When and Delivery Options

Initial Publication Date: September 2, 2010

Class Type and Interdisciplinary Learning

Course expectations and student backgrounds govern the level of interdisciplinarity that is ideal and the educational gains associated with interdisciplinary instruction. However, the nature or purpose of the class also influences the extent to which interdisciplinary explorations fit the course.

There are six types of courses where interdisciplinary learning may be adopted and each of these situations calls for a different level and intensity of interdisciplinarity.

  1. Core discipline port-of-entry courses (i.e., Principles of Economics, Introductory Biology)
  2. Advanced core discipline classes (i.e., Organic Chemistry, Sociological Theory)
  3. Advanced non-core discipline based classes (i.e. Topics is Labor Economics, Environmental Ethics)
  4. Capstone courses
  5. Interdisciplinary program port-of-entry courses (i.e., Introduction to Women's Studies, Introduction to African American Studies)
  6. Freshman Seminars

For more details see classes suited to interdisciplinary teaching

Class Size and Interdisciplinary Learning

Class size also influences the degree to which an instructor can effectively adopt interdisciplinary methods. Learning the fundamental analytical framework and methodological features of other disciplines is demanding, and may be confusing to students concentrating on grasping their major discipline. Students confronting this challenge are likely to have a host of questions about disciplines external to their major and the process leading to integration. Thus, small classes where they can ask questions and follow up with additional inquiries are better suited to interdisciplinary explorations, especially when the topics being broached are complex. In the large classroom setting, interdisciplinary methods can still be embraced but the instructor will likely have to present the framework of the other disciplines and demonstrate how to form an integrated perspective rather than have students lead this process through discussion. In addition, assignments that promote understanding by incorporating insights from a range of disciplines will most likely differ in form due to class size. In small class environments, students can be assigned writing exercises to demonstrate both their ability to identify alternative disciplinary structures and to form an inclusive analysis. However, in large class settings, assignments will need to be more structured to facilitate time efficient assessments.

Deliver Issues and Interdisciplinary Teaching

Educators embracing interdisciplinary forms of teaching have an opportunity to make a number of decisions regarding the delivery mechanism that will heavily influence the demands on them and the stresses and time commitment they will encounter as they adopt this methodology. Of particular relevance are,

  • Who guides the interdisciplinary learning process?
  • How extensive is incorporation of interdisciplinary learning to the class?
  • What form of interdisciplinary instruction is adopted?