Exemplary Interdisciplinary College Education

Our study of collegiate education examined the challenges, motivations, and approaches to quality interdisciplinary education as perceived by faculty, administrators, and students in established interdisciplinary programs nation-wide. Our sample included programs such as Stanford's Human Biology, Swarthmore's Interpretation Theory, University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics, and NEXA at San Francisco State University.

A combination of semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, and analysis of course designs and student work shed empirical light on issues such as: (1) How faculty and students view the nature and purpose of interdisciplinary teaching and the learning challenges it presents; (2) Effective strategies that faculty and program architects employ to integrate disciplinary perspectives in the classroom and the curriculum; and (3) Assessment of student interdisciplinary work, its challenges and a proposed framework.

This study yielded preliminary parameters for a pedagogy for interdisciplinary understanding as well as the “targeted assessment model” and preliminary rubric to examine and support students interdisciplinary work.  The study directly informed a series of program/curriculum evaluations including: (a) Thinking like an Educator- an integrated Pro-seminar in education for doctoral students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and (b) a national study of interdisciplinary assessment practices in liberal education led by the Social Science Research Council.

This study was generously funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies.