Building Integrative Institutions

Institutional culture and structures can help or hinder interdisciplinarity and therefore integrative learning. From making it easy for faculty to interact across disciplines to providing administrative structures that support interdisciplinary teaching, an institutional level commitment to interdisciplinarity provides more opportunities to foster integrative learning.

Bringing People Together Across Disciplines

An important first step toward interdisiplinary teaching or programming is communication across the disciplines within the institution. This communication allows faculty to learn from one another, find common interests, and develop relationships that support collaboration in both teaching and research. Strategies for increasing interaction among faculty can be as simple as lunch, involve the design of spaces, or be formalized in professional development opportunities.

Social Activities: Mechanisms to encourage faculty and student engagement and interaction outside of the department. These include faculty-wide research talks, ad hoc discussion groups around common academic, research, or social interests.

Barnard College The "Distinguished Women in Science" lecture series at Barnard is followed by a dinner at which students and their faculty mentors can engage with the guest speaker informally and ask questions about the lecture and science research.
Smith College Through conversation and presentation at weekly lunches as well as ongoing conversations with other curricular and faculty development groups, science faculty have been involved in creating divisional and campus dialogue about pedagogy and curricular change.
Swarthmore College
Activities that encourage faculty and students from different departments to interact informally can build interdisciplinary connections and science community.
Hope College
Hope's professional learning community (PLC) has enjoyed regular luncheon meetings and events with guest speakers to learn and collaborate to improve pedagogy and student learning. Recent topics of have been the development and assessment of Course-based research experiences, fostering a growth mindset development in students and faculty, and active learning pedagogy.

Collaborative Spaces and Shared Research Instrumentation: Shared spaces bring proximity to faculty of different disciplines, allowing for an organic interdisciplinary exchange. Shared space also allows for efficient use of resources allowing faculty to have access to necessary equipment, with staff providing technical support of maintaining the equipment and training faculty and students on uses.

Morehouse College
HHMI supported the creation of Morehouse's first Core Facility Laboratory which allows faculty and students from various disciplines to work on classroom activities and research activities collaboratively. Equipment includes a real-time PCR machine, spectrophotometric machine (plate reader), fluorescent microscope and HPLC. The creation of the facility has allowed for new techniques to be introduced into the classroom, and has expanded the research capabilities of the faculty on campus. The space also serves as a central meeting area for students who come to study and collaborate.
Smith College
Five interdisciplinary research centers in Smith's Clark Science Center centralize instrumentation and staff technical expertise while fostering interdisciplinary and collaborative research and teaching opportunities for our faculty and students.
Hope College
Hope has several shared research instruments and shared spaces. The HIBAL facility (heavy-ion beam analysis laboratory) houses a particle accelerator that has been used for materials characterization by faculty and students from nearly every STEM discipline on campus. External users (industrial and academic) have also collaborated with Hope faculty and students to use the facility to address questions they cannot answer using their own facility. The Materials Characterization Lab houses three different instruments used by multiple research groups to study material surfaces and structures. The scanning electron microscope and atomic force microscope are used to image surfaces at micrometer scales. The cathodoluminescense system is used to understand the lattice and elemental structure of materials.

Faculty Development programs:Workshops can be used to bring faculty and staff together to learn from one another or experts. Workshop goals can be as varied as learning a new teaching or research technique or exploring a new interdisciplinary topic area. Longer professional development programming can support faculty in designing courses or teaching materials, testing them and assessing their impact on student learning. Alternately, faculty can be paired with a pedagogic or assessment consultant, a statistics expert, or other person who compliments their strengths with skills from another discipline. Faculty can also be supported in gaining interdisicplinary knowledge by encouraging or allowing them to take courses taught in other departments within the institution.

Swarthmore College
A range of workshops, focus groups, and seminars on campus promote faculty efforts to incorporate active learning pedagogies and interdisciplinary perspectives into their courses.
Hope College
Hope implemented the Pedagogical Uses of Research Experiences (PURE) program designed to provide opportunities for faculty to use research findings from their own courses to improve the effectiveness of their teaching and increase student learning gains. Several courses used this program to assess inquiry based learning modules.

Interdisciplinary Faculty and Staff Joint Appointments: Faculty and staff with interdisciplinary expertise can help build a campus culture of integration. Appointments to multiple departments for interdisciplinary faculty can help foster communication between disciplines (both for faculty and students) and build bridges between traditional silos. While care must be taken in defining expectations for the faculty member, their departmental and institutional administrators, these creative appointments are well worth the effort. Having a faculty member dedicated to bridging multiple departments ensures that the connections are actively maintained and exploited. What begins as an individual position can grow into interdisciplinary minors or concentrations through the use of external grants. Challenges for interdisciplinary positions include the lack of a true departmental home, and as a consequence clear metrics for promotion and development, and increased service requirements for multiple departments.

Bryn Mawr College
Although previous attempts at Bryn Mawr to create "spanning positions" shared by two departments failed due to the challenge of having to meet the multiple and often competing demands of two departments, more recently the College has successfully created two interdisciplinary tenure-track positions in computational science, both squarely within the Department of Biology.
Hope College
Multi-department appointments not only provide opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary course work, they foster greater communication between faculty in the affected departments and often spark collaborations. Since the first multi-department faculty appointed in 1992 that established the interdisciplinary programs in biochemistry, additional joint appointments have been instrumental in the creation and success of the environmental science and neuroscience at Hope. More recently, joint appointments in biology and psychology, math and education as well as biology and education enhance both interdisciplinary offerings as well as cross-departmental communication and collaboration.

Enabling Interdisciplinary Teaching

Deep disciplinary knowledge is hard earned. Mechanisms for bringing this knowledge to the design and implementation of interdisciplinary learning opportunities range from having multiple instructors in the course, to using a team based approach to design, to hiring interdisciplinary experts.

Supporting Team Teaching: Team teaching is an effective strategy to promote the development of interdisciplinary courses in the curriculum. Many institutions use this model to develop courses by faculty from different disciplines. Teaching the course together allows faculty and students see how different disciplines approach and solve common problems. Because team teaching is resource intensive, the institutional structure needs to support reasonable faculty workloads to be sustained. Once faculty have worked together, the team teaching structure can evolve to one faculty member of the team taking over the course as part of their regular offerings.

Hope College
Quite regularly, interdisciplinary courses are developed by teams of faculty from multiple disciplines. During the initial phase, the faculty are often each given full teaching credit, though after initial development, the teaching credit is split. The most successful courses often continue to be team taught, bringing the different faculty perspectives into the classroom and modeling the types of interdisciplinary communication that are needed for successful interdisciplinary work.
Smith College

Science and mathematics faculty within Smith as well as from other local colleges collaborate to teach students a course in biomathematics and mentor undergraduate biomath research projects.

Curriculum Development Support: Many institutions provide faculty development funds to encourage faculty to work together to develop interdisciplinary courses, team teaching opportunities, paired courses, linkage modules, or interdisciplinary modules in courses. In addition to funding to support the curriculum development, providing intellectual support (for example, from staff with expertise in curriculum design and assessment) is important.

Bryn Mawr College

At Bryn Mawr both financial support and support in the form of extra teaching credit is provided for faculty members interested in collaborating to create a 360º Course Cluster.
Smith College
Recent external grant funding has supported revision of introductory courses in computer progamming as well as biomathematics research and coursework at Smith.

« Previous Page