Would a focus on ‘knowledge ecology’ provide a useful alternative to ‘knowledge integration’ in inter- and trans-disciplinary research?
My experience in bringing perspectives from the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) to projects led by researchers from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has led me to agree with Sharp and colleagues (2011) that ‘knowledge integration’ is essentially a positivist concept, dependent on the idealist model of a unified field of scientific knowledge to which every bit of science contributed.
Many partners and co-researchers from STEM backgrounds, it seems, cannot recognise other knowledge paradigms and can only ‘integrate’ knowledge in the form of quantitative data. HASS research is excluded or disqualified as merely ‘anecdotal’ or ‘subjective’. Like racial or cultural assimilation, knowledge integration seems to require non-dominant knowledges to disguise or erase their unique differentiating features in order to blend with the dominant positivist paradigm.
Integration lies at the heart of inter- and transdisciplinarity. Klein & Newell (1996) call it the “acid test” of interdisciplinarity, and Pohl, van Kerkhoff, Hirsch Hadorn, & Bammer (2008) consider it “the core methodology underpinning the transdisciplinary research process.”
What exactly, though, is integration?
This blog post answers that question while identifying key resources.
How can we get the three critical groups in transdisciplinary research—researchers, end users of research, and funders of research—to work together in designing applied research for impact? As Roux and colleagues (2010) pointed out:
“A key characteristic of transdisciplinary research is that the domains of science, management, planning, policy and practice are interactively involved in issue framing, knowledge production and knowledge application.”
A critical challenge is that each of the three groups is likely to have different perspectives on the goals of a given research project or program and how to achieve them, and therefore likely to define success differently.
By BinBin Pearce, Carolina Adler and Christian Pohl
Are there innovative methods that enable students to frame and confront the complexity of real-world problems in the context of sustainable development? Which learning approaches help students engage with design thinking to understand a particular system, and also to start thinking about responsible solutions? Which approaches enable students to reflect on their own actions, as well as become aware of the importance of diverse stakeholder perspectives and how these play out in real-world contexts?
At Arizona State University (U.S.) various programs exist – across its schools and colleges – that allow students to work in transdisciplinary settings. These programs are avant-garde in many respects, e.g., pedagogical design, students’ learning outcomes, relationships with practice partners, implementation with real-world impact. Our experience with building a transdisciplinary and solution-oriented learning program at the School of Sustainability is documented in the article ‘Integrating Problem-and Project-based Learning into Sustainability Programs‘.
As a case in point, most Australian universities offer professional learning opportunities for academics involved in coursework teaching and research supervision (e.g. a Graduate Certificate in higher education learning and teaching). Typically, such formal scholarly programs introduce teaching academics to current educational principles, practices and research in higher education.
However, these and similar academic programs have been slow to respond to the increasing interest in transdisciplinary education and research.