October Provisions Session: Interdisciplinary Collaboration

The October Provisions session explored the topic of Interdisciplinary Collaboration.  The three presenters included Amina Eladaddi, from the Dept. of Mathematics, Jack Pickering, from the Dept. of Communication Science and Disorders, and Mark Ledbetter, from the Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies.  Each presenter discussed ways in which they were able to exercise interdisciplinary collaboration in their specific fields, and all stressed the value in such collaborations.

Eladaddi was the first of the three presenters, and began by giving the audience a definition of interdisciplinary: involving two disciplines that are usually distinct.  She was careful to describe the difference between multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary.  She defined multidisciplinary as many disciplines coming together to solve a problem followed by a split, or return, to their own when the problem is solved, and interdisciplinary meaning that the interaction of multiple disciplines could potentially forge a new discipline altogether.  The example that she lives is the collaboration of mathematics and biology, where now it can be concentrated into even more specific collaborations under that large umbrella such as mathematical oncology.

Eladaddi expressed the value of interdisciplinary collaboration in the classroom by providing examples of how she conducts collaboration in her own classroom.  She acknowledged that many students do not have an appreciation for mathematical equations, but that by providing them with real-world applications and situations, she was able to spark their interest and grow their appreciation.  Some of the applications she gives her students in the classroom range from efficiency problems such as plowing a town in a snowstorm, to game theory and financial management.

Before she wrapped up her presentation, Eladaddi left the audience to think about some of the challenges that accompany interdisciplinary collaboration.  Some of the challenges included finding a common language between disciplines that have their own discipline-specific terminology, what collaboration could mean for assessments, and even the need and challenge to create a definition of interdisciplinary that fits into our own culture here at The College of Saint Rose.

Jack Pickering followed Eladaddi with a presentation on Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Clinical Education.  Dr. Pickering was sure to emphasize that collaboration is not only a product but also a process, and that it is essential because it mirrors the real world and broadens both student experience and understanding.

Pickering mentioned Dr. Mark Ylvisaker and his conditions for an exceptional collaborative team.  According to Ylvisaker, exceptional teams must: learn from one another, share skills, not exude a pecking order, understand that many critical needs of people are not discipline specific, and respect one another.

Pickering also mentioned the formation of a project involving students in both CSD and Nutrition programs.  Erin Embry, M.S., a faculty member and Associate Director, Masters Program in the NYU Dept. of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, initiated this collaborative course with the Nutrition Department that narrowed its focus to swallowing issues and took their research to the hospital setting.  Pickering explained that the problem-based learning approach and the application process resulted in a very motivated group where diverse backgrounds were able to come together for a common, critical vision.

Pickering, like Eladaddi, was not remiss to mention some the challenges that accompany interdisciplinary collaboration, such as insufficient funding, lack of a common language across disciplines, and evaluation.

For more information, you can check out Pickering’s slide show presentation: CreativeCollab Provisions Oct23 (2).

Mark Ledbetter concluded the presentations with some insight on a project he is currently involved with and some of the things he has learned from his experience with interdisciplinary collaboration.  The project Ledbetter talked about was the American City Project, which is a first-year experience program that consists of seven thematically-linked courses that will focus on the urban experience utilizing a range of discipline-specific methodologies.

Ledbetter learned that it is difficult, as teachers, to say “tell me something.”  He says that there has to be “aggressive passivity” where everyone must listen to each other.  He also expressed the importance of faculty recognizing and acknowledging disciplinary limitation: no topic can be assumed by an entire discipline.  He concluded with the statement that it his students’ loss if he does not model this type of pedagogy in his classroom.

Following up the presentations, there was a large open discussion session.  In this discussion, the lack of a “definition” of interdisciplary was discussed and how that could be a factory in what makes it scary.  Adding to reservations, the difficulty/hard work involved in carrying out interdisciplinary collaboration and the barriers created by the possibility of both insecurity as well as arrogance of faculty was discussed as well.

The fact of the matter is, interdisciplinary collaboration is enormous in both time and resources, lending itself more easily to some courses more than others.  The question then becomes, are you willing to put in the work for the benefits?

You can listen to the podcast here.

Here is an additional resource submitted that discusses collaboration with Art!

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Writing: Old-fashioned?

In an article titled “An Old-School Notion: Writing Required,” Dan Berrett makes an argument for the value of writing in education.  Berrett sets up his article by stating what cannot be avoided hearing these days: too many students aren’t learning enough and, consequently, recent graduates are ill prepared for the workplace.  Berrett suggests that colleges must insist on that “old-fashioned” requirement of writing to increase and improve levels of learning.  He argues that to regard writing as an old-school method, because it runs against the grain of “sexy new ideas” about how to change higher education, would be a tragic mistake.

Berrett vouches for writing because it works exceedingly well as “both a way to assess learning and a means of deepening that learning,” according to experts.  He quotes Julie A. Reynolds, associate director of undergraduate studies at Duke University, on writing’s unique ability to “make thinking visible,” showing how well students grasp the subject matter in ways that other evaluating methods, such as a multiple-choice, short-answer test, or even a discussion section, cannot.

Opposition to writing as a strategy/evaluator to increase/assess comprehension, however, comes easily as faculty members may not see writing as their expertise, as concerns exist that time spent on writing assignments will take away time needed for covering material, and with the realization that assigning and evaluating writing are labor-intensive tasks that become more and more time consuming as class sizes increase.

For a great intro to the debate on this issue, with commentary on both sides of the argument, can be found at the end of the article here, and the following article explores some of the perceived points for opposition as well.

In “Why We Can’t Farm Out the Teaching of Writing,” Rachel Toor explores the importance of writing as well as the subsequent responsibility of the teacher.  She starts her article with an email passage sent to her by an assistant professor in which they asked her for suggestions of software packages.  The assistant professor was looking for software that could “more critically assess formal writing than the grammar kernel in Microsoft Office,” because they were disappointed in their students’ writing yet didn’t really have the time to fully evaluate writing assignments. Toor found the question to be strange and telling of a larger problem: “Isn’t it a faculty member’s responsibility to critically assess students’ writing?”

Toor continues on with a story about a political scientist she met who told her that he never commented on his students’ writing because he didn’t feel that he had the expertise to do so.  She combats that writing is cross-disciplinary, and that any attitude of teachers to the contrary is wrong.

Toor finds that one of the problems lies within everyone thinking whoever went before him or her was responsible for the job of teaching writing, i.e. college professors believing it was learned in high school, and graduate professors believing it was learned in undergradute.  Toor then finds another mistake in merely correcting student papers with a concern for mechanical errors rather than providing a beneficial, “holistic evaluation of the thinking and the writing.”

Toor leaves the reader with questions: “If professors don’t tell students that the writing matters, who will? If professors don’t know what good writing looks like, who does?”  She argues that every teacher’s job is reading and writing, and anyone who disagrees is “shirking an important aspect of his job.”

MOOC’s, +/- ?

MOOC’s, or Massive Open Online Courses, are the newest innovation in online education, and as a result, as Katherine Mangan comments in her post, “for the academic world, which isn’t exactly known for being quick to embrace change, the past several months have been a whirlwind.”  MOOC’s are met with both praise and criticism.  Here are some of the arguments, questions, and implications to consider:

Into the Future With MOOC’s,” by Kevin Carey, begins with a personal anecdote of Carey’s experience with a freshman college course.  The purpose of his anecdote was to examine the “cognitive dissonance” that Carey believes exists in the established, narrow idea of which types of credits are accepted towards traditional degrees.   He juxtaposed his own situation, where he received 4 college credits for a C in a course that he never physically attended, with the experience of online students taught by a renowned Standford roboticist, where students performed “just as well on the assignments and exams as the whip-smart students in Palo Alto who took the course in person,” but still received no academic credits of any kind.  Carey believes that MOOC’s will assuredly be a presence and change the world, but recognizes the questions that accompany their use involving “financing, quality assurance, and – most important – credit.”

Concerning credits, the first issue that arises is the college monopoly on the sale of college credits.  However, Carey believes that the MOOC explosion will “accelerate the breakup of the college credit monopoly.”  He consequently believes that the economics of higher education will be inevitably broken down and “restructured at a marginal cost” as colleges start accepting MOOC certificates as transfer credits.

In Katherine Managan’s “MOOC Mania,” she also discusses the implications of MOOC certificates and credit acceptance.  She states that the big question is whether “employers who are used to scanning résumés for evidence of completed degrees will value certificates and badges earned through free courses,” because if so, MOOC programs could pose competition for traditional degrees.

Mangan’s article discusses some of the front-running, larger MOOC providers.  She mentions Udacity, a provider attempting to develop a MOOC model in which students learn by solving problems, not by listening to a professor tell them how to solve them.  She quotes Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity:

Online education rightfully has a bad rap because in the past it’s been trying to replicate the classroom experience at a small fraction of the cost…Even today most MOOC’s are videotaped lectures followed by a quiz, which is commendable but doesn’t go far enough.

Thrun would uphold that advances in technology have resulted in increasingly interactive courses.  Managan also mentions Coursera, a provider that offers courses taught by professors from well-known institutions such as Princeton and Stanford.  Lastly she mentions edX: free access to online-courses created by MIT, Harvard, and the University of California at Berkely.  For more on MOOC providers, check out Ben Gose’s post 4 Massive Open Online Courses and How They Work.”

On the flip side, Greg Graham, an instructor of writing at the University of Central Arkansas, refuses to participate and join the MOOC bandwagon.  In his articleHow the Embrace of MOOC’s Could Hurt Middle America,” he states that we are

exhausted and desperate for answers…tempted to think that technology can save us. But it can’t.

Graham’s major concern is the implications that MOOC’s will have for the average and struggling demographic of students, whom he believes will suffer if this trend continues to grow.  In the end, he warns that it will be this lower half of the student population that will be forced out of the traditional classroom, “widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.”  Here are some of the grounds for Graham’s argument:

1. Graham asserts that the MOOC hype is detrimental, causing educators to make the mistake of valuing quantity over quality (with the large MOOC enrollment numbers), confusing their notions about what is wrong with our education system what is needed to fix it.

2. He notes that MOOC’s may work for intellectually driven people, but the impact on the average student, who needs what Graham calls “immediacy” (personal relationships with teachers, customized instruction) is a negative one.

3. He warns that place matters, and that not all students have a conducive to learning space for these MOOC’s at their disposal.  In conjunction, screens could potentially replace the classroom learning environment that, for certain students, serves as an escape from an otherwise chaotic environment.

Graham ends with a powerful statement:

Wonderland isn’t the answer. The greatest things happening in education are occurring in classrooms around the world, as teachers look into the eyes of their students and find ways to bring learning to life.

What do you think? For more information, check out the page What You Need to Know About MOOC’s at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website.