Theory and process for interdisciplinary undergraduate course development

By Ana M. Corbacho

Ana M. Corbacho (biography)

How can interdisciplinary courses for undergraduates move from being intuitively designed to theoretically based? How can course design accommodate cohorts of teachers, not previously experienced in interdisciplinarity, from across a university?

Here I share how colleagues and I developed courses where teams of university faculty worked with undergraduate students to tackle interdisciplinary problems.

I first describe three useful theoretical perspectives for building an interdisciplinary undergraduate course, namely:

  1. social constructivism and situated-learning theory
  2. academic motivation
  3. interdisciplinary education from a diversity perspective.

I then describe how we designed the program.

1. Three useful theoretical perspectives

Social constructivism and situated-learning theory

Learning is an active process in which students learn by doing, build new ideas based on their prior knowledge, construct hypotheses, and make decisions. Vygotsky’s social constructivism considers learning a social process in which learning is supported by collaboration and social interaction.

In situated-learning theory, learning involves engagement in a community of practice and developing a sense of belonging in the path to becoming a practitioner. Following these perspectives, we based our work in the literature on problem-based learning.

Academic motivation

We used the MUSIC model of academic motivation as a framework to support course design. The model organizes motivation constructs into five categories:

  • eMpowerment is related to autonomy and implies students perceive they have control of their learning environment
  • Usefulness is associated with the perception that the coursework is useful to the students’ future
  • Success is related to the perception that they can succeed at the coursework
  • Interest is related the degree students perceive the instructional methods and the coursework as interesting
  • Caring relates to the students’ perception that teachers and other students care about their well-being and success in the course.

Interdisciplinary education from a diversity perspective

Collaborative work presents difficulties that are exacerbated when individuals come from distant fields with different perspectives on the problem. To address this aspect, we drew from knowledge about team and group dynamics from social psychology, management psychology, the psychology of teaching and learning, and team science, especially:

  • team effectiveness depends on the generation of interdependence among its members to solve a problem, which has three crucial aspects – establishing trust, developing cohesion, and conflict management.
  • individuals have a greater attraction for individuals similar to themselves and experience greater cohesion and social integration in homogeneous groups, while group diversity may make social processes more difficult.
  • different expectations are attributed to members of one’s group (eg., one’s discipline) than to individuals outside the group, generating a situation in which members outside the group are judged more stereotypically than those belonging to the group itself.
  • positive interaction between individuals with different characteristics can improve intergroup attitudes, becoming an effective way to reduce prejudice and conflict between groups. Such interaction needs to occur under conditions in which individuals have equal status, share common goals, are in a cooperative or interdependent environment, and are supported by authorities.

2. Designing an interdisciplinary program

Our program included teacher training and undergraduate courses. The overall goal was to foster engagement with interdisciplinary teamwork by applying problem based learning strategies and supporting the development of skills for effectively working in diverse teams. The program characteristics (see the figure below) can be summarized as:

  • interdisciplinary
  • intensive
  • integrated.

Interdisciplinary, because participants were from different knowledge areas and they worked on problems requiring knowledge integration across various disciplines.

Intensive, because they worked together for many hours a day, focussing efforts and deepening the development of group dynamics.

Integrated, because teachers worked towards integrating their perspectives before asking the students to do so. In addition, course integration also occurred in the sense of explicitly working on team-building, respect for diversity of perspectives, and stress management.

Teacher training

The training was open to all university faculty. It comprised a workshop and support during course planning and implementation.

Teachers were introduced to concepts of interdisciplinary education, problem-based learning, academic motivation, team science and stress management. Teachers then worked in teams of four to design problem-based learning activities for the undergraduate courses.

Five teacher teams (23 teachers) opted to implement new undergraduate courses. Twelve teachers were from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics areas (STEM), three from health sciences, and eight from social sciences, humanities, and arts (SSHA).

Undergraduate courses

The teachers presented the theoretical background concerning interdisciplinary education, academic motivation, team science and stress management. The problem-based learning activities provided a setting for collaboration and a focus for meaningful work.

Six courses were developed requiring participation for 7–8 hours per day for 1-2 weeks. Courses differed in the specific problem addressed, as shown in the following three examples:

  • one course considered disability with a focus on education as a human right. Students worked on identifying areas of possible intervention at a local level.
  • another course focused on determining the water quality in a city river. Students developed a plan, made field trips, took water samples, and performed laboratory analyses.
  • a third course focused on understanding plastic components, local recycling strategies, and the circular economy. In this case, students worked on building a steel shredder for plastic recycling and planned strategies to use it locally.

One hundred and ten undergraduate students participated from 28 study fields or careers (68 STEM, 24 health sciences, 18 SSHA).

Interdisciplinary program characteristics and structure. The teachers developed a problem-based learning (PBL) activity, while student worked on finding solutions. (Source: Corbacho et al., 2021.)

Concluding questions

What has your experience been of developing interdisciplinary undergraduate courses? Are there other theoretical perspectives that you have brought to bear? How have you trained faculty to teach such courses?

To find out more:
Corbacho, A. M., Minini, L., Pereyra, M., González-Fernández, A. E., Echániz, R., Repetto, L., Cruz, P., Fernández-Damonte, V., Lorieto, A. and Basile, M. (2021). Interdisciplinary higher education with a focus on academic motivation and teamwork diversity. International Journal of Educational Research Open, 2, 2: 100062. (Online – open access) (DOI): This paper provides references to the work presented in this blog post.

Biography: Ana M. Corbacho PhD is Associate Professor and Academic Coordinator at the Interdisciplinary Space (Espacio Interdisciplinario), University of the Republic (Universidad de la República, Udelar) in Montevideo, Uruguay. Her teaching and research focus on student-centered strategies that support the development of interdisciplinary teamwork.

34 thoughts on “Theory and process for interdisciplinary undergraduate course development”

  1. Thank you, Ana, for prompting our thinking about movement from intuitive to theoretically-based design and accommodating teachers who were not previously experienced in interdisciplinarity. Your focus on teaming incorporates perspectives on social constructivism and situated-learning as well as innovation and diversity. This tri-part approach also underscores the dynamic, active nature of learning while calling attention to contexts. I was not familiar with the MUSIC model so appreciate knowing about it as well because of attention, in particular, to empowerment, usefulness, and success. I’m curious what conversations you and your colleagues have had about life-long changes for teachers, not just within the short timetable of the program. Have you followed them over a period of time to see if their pedagogy and approaches to learning and assessment have undergone a permanent change? Put another way, do they actual re-envision their roles? Julie Thompson Klein

    • Thank’s Julie for your comment. We have a plan to follow up on teachers, first, we wanted to see the impact on students because if no big deal was meant to them, then it wouldn’t be worth the effort. However, I would predict it is very hard for teachers to maintain the motivation on their own unless we can build a learning community of teachers with some type of reward to keep doing it and building on it. Teachers tend to be amazed at the experience of teaching these courses and interacting with very diverse students, but their usual teacher environments are not that open. Somehow, we need to keep the momentum going for it to transform the way teachers teach in other courses. We have piloted a way of getting teachers together for a weekend to imagine ways of keeping their motivation and keep teaching this way. We are working on some initiatives, like a monthly seminar, and even to create a ‘brand’, a ‘stamp’, that could be given to real interdisciplinary teaching, a way of acknowledgment that could get recognition over time. Any experience with these issues?

      • Thanks, Ana, for your reply. I’ve seen multiple examples of “teaching circles” that are informal gatherings for teachers to engage in mutual problem solving and sharing best practices, such as lunch-time “brown bag” get-togethers. Special events are certainly helpful, but having a circle of “friends” is a vital means of sustaining momentum.

        • Yes, this is a great format, for sure Julie. I have participated in research circles and narrative inquiry open to both faculty and graduate students, a great way to establish these mindsets for both teaching and learning. Such deep and amazing collective conversations emerge from these weekly meetings.

  2. Great account of the rationales behind your course and interesting to see you’ve also investigated student responses, Ana: thanks! Our teacher training of the Interdisciplinary Research Seminars in our interdisciplinary bachelor mainly focuses on the challenge of integrating knowledge and values/norms (offering a toolkit of integration methods) and on the collaboration dimension of our interdisciplinary student teams. I appreciate how you include explicitly stress management as stress is indeed a risk that easily emerges. As for your observation that people tend to prefer engaging with others like them, I’m wondering whether your self-selected group of students and teachers are in some intriguingly odd way also (just as with us) combining both 1) a broad-minded interest and even liking in cross-disciplinary projects and topics, as well as 2) some difficulty in handling differences that are more personal in nature? We somehow must prepare our teachers to navigate between enabling ‘echo chambers’ of like-minded people and team incoherence on the other side, if perceived differences are just too large. How do you perceive that challenge? Is interdisciplinarity itself attracting perhaps a certain type of person(ality)?

    • Thank you Machiel, in our teacher training we considered it was key for teachers to experience first hand the challenges that students would face when working with people with very different backgrounds and knowledge in this format. It can be very stressful for those that haven’t fallen in love, yet,
      with the thrill of that type of experience. In a way we thought of providing a protected setting, yet challenging, for teachers to dare. Some people might have had a chance to experience working in environments full of difference and challenges, but most prefer to remain in what feels known and safe. Most of us have been educated to be successful individually and not as team members, I think that is the challenge. Working in teams is challenging because there are always differences and needs to negotiate, and the challenges increase as we increase the ‘variables of difference’ as when we work in cross inter, and transdisciplinary settings. We have seen that providing the protected setting for teachers can help open their views and motivate their search for more of that thrill. The same for students, though students tend to be more at ease with the challenge.

      • Thanks for the response, Ana. I agree that it is important to create an environment in which both teachers and students feel safe to improvise, to jointly explore new directions and indeed to ‘fail’ and restart along the way. Assessing their process accordingly proves to be important: not only assessing the final outcomes but also how well they handled the obstacles and set-backs along the way. It seems the process you describe above accommodates these process features very well.

      • I would add that Machiel and his colleagues have been leaders in creating a publication series that captures insights from their experiences and pertinent literature on ID teaching and learning, available to a wide audience from the University of Amsterdam Press.

  3. Thank you Ana,
    This is such a great example of a thoughtfully designed interdisciplinary program (and your paper provides further insight). I agree that implementing intensive ‘pressure cooker’ programs is a great way for teachers and students to learn together in interdisciplinary ways and I wondered whether you are planning to extend the curriculum beyond the intensive format or whether you think your current format is best placed for interdisciplinary work.
    Thanks again for a thoughtful post and paper!

    • Thank you Dena for the comment. We have tried different formats and it really depends on what the goal is. In this case, we use the ‘pressure cooker’ format because it allows for participants to really immerse in the interaction and concentrate and deepen in the process without many other distractions. Other formats that involve, for example meeting a couple of hours a week, have the disadvantage of needing time for people to go back to the process of interaction and collaboration when it is soon time to leave again. I personally prefer the pressure cooker, but I also understand it may not be a fit for all!

  4. Thank you Ana and Sven for sharing your perspectives and resources on the topic of interdisciplinary education. Your framework is insightful and I especially appreciate your focus on local problems and solutions. As a PhD student, educational researcher and educational philosopher, my emerging model of interdisciplinary education is based on a career development lens, which also includes experiential modes of teaching and learning such as career-integrated learning and problem-based or inquiry-based exploration. My current research focuses on educational reform within secondary education as students explore their identities, life purpose, educational opportunities, and career options through interdisciplinarity.

    I agree that skillsets and mindsets of collaboration for diversity and inclusion are not only important, but essential for interdisciplinary thinking. Since intrinsic interest for novelty, challenge, aesthetic value, and creative thinking appear to become weaker with each advancing year in school, my mission is to create a framework that nurtures rather than diminishes students’ intrinsic interests and curiosities at this early stage in emerging adults as a bridge to interdisciplinary thinking in post-secondary education contexts.

    Although assessment is not my focus, my area of expertise, nor within the scope of my current study, it is one issue that I am continually grappling within the context of this work. In world of academia that ranks students and tends to prioritize competition over both cooperation and collaboration, I do wonder how assessment of students is handled within such courses. For me, the teaching and learning of interdisciplinary competences happens within the process, and not necessarily the products. Learning outcomes, however, are important. How do you attend to this requirement in your theory and process of interdisciplinary course development? On what do you base your student assessments? What methods do you use?

    I do look forward to your response, and any insights others may have into this paradox of student assessment within the interdisciplinary teaching and learning context.

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree with the perspective of working with diversity and inclusion, and to develop frameworks that nurture rather that diminish interests and curiosity, as a bridge for interdisciplinarity in higher education. To assess the collaboration process is indeed a challenge. We use a combination of team and individual assessment. Students present their work orally and in written format as a team. However, we use CATME (see as a tool for self- and peer evaluation (+ open questions) with a personalized feedback to each student, where they can see how they rate themselves in comparison to the opinion of their teammates. The assessment part of the evaluation tool becomes clear when there are issues of commitment to working as a team member. These issues may be obvious during the course, but the opinion of peers, plus teacher’s perspective, aids assessment of the student. Assessment is also addressed in pre and post problem solving activities to be completed individually by students. We have used other methods like the IF-AT (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique) as a dynamic and fast assessment to monitor the learning process without interrupting it. But, it is true that working in these type of complex settings is hard to traduce in traditional assessments, that was why we embarked in the study we shared. We also, would like to hear more ideas about assessment!!

      • Thank you Ana for your response, and link to resources. Both individual and team (or peer review) are sound approaches to assessment, as well as personalized instructor feedback, especially in post-secondary settings. I do like the idea of individual pre- and post- problem solving activities, as well, to assess improvements in critical thinking and problem-solving. Other models of evaluation include student portfolios and eportfolios, which provide opportunities for check-in points and reflection through reflective writing.

        Specifically, I have been wondering about this narrative approach to self-assessment in the secondary school community context. In Frodeman, Klein & Pacheco (2017), Dezure wrote that writing continues to be the primary means to assess interdisciplinary critical thinking, and noted that Haynes (2004) identified a developmental sequence of writing assignments to assist students to support disciplinary analysis and interdisciplinary synthesis. I suppose this means thinking metacognitively about one’s own thinking processes, not to be conflated with ‘group think’. Further, Haynes identified four key dimensions to reflective writing: drawing on disciplinary sources; critical argumentation; multidisciplinary perspectives; and interdisciplinary integration (cited by Dezure, 2017), and involves analyzing a problem using different disciplinary frameworks, then scaffolding towards comparing and contrasting within the analyses. This approach would also bring clarity to the differences and benefits between quantitative and qualitative data, methods of data interpretation, and research value of data depending on the discipline and research topic. Next, one would draw on these methods and insights from different disciplines, and reconcile them in an integrated way, bringing all data together to uncover or unfold new insights and new interdisciplinary research questions first as a group and then individually, which would allow one to assess individual interdisciplinary critical thinking and disciplinary integration, as well as provide feedback or additional questions for further student reflection.

        Integrative learning has been defined as “the ability to integrate from multiple sources of knowledge and experience, that is, to integrate theory and practice” (Dezure in Frodeman, Klein & Pacheco, 2017, p. 564). I have been thinking that perhaps an outcome-based interdisciplinary learning framework to support student reflection and self-assessment practices might be helpful for learners to track and assess one’s own progress for next steps goal-setting. This would possibly include technical skills, interpersonal qualities, and relational outcomes. In the early stages of learning integrative thinking and collaborative problem-solving, self-tracking for self-management alongside a mentoring partnership of sorts might be a good approach to set the stage or as preparation for more complex collaborative problem-solving within post-secondary programs. When there is both individual and group progress being made that includes active engagement and constructive contribution, then working towards micro-credentialing (certificates) for each learning outcome may be another approach to interdisciplinary learning outcome assessment. Each certificate would build on the next to gain full certification at possibly a novice, intermediate, and master level. This approach would likely simplify the complexity of complicated psychological and cognitive teaching and learning processes to support innovative and adaptable learning communities.

        Thank you for this opportunity to reflect on these self-assessment processes to minimize the stress response, reduce cognitive load, and enhance creativity for innovation.

        Thoughts anyone? Would love to hear your feedback and other ideas.


        Dezure, D. (2017). Interdisciplinary Pedagogies in Higher Education. In R. Frodeman, J. Thompson Klein, R.C.S. Pacheco (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity, (2nd edition), 558-572. Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198733522.013.44

        Haynes, C. (2004). Promoting self-authorship through an interdisciplinary writing curriculum. In M. B. Baxter Magolda & P.M. King (Eds.), Learning partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educate for self-authourship, pp. 65-90. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

        • Dear Colleen, you are describing a very interesting idea, in which working through self-development could get students to reflexion and deepen the learning process. However, would this process somehow relay on the capacity of mentors and teachers to guide the process? It would depend on what the teacher background is, and their area of expertise and openness to work with the process. Coming myself from the natural sciences, I believe an opportunity for reflexion and selfgrowth might be appreciated from teachers and mentors themselves.

          • Dear Ana,

            Yes, agreed. My framing is a learning process that includes teachers, mentors, and students (in my case, emerging adults) as collaborative learners. My vision is for the student to take the lead on a topic of interest, decide what they want to research and learn about. The teachers and mentors are meant to support these collaborative student initiatives to keep learning, investigation, and self-observation and reflection at the forefront.

            This is more a model of students seeking knowledge in areas of personal curiosity and interest wherein the mentor has some knowledge or expertise in the topic being researched. For instance, if climate change is the selected topic of interest, say for example, one student is interested in deforestation and the impacts on different domains. Within a group of learners on deforestation, each would do online research to learn more about it in a broad sense. Perhaps one student would investigate the impacts of deforestation overall, while another would look at a particular country, such as the fires in Brazil that have destroyed much of the rain forest to create more farmland. Another student might be interested in reforestation after wildfires or the problem of pine beetles destroying pine forests. Within this main topic are political, economic, social, environmental, and cultural implications that each student might also address either broadly or specifically when they present their findings to a wider group.

            In terms of mentors, each student might reach out to someone (mentor) in the area of work they are studying and have a conversation with them about their role to monitor and study the issue of concern, such as the pine beetle, and concerns about the implications for forests if not treated to prevent spread. Perhaps they would learn about other such problems, or various approaches to finding solutions. The student might be referred to someone who might be able to answer a more specific curiosity, or they may find out about the career journey of the ‘mentor’ or expert they are speaking with. In any case, something will be learned from the interaction with the mentor, about educational options, career options, as well as skills of conversation and dialogue, and other skills for inquiry.

            Next would include dialogue with who group conversation and questions raised and discussed with possible solutions and implications. Questions, comments are all welcome. Each person takes a turn to speak, and there is no judgement on what is spoken. Personal experiences of climate change or the meaning and the importance of forests in the lives of people may open the conversation. Perhaps one student would present each week on their focused area, and the discussion would be on the narrower aspect of the broader topic, of which they investigated. Perhaps they started with questions in one area and ended up with answers in another.

            Several groups could be operating at the same time in different spaces. Once discussions end (say in week five), the groups would come together to present what they found on their topic and what they learned from their investigations, mentors or experts, their own reflections as both participants and observers, teachers and learners. A larger group discussion would happen over a couple of weeks, or whatever the time frame, with journaling done along the way throughout the process. A final written reflection and presentation on student insights into the process as a whole and their personal learning about dialogue with action plans put into place and further questions about the collaborative process, how to improve, what skills they may want to hone next and how, etc. Inquiries into the different areas of expertise needed to solve these problems, and who would need to be involved to find solutions.

            In terms of mentors, there are many roles that a mentor may take on, and it is my experience that it is best to let the relationships between learners evolve naturally. Some guiding conversation starters might be helpful. Another example may be a student group interested in building robots, and an engineer who does this work could be brought in to do a presentation to the whole group of students on what they know, and what they are working on (whether in-person or online). They might work with a smaller group of students to build a prototype or explore ways that robots are being used to support humanity, discuss issues and problems, barriers and opportunities, maybe the dangers of allowing technological advances to develop in unexpected ways that may cause harm.

            Or a student group may be interested in medical research, and pathways to the fields of health. The career-integrated approach in this work satisfies questions students may have, and can provide opportunities to build networks of support for the student.

            A discussion of ethics may come forward. The time invested by the mentor is negotiated, and other experts may be called upon for input or to answer questions thereafter. It is a fluid process. Within this model there will likely be a need for some teacher and mentor conversations at the outset. These relationships with community members are an important outreach activity within academia; opportunities for research collaborations or student internships may emerge, as well.

            The reflection piece, same as outlined above, would be required within the context of course work, and peer-assessment of contributions might be part of the learning process. There are various ways one could explore and organize such experiential learning opportunities. Outcomes will be uncertain, a part of interdisciplinary studies is a certain comfort level with ambiguity. This is a way to support student autonomy, In this way, everyone is learning from each other; all participants are learners, and all participants are teachers. Another approach to dialogic teaching and learning is an open weekly meeting to discuss research issues within an interdisciplinary context.

            My motivation for this approach to teaching and learning is based on Deci & Ryan’s work on their prominent motivation and self-determination theory. In their work on the self-determination theory (SDT) for goal pursuits, Deci & Ryan (2000) found that it is the fulfillment of the human psychological needs that specify conditions under which people can most fully realize their human potential through different types of motivation. Deci and Ryan (2000) found these motivations to be competence, autonomy, and relatedness (see also Ryan & Deci, 2008) with the quality of experience and performance being very different when one is behaving for intrinsic versus extrinsic reasons.

            Intrinsic motivation results in high-quality learning and creativity, however certain forms of extrinsic motivation represent active agentic states (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Feelings of competence, for example, during action can enhance intrinsic motivation for that action because they allow satisfaction of the basic psychological need for competence. People must not only experience perceived competence (or self-efficacy) for a task, they must also experience their behavior to be self-determined if intrinsic motivation is to be maintained or enhanced, and both competence and autonomy needs must be satisfied (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

            Overly controlled students not only lose initiative but also learn less well, especially when learning is complex or requires conceptual, creative processing, such as those skills necessary in career and post-secondary decision making. As such, “it is critical to remember that intrinsic motivation will occur only for activities that hold intrinsic interest for an individual—those that have the appeal of novelty, challenge, [personal interest], or aesthetic value for that individual” (Ryan & Deci, 2000a, p. 60). Accordingly, Ryan and Deci (2000) found that intrinsic motivation appears to become weaker with each advancing year in school. Intrinsically motivated engaged citizens is the golden standard for learning outcomes.

            Does this approach to interdisciplinary teaching and learning resonate with those who teach, have taught, or wish to teach interdisciplinary studies?


            Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227–268.

            Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2008). A self-determination theory approach to psychotherapy: The motivational basis for effective change. Canadian Psychology, 49,186-193. doi 10.1037/a0012753

            Ryan R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000a). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67. doi:10.1006/ceps

            • Dear Colleen,
              Something to have in mind in the model of work that you are mentioning is mentors’ motivation and time to engage with students. You would have to generate the environment to keep students and mentors engaged and motivated through several interactions. I have been part of similar approaches, and my word of advice is that when trying to motivate students you can’t assume that other teachers and mentors will play along with your same level of motivation. Why would mentors be part of the experience? What is up for them? Maybe if the experience was part of a course for graduate students in which acting as mentors would give them credits of something?

              • Indeed Ana, there is a peer mentoring model that has been put into place in some schools here in the province wherein high school students earn certificates (microcredentials) once they have participated in three optional courses on the topics of mentoring, mentors, and mentees. Research has found that mentors that are two years apart in age give and gain the most through these peer-mentoring experiences. Part of the model I am trying to develop includes university community partnerships. One example here is a company that requires their employees to volunteer in their community a certain number of days each year. One company mentors students interested in robotic creations, and the engineers actually meet regularly as a group (mentors and young people together) to design and build these products with the youth. I imagine that there would be other motivations for adults with expertise to step up and become involved in mentoring projects. One such group may be retired teachers. professors, and other professionals, for instance. There is a retired lawyer in our community who is working at a local greenhouse. He has learned much about tropical plants and has a plethora of knowledge of light, soil, and that he could share in school communities such as biology classes; student groups wanting to develop a ‘living wall’; career days a school; legal implications of employment discrimination; the list goes on. I believe it is our responsibility to give back to the community and to help build these networks. Some of these ideas come from Ivan Illich’s conceptions of deschooling. When combined with community networks, much more knowledge sharing opportunities can be created, and possibly even a reduction in educational costs for the state.

        • Thanks, Colleen, for mentioning Deb DeZure’s chapter in the Oxford handbook. It’s a great updated overview of pedagogy. While the Haynes model is certainly valuable, I would also point to learning portfolios as powerful tools of self-assessment. They are used at all levels, from courses to the full length of a program. While not used as often, I’m also pleased to see new creative means of reflecting on learning, including student-produced YouTubes and podcasts.

          • Hi Julie, Good day!

            Yes, I agree. And thank you for your post and for your extensive work in this area of study. I have viewed your peer-reviewed curricula posted on the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies website, and cited some of this curriculum in my candidacy paper. Interdisciplinarity is a vast area, and sustainable knowledge’ (Frodeman, 2014) is the necessary focus at this cross-roads of new endeavors. Dezure (2017) cited Haynes (2002), “While it necessarily entails the cultivation of of the many cognitive skills such as differentiating, reconciling, and synthesizing …, it also involves much more, including the promotion of students’ interpersonal and intrapersonal learning. Because interdisciplinarity is a complicated psychological and cognitive process, it cannot be taught with one approach” (Dezure, 2017, p. 570). Further, Dezure (2017) summarized that “interdisciplinary teaching and learning requires a host of powerful pedagogies to inspire and enable teachers and students to grapple effectively with the complexity of problems we face in the twenty-first century” (p. 570), and instructors no longer need to go it alone, and supporting one another through this network is a great place to start! Thanks again for connecting here. Enjoy your day!


            • I appreciate your reinforcing, Colleen, that instructors no longer need to go it alone. We all have a role to play in acquainting individuals and groups with the large literature that is available to help them. Even though it is accessible too often it is underused, and potential network allies remain unrecognized. The head of one local teaching team once remarked in a faculty meeting, when I was on campus to evaluate the program for an external funder, the problem is “You get in a rut, and it’s a rut lined with mirrors.” I was astonished because the program in question was respected nationally in the US as an exemplar of integrative general education, but that did not curb their sense of isolation. In another meeting of the team a faculty member also mentioned a classroom exercise her colleagues did not know about, leading to the realization a lot of effective strategies are sitting in drawers and on desktops rather than being shared. We have so much to learn from each other, if visible.

                • Your approach is rich and elaborate, Colleen. I taught a lot of required courses, though, where students did not begin with intrinsic motivation, in both an interdisciplinary studies program and a traditional discipline-based department. So I had to create motivation. The kind of engagement you described works in both contexts because students assume responsibility for their learning, moving beyond the model of a teacher as the sage-on-the-stage. I also introduced periodic self-assessment exercises so students could see evaluating their progress is a vital reflective part of learning process. Fortunately, there is a large repertoire of strategies for engagement, though students in the university where I taught often did not immerse themselves fully in the process since they were juggling other classes, work, and family. I’m a huge proponent of mentoring, btw, so admired the way you used the technique in a collaboration.

                  • Julie, thank you for your insights into interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and your support for my theoretical framework. As there are essentially no colleagues on our campus to discuss the particulars of this kind of initiative in any depth, and since have not yet had the opportunity to pilot a course or program of this nature, I do appreciate this forum for exchange of ideas, support, and the opportunity to collaborate with those who have both expertise and experience within an interdisciplinary context. Thank you again for your encouragement, it is greatly appreciated! It has been a vision of mine for sometime, and hope to have the opportunity to implement this teaching and learning strategy in school communities in the near future. Good day to you all!

                    • Learning communities include learning space for all those participating. I like to remind educators now and then that if they are not learning in their classrooms, they are not teaching effectively. Teachers must also model learning in their classrooms. The language we use to frame our work is important. Lifelong learning is an important aspect for continuous advancement and improvement for humanity in a knowledge-technology society/economy.

  5. Thank you Ana for sharing this on this site. At many schools in the U.S., there is an assumption that the undergraduate curriculum will help students become thriving citizens with a critical appreciation for democracy. A recent article, drawing from philosopher John Dewey, squares with what you are saying while making explicit this assumption in re-thinking a curriculum at Colorado College. You may find it interesting or useful. It is “A Case for Critical Interdisciplinarity: Interdisciplinarity As Democratic Education,” Vol 38, 2020, Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies. It is openly accessible on the publication website:

    • Thank you Sven for sharing Stoller’s publication. I overall agree with the ideas in it. The potential of working in interdisciplinarity in higher ed has a great potential in addition to preparing students to do research in interdisciplinary teams. Perhaps the biggest challenge is providing safe opportunities and encouragement for faculty to try something different.

      • It seems to me, however, that most any form of interdisciplinary teaching and learning (including researching) would nurture both democratic thinking and critical thinking to one degree or another. Do you agree? If not, I would like to understand your reasoning. A question for Stoller (2020), I suppose.

    • Thank you Sven for sharing the link to Stoller’s paper. The unfolding of the program outlined and its philosophical grounding were positioned within the frameworks of philosophical hermeneutics and intercultural dialogue, and Dewey’s work on democratic education. In the spirit of interdisciplinarity, ‘democratic thinking’ and ‘critical thinking’ were interwoven into ‘critical democratic dialogue’ to create both a conceptual framework and pedagogical strategy to encourage difficult conversations, resulting in a transformation of faculty members’ ontological positions. What intrigued me the most about this critical interdisciplinary educational model was the deeper self-understanding and personal transformation that emerged through the conversations. Explicit and implicit self-understanding through the understanding of others is a powerful lesson for those working in educational reform.


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