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Build Interdisciplinary Connections

Many current societal issues are connected to the Earth, such as environmental degradation, food supply, energy needs, mineral resources, climate change, and more. Incorporating these topics into a course (from any discipline) can increase relevancy and interest among students. Understanding societal issues and learning about solutions helps students develop the expertise they need to address problems that involve the Earth. Bring the Earth into your course by incorporating other's expertise or building interdisciplinary connections within your course content.

Why teach this way? »

Find and incorporate expertise to teach about the Earth

Build Connections Between Faculty

HHMI Interdisciplanary Crosstalk
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Illustration of the importance of interdisciplinary perspectives. From Daniel Fazer, HHMI Bulletin[creative commons]
Provenance: Daniel Fazer, HHMI Bulletin
Reuse: This item is offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ You may reuse this item for non-commercial purposes as long as you provide attribution and offer any derivative works under a similar license.

There are a spectrum of ways to capitalize on the strengths of others, allowing you to both draw on, and provide, expertise. Start off with what works for you, perhaps small groups with informal discussions or invite a guest speaker to your class before diving into larger scale integration.

  • Deepen perspectives with Interdisciplinary Teaching
    Enhance your ability to incorporate topics outside of your area of expertise and bring relevancy to students. There are a spectrum of interdisciplinary teaching strategies that can promote a culture of collaboration. For example, philosopher Ed Barbanell, and environmental engineer Steve Burian, teamed up to teach Hydrotopia, a course about historical and emerging water issues in the western United States. Drawing on each of their skills and expertise, Ed and Steve were able to train engineering professionals in the technical know-how to manage and operate a water resource system while building a sensitivity to the human and environmental context.

Spectrum of Strategies to Build Faculty Connections:

Within a course


View InTeGrate team-authored materials »

Across classes

  • Team teaching
  • Core interdisciplinary courses that brings curriculum together (a.k.a. federated curriculum)
  • Core topics or themes that are linked across many disciplinary courses
More on interdisciplinary teaching strategies »

Integrate differing viewpoints

Understanding and struggling with differing viewpoints will help you build relationships across disciplines and it will help your students grasp the complexity of these topics. When working together, differing points of view bring more robust solutions to complex issues. Throughout the InTeGrate project, we have learned that (at least initial) face-to-face interactions with people are the fastest and most robust way to begin understanding different ways of thinking and approaching these issues.

  • Approach common challenges from multiple perspectives, such as Engineering, Geoscience, and Sustainability
    Explore an example of how two groups see the same Earth topics in different ways, and how addressing those differences makes it possible to teach effectively to a wide variety of student audeinces. Engineers and geologists address common sustainability-related concepts from differing frameworks, and integrating these perspectives makes it possible to teach effectively to multiple audiences. For example, in their essays, Mary Beth Gray describes the benefits for engineering students that gain a geoscience perspective early in their careers, and Steve Burian describes specific techniques for teaching sustainability to multi-disciplinary audiences including engineers and geoscientists.
  • Incorporate point-of-view by Teaching Sustainability and Social Justice through Contrasting Narratives
    Explicitly comparing and contrasting narratives about the same topic, or exploring how a story changes through time, can illuminate interesting differences and changes. This process can also help students think critically about differing viewpoints and influences. One method to help students cultivate awareness of differing perspectives is to examine an issue through a specified lens other than their own. For example, evaluating a proposed highway project through different public and private organizational lenses.
  • Understand Disciplinary Perspectives of teaching sustainability
    Draw on sustainability activities, core topics, networking opportunities, and current happenings presented by disciplinary experts for The Sustainability Improves Student Learning (SISL) project.

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