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
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:
- Many of our students are convergent thinkers and have to be taught to approach problems differently. How do we do this?
- 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?
- 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!