Steps to Synthesis and Integration

Initial Publication Date: September 2, 2010

Overcoming the Challenges of Synthesis and Integration on the Path to Interdisciplinary Instruction

The most challenging aspect of interdisciplinary teaching entails integration of insights from multiple disciplines.

Interdisciplinary teaching is most effective when educators take a step-by-step approach that entails six elements:

  • Pre-Instructional Planning
  • Introduce the Methodology to Students
  • Take it to the Classroom
  • Practice Interdisciplinary Thinking
  • Provide Feedback
  • Assessment

Four of the six-steps feature integrative thinking. For instance, interdisciplinary educators are encouraged to establish the importance of integration (Introduce the Method to Students), model how to integrate in the classroom (Take it to the Classroom), provide students with assignments that ask them to engage in integrative thinking (Practice Interdisciplinary Thinking), and offer them feedback on their level of integrative proficiency (Provide Feedback).

One approach to reaching this objective is provided below. It is ideal to select a discipline as the lead discipline to establish a benchmark or baseline way of investigating a topic and then proceed to extend this framework to systematically account for insights from other relevant disciplines. Typically the home discipline of the instructor is best suited to be adopted as the baseline structure. Then use the following steps to achieve synthesis and integration:

  1. Set out the analytical structure central to the baseline discipline and identify key underlying assumptions.
  2. Apply this discipline to the problem of interest.
  3. Discuss methods of evaluation in this discipline and what previous studies by scholars in this field have learned on the topic being evaluated.
  4. Identify areas where other disciplines may offer valued insights.
  5. For these additional (i.e., non-baseline) disciplines, follow the same procedure (follow steps 1-4 above). At this point you have engaged in a systematic multidisciplinary analysis - each relevant discipline has been explored in isolation from the others. This exercise simply prepares the class to engage in the complex and challenging processes of synthesis and integration.
  6. Synthesize the multidisciplinary examination by comparing and contrasting frameworks, methodologies, predictions, and evidence. Identify common ground. Ask how the analytical framework of the baseline discipline can be extended to account for insights from the other disciplines.
  7. Attempt to integrate the alternative perspectives into a new coherent, more inclusive framework of analysis. Extension of the baseline analytical construct to facilitate integration often requires the adoption of assumptions, sometimes strong ones. Identify these assumptions and investigate how understanding of the topic is altered by using this interdisciplinary form of analysis. Finally, attempt to make additional extensions, and be clear about the necessary assumptions. When integration is no longer possible, discuss the elements preventing further integration.