
15Framing the topic. Individual task for 3-5 minutes and then shared on Miro BoardPrompts: What would I like to know about sustainability? What concerns me about sustainability at my university? What pleases me about sustainability? What needs to change?
15Scoping: What is critically/very important from an interdisciplinary and holistic perspective? What would you like to find out about the topic?Discussion about different perspectives, knowledge and knowledge gaps relating to the topic.
10Brainstorming: Producing ideas/options that then need to be put in relational orderMiro Board lists STEAM prompts (think through different roles / disciplinary lenses)
15Development: Each participant develops one idea based on the above steps. Use Brain-writing to expand each idea (Brainwriting technique is Design Thinking method used to generate a number of ideas within a short period of time)Miro Board with each person/idea having 1 column and rotation within set groups to add comments
10Short Break / Plenary Chat?Acts as a buffer if groups overrun
Step 3: REFINE: collaborate, think critically, create, review/reflect (Miro Board to work and MS Teams to communicate)
5Revisit Brain-writing and improve own idea taking different STEAM elements into accountIndividually taking on board comments from Brain-writing session to improve idea and refine its expression
10Dot-voting on ideas to take one forward. Each person gets 3 dots; multiple dots on an idea allowed (except for own – max. 1 dot)Note: this can be amended if all of the group want to merge some ideas from other suggestions into a combined idea
30Mapping to discuss and flesh out specific issues, actions, collaborations for the proposed ideaThis should clarify: audience, resources, time-scale, benefits and impacts; necessary research/data gathering STEAM?!
10Short Break / Plenary Chat?Buffer if groups overrun
Step 4: REFLECT: think critically, be curious & radically open (Miro Board to show and MS Teams to communicate)
10Show & Tell: 90 sec presentation / 90 sec discussion eachCritique each other’s ideas; very fast paced and time calculated if 12-15 participants in 3 groups
15Reflective discussion: Everyone to consider what they have learnt (Knowledge, Skills, Thinking / Mindset / Process) and how it could be appliedOpportunities for participants to develop and challenge oneself, one’s knowledge, perspectives and ways of working. Participants share reflections and set out personal actions as a result
5Evaluation using Polly/Slido – Pulse check on how well process and STEAM approach has workedQuick on-line survey to get immediate feedback. Can complement this with more detailed reflections via post-workshop questionnaire
5Formulate one personal action point for this week / semesterTranslate knowledge and thinking into experimenting and doing/making
5Thank you and Farewell

Covid Context:

We have delivered 2 pilot workshops successfully online during covid lockdown. This enabled us to test out the viability to run what is designed to be a very interactive, face to face, workshop, within an online context. Can be run online or in a physical situation. The online workshop format supports the equality of voice more readily as people may feel less personally exposed as they can hide behind an icon and avoid putting the camera on. Although we would encourage people to connect online by turning the camera on.

Test Process:

The workshop to test the method was designed to be largely self-facilitating with the flow of techniques and prompts laid out on a Miro Board for each group of five participants. This worked very well with very little additional support needed and participants were quickly able to immerse themselves in the interdisciplinary working, learning and ideation process. Claudia Carter, Associate Professor and Reader in Environmental Governance prepared the online version and led the testing of the method in early March in the form of a 3-hour workshop including her second year undergraduate planning students and BCU staff from across two faculties (Faculty of Arts, Design and Media; Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment), Estates and Facilities, RIEE (Research, Innovation, Enterprise and Engagement) and STEAMhouse.


We gathered feedback from the workshops. This showed that the understanding of STEAM by participants increased. They enjoyed the interactions with other participants from across the university and the collaborative way of developing ideas and a proposal/’solution’. The theme of sustainability as a STEAM issue worked well but it was difficult to create impact through exploring the theme through various STEAM perspectives (lens), or carry through beyond what each participant could contribute. The method is too fast and self-reliant to explore different STEAM perspectives. All groups developed initiatives to improve sustainable practices in the University. The workshop would benefit from being a bit longer although the fast pace was liked by the undergraduate students (not ‘over-discussing’ everything but doing things). If the workshop is delivered as three lunchtime 1-hour sessions (which was regarded as manageable even in a busy HE environment) then some research and additional information gathering/provision could take place in between sessions. The workshop was consciously designed with ‘time-scarcity’ in mind but would benefit if more time were available.


We had no ethical approval as the time frame for the task was too tight to have been granted ethical approval. So the initial testing in March was done as part of teaching and with invited non-class participants. The second workshop also was done on a voluntary informal basis and is not formally part of ethically approved research.

Related posts