Service Learning in Interdisciplinary CoursesMaureen Padden, School of Geography Earth Sciences, McMaster University
I presently teach environmental studies courses to earth science, environmental science and geography students. Students in my courses are approximately evenly split between social science and physical science. There are also students from other faculties, such as business, fine arts and engineering. I find it challenging to teach upper-year students with such varied backgrounds. I want to avoid teaching to the lowest common denominator when I know the fundamentals of each discipline vary. But there are many benefits to this interdisciplinary environment for the students and for myself.
Integration of different disciplines in a university course provides a potentially rich source of discussions and problem-solving. As a society, we'll need to use both social and physical science to understand so many environmental topics and to evaluate solutions to environmental challenges. Instead of sharing a set of fundamental skills and experience, students in my upper-year courses are able to benefit from the collective expertise of their peers. From the environmental sector, we hear that there's an increasing expectation for our graduates to have an understanding of different disciplinary approaches to complex problems. There's certainly an expectation that graduates will work productively with other disciplines in their professional lives. I hope that experiences in my courses help prepare students for an integrated approach to their professional work and a willingness to participate in civic life in their communities.