Teaching Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Higher Education: Barriers Hindering Effective Implementation and Potential Solutions Laura Paganucci English 820 25 April 2011
The Problem Need: Research and professional environments require interdisciplinary work, academia must prepare students for this environment Problem: The success of interdisciplinary work and collaboration relies on numerous concepts and skills (Morse et al.; Newell 15) Interdisciplinary education is a priority in post-secondary academia but successful integration is not yet widely achieved (Mansilla et al. 334; Morse et al.) Argument: Incorporation of interdisciplinary education faces barriers: basic departmental and programmatic restrictions issues with course design and implementation difficulty defining interdisciplinarity for assessment purposes Successful integration can be accomplished by researching, addressing, exploiting, and resolving these barriers
What is Interdisciplinarity? The interdisciplinary individual: “Capacity to integrate knowledge and modes of thinking in two or more disciplines or established areas of expertise to produce a cognitive advancement” (Mansilla et al. 337). Skills include: define a problem; gather relevant disciplinary knowledge; study with varied perspectives; generate disciplinary insights; identify conflicts and find common ground between disciplinary knowledge; construct/test new models (Newell 15) The Interdisciplinary collaboration: “Process of coordinated, collaborative, or combined inquiry into a common problem with sharing, creation, and synthesis of knowledge among disciplines and researchers” (Morse et al. 2). Skills: Personal accountability, dedication, creativity, flexibility, and patience (Morse et al.); appropriately determine disciplinary representatives and consultants; coordinate development of aims and methodology; decide on common vocabulary; communication; integrate all relevant information (Klein, “Interdisciplinarity” 188)
Pedagogical Design Unit: Grant writing unit Purpose: Introduce type of scientific writing Formally address factors that aid and hinder interdisciplinary work and collaboration at the individual and disciplinary levels Scientific Writing: Accomplished by writing practice and formal introduction to the style, form, and function of a grant proposal Interdisciplinary work and collaboration: Lectures and discussions focused on interdisciplinary skills and concepts; experience in group based projects; opportunities to write and discuss reflective essays
Barriers to Implementation ISWC pedagogical design is successful because it addresses, exploits, and resolves the following barriers: basic departmental and programmatic restrictions issues with course design and implementation difficulty defining interdisciplinarity for assessment purposes
Barrier 1: Basic Mechanics Basic departmental and programmatic restrictions: time, credit, and exam constraints, funding, lack of experience, and discipline based mentalities (Morse et al.) Pedagogical solutions: Change or modify existing classes Alleviates time, credit, exam constraints Grant writing unit modifies a scientific writing unit to include interdisciplinary concepts Access funding sources Grant writing unit/course seeks NSF funding as part of an interdisciplinary curriculum Education and promotion Alleviates experience and disciplinary mentality Successful implementation and publication of grant writing course will convey methodology and improve acceptance of interdisciplinary training
Barrier 2: Course Design Issues with course design and effective implementation: Interdisciplinarityis complex, skills can not be simply added to a course Interdisciplinarity is best learned through the reconstruction of the content and method of teaching (Klein “Platform” 16) Reconstruction can be problematic Pedagogical solutions: Take existing topic areas and redesign the syllabus, integrating interdisciplinarity Grant writing unit allows students to integrate information from two or more disciplines to study a common theme at the personal and collaborative levels Students ground their own disciplinary knowledge, learn new methodologies, terminology, and problem solving strategies Lectures and discussions focused on collaborative themes encourage students to engage interdisciplinary concepts
Barrier 3: Assessment Poor assessment methods: Interdisciplinarityis complex, difficult to define, comprised of intangible skills; makes assessment difficult (Stowe and Eder 83) Student grades and opinion surveys used for assessment bypass characteristics that define interdisciplinary achievement such as purposefulness, disciplinary grounding, integration, and critical awareness (Mansilla et al.) Resulting lack of information regarding student, course, and programmatic outcomes prevents further incorporation, growth, and improvement of interdisciplinary studies (Mansilla et al. 335) Pedagogical solutions: A rubric allows increased consistency in grading, ability for students to judge their own work and understand areas of improvement, and can continuously evolve to better serve the student, course and program A rubric enables the use of different methods of data collection, varied instruments and techniques, and the incorporation of a variety of models to develop interdisciplinary assessments.
Conclusion Successful and effective interdisciplinary education is possible Departmental and programmatic barriers are overcome with compromise, modification of existing courses, and education Courses must be carefully redesigned to incorporate interdisciplinary concepts as opposed to the simple addition of overt skill instruction Effective assessment is achieved by using an evolving and manipulatable system
References Klein, Julie Thompson. “A Platform for a Shared Discourse of Interdisciplinary Education.” Journal of Social Science Education 5.2 (2006): 10-18. Print. Klein, Julie Thompson. Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory, and Practice. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1990. Print. Mansilla, Veronica Boix, Elizabeth Dawes Duraisingh, Christopher R. Wolfe, Carolyn Haynes. “Targeted Assessment Rubric: An Empirically Grounded Rubric for Interdisciplinary Writing.” The Journal of Higher Education 80.3 (2009): 334- 353. Print. Morse, Wayde Cameron, Max Nielsen-Pincus, Jo Ellen Force, and J.D. Wulfhorst. “Bridges and Barriers to Developing and Conducting Interdisciplinary Graduate-Student Team Research.” Ecology and Society 12.2 (2007). Web. 20 January 2011. Newell, William. “A Theory of Interdisciplinary Studies.” Issues in Integrative Studies19 (2001): 1-25. Print. Stowe, Donald E., Douglas J. Eder. “Interdisciplinary Program Assessment.” Issues in Integrative Studies 20 (2002): 77-101. Print.