Interdisciplinary Teaching

A discussion led by Anne Braseby (Center for Teaching and Learning) and Cynthia Louden (Texas Interdisciplinary Plan Instructor and Center for Teaching and Learning) for the Sustainability FLC on December 13, 2013.

Core thought: What should instructors think about while designing an interdisciplinary class?

Interdisciplinary learning offers students the opportunity to see connections and relevance between topics, providing a variety of perspectives, connecting content, and consciously identifying relationships between topics in a more complete framework of analysis.

There are two main pitfalls when designing interdisciplinary courses:

  • Allowing the “signature” pedagogy or way of thinking of a specific discipline to dominate the other disciplines involved because one discipline is more familiar and comfortable.
  • Integrating the multiple disciplines into a holistic approach to a problem (interdisciplinary rather than multi-disciplinary).

According to Allen Repko, Director of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program for the School of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington, there are four main steps to developing an interdisciplinary course. These steps are shown below along with an example from Cynthia Louden’s Texas Interdisciplinary Program class in critical thinking.

Repko’s Steps vs. Louden’s TIP class at UT

RepkoLouden

Sustainability focuses around content and skills like critical thinking, persuasive writing, ethical practices, and systems thinking.

The discussion at the Sustainability FLC focused on three main ideas:

  1. Many of our students are convergent thinkers and have to be taught to approach problems differently. How do we do this?
  2. Are these skills we want to teach the same in each of the disciplines? How can we decide what good writing or critical thinking means in an interdisciplinary class? Are systems thinking the same in Liberal Arts as in the Sciences?
  3. Within classes that teach sustainability do we want students to stay in their disciplinary thinking or do we want them to “diffuse” their thinking?

There are many resources about interdisciplinary teaching at Carleton College’s Literature & Resources for Interdisciplinary & Integrative Learning Website.

Check out the Full PowerPoint on Interdisciplinary Teaching!

Comment below or email Anne Braseby at anne.braseby@austin.utexas.edu and Cynthia Louden cyndi.louden@austin.utexas.edu.

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Active Citizenship

A discussion led by Eric Hersh (Environmental Science Institute & Jackson School of Geosciences) with Katie Pritchett  (Longhorn Center for Civic Engagement, Division of Diversity & Community Engagement) for the Sustainability FLC on September 19, 2013.

Core thought:  We (try to) teach students how to think.  Can we teach them how to care?

Civic engagement, the individual and collective action to identify and address public issues, and to participate in public life, is a tenet of sustainable living.  Active citizens (1) are aware, (2) participate, and/or (3) lead their communities on issues of importance.

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(http://volunteer.colorado.edu/service-philosophy/active-citizenship)

The skills necessary to be an active citizen, and thus those to be cultivated in the classroom, include:

  • critical thinking regarding civic issues,
  • effective communication, engagement, and collaboration with diverse individuals and communities (including listening skills),
  • an understanding of your own values and motivations, and
  • a recognition of one’s responsibility to the community.

Is it believed that these skills can be learned and taught (http://activecitizen.tufts.edu/about/).

In general, American youth have higher rates of apathy and lower rates of civic engagement than the general populace:

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(http://www.nonprofitvote.org/doc_download/504-america-goes-to-the-polls-2012)

And Texas doesn’t fare too well in a national ranking of voter turnout:

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(http://www.nonprofitvote.org/doc_download/504-america-goes-to-the-polls-2012)

Further, environmental impacts and sustainability tend to be lower priority issues among voters:

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(http://www.utenergypoll.com)

But there is some indication that students at UT-Austin feel differently.  For example, 71% of the student body voted to charge themselves a “green fee” in March 2010 to fund sustainability initiatives on the campus (http://www.utexas.edu/sustainability/greenfee.php).

A brainstorm of ideas, some currently underway and some proposed, to promote and enhance active citizenship on the UT-Austin campus:

  • Greek system sustainability officers
  • Field/community interaction
  • Office of Sustainability awareness/recognition
  • Green Fee signage/projects
  • DHFS – local food/meatless Mondays, etc
  • Current events discussion/ analysis
  • Service-based orientations/ Rec Sports service trips
  • Maymesters
  • Developing countries engineering/EWB
  • Understanding diverse (and differing) perspectives
  • Listening skills
  • Starting from the viewpoint of people (not things).

Your thoughts?

Eric Hersh, ehersh@esi.utexas.edu

Full presentation available here: Sustainability FLC – Active Citizenship (Hersh, Sept 19, 2013)

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http://ddce.utexas.edu/civicengagement/

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http://www.esi.utexas.edu/

Please join us for our next Sustainability FLC on Thursday, October 31st from 12 PM – 1:30 PM in UNB 4.110.

Kate Catterall, Associate Professor of Art and Art History and Dr. Allan Shearer, Associate Professor of Architecture will discuss the concept of ‘Anticipatory Thinking’ as it relates to sustainability teaching and learning.

Welcome!

Welcome to UT Austin’s Sustainability Faculty Learning Community Blog!

Intended as a complement to our in-person conversations, this blog is a place for members of the Sustainability FLC to continue the conversation about effective teaching strategies for integrating sustainability-related content into curricula.  The Sustainability FLC aims t0 foster community among faculty interested in sharing best practices for equipping students with the critical thinking skills necessary to address real-world environmental, economic, and social challenges that face future generations.