Student learning often occurs in a silo, where students do not need to bring knowledge and skills from one course into a different course. Integrative learning requires students to make connections between knowledge and skills developed in different contexts. The educational pathways that can facilitate integrative learning vary. In some cases, the integration involves weaving a single topic through multiple courses to encourage an integration of combined knowledge. In other cases, the integration may involve providing culminating experiences that allow students to synthesize the knowledge and skills developed along their learning pathway to address a complex problem. Interdisciplinary courses inherently integrate ways of knowing and content across multiple disciplines.
Students often fail to connect concepts and skills learned in one part of their major curriculum to the rest. Verticle integration can be promoted by making the connections from one course to the next more explict both through design and delivery of the course sequence as a whole, and by providing visualizations that help students to see the connections between the different pieces of the curriculum.
The Manduca Functional Genomics Project offers authentic research experiences to students in introductory biology laboratories as well as advanced courses in Genetics, Bioinformatics. Molecular Biology, and Animal Physiology
The Biology department launched a broad scale curriculum reform in 2006. This novel skills-based curriculum is cutting-edge and distinct from Biology programs elsewhere based on: (1) its four semester long introductory core; (2) its focus on skills development in the course of the introductory core; and (3) its adaptation of student-centered active learning pedagogies in all classes.
Capstone courses are also examples of vertical integration. They are often described as culminating experiences that require students to integrate the skills and knowledge they've developed over their entire undergraduate experience to tackle a complex problem. Senior research projects, engineering design courses and more fit into this category.
The engineering, neuroscience and environment science programs all Hope launch students' academic career with a course-based research experience and then provide a culminating experience in the form of a capstone courses.
Courses that deliberately integrate knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines are examples of horizontal integration. In some instances, these courses are labeled as interdisciplinary courses, but in other cases, they live within a specific discipline, but deliberate efforts are made to integrate knowledge and skills from other disciplines. There is increased recognition that interdisciplinary sciences include the humanities and social sciences, and dramatically impact the outcomes of the research.One strategy for accomplishing this integration is to add small 'linkage' modules from other disciplines within the course.
Swarthmore has developed a two-semester Physics for Life Science course that integrates horizontally across disciplines. Assessment has been a central part of the development process.
The introduction to Interdisciplinary Collaborations course was created in an effort to leverage the multiple disciplines offered at the college under the STEM umbrella. The course was designed to look at a single scientific problem from multiple view points, including chemical, psychological, biological and sociological. Previous topics have included, obesity, traumatic brain injury and personalized genetics. The students use the expertise developed from their different departments to analyze the problem from their own unique perspectives.
Hope uses investigative cases to integrate interdisciplinary thinking and problem solving into disciplinary courses. The development of the cases was facilitated by a workshop process.
A second way to facilitate horizontal integration is to explicitly link courses taught in different disciplines that address a shared topic from different disciplinary points of view, or address a single research topic. In some cases, students from the different classes must collaborate outside of the classroom for a semester long project. In other cases, the students take one course together but tackle different research questions in separate courses.
In the mid-2000s, introductory STEM majors courses created paired course experiences. For example, an introductory biology laboratory and physics laboratory both carried out investigative activities around the theme of vision and optics. The specific investigations were different, so students that took both courses had different experiences, but there were many elements in common so that students could see the deliberate connections between the physics and biology topics. Today, faculty from two science departments and two humanities departments are collaborating with a computer science faculty member on linked courses. Students will gain basic computer science skills and knowledge in one course and then apply the skills in a course-based research experience the other.
The 360º Course Cluster Program at Bryn Mawr allows students to approach a topic from a full circle of perspectives, including those drawn from STEM and non-STEM disciplines, by taking two or three courses (a "360º") from different departments over the course of a semester or a year. All students at Bryn Mawr also take a critical thinking and writing seminar, known as an Emily Balch seminar, in their first year and each year 2-4 of these are taught by STEM faculty.
At Carleton College courses can be linked within a single term or taught as a series spread across multiple terms.
Integrative learning can also be promoted using interdisciplinary programs that are designed to integrate multiple viewpoints or approaches to a specific subject area. These often draw on courses and faculty from multiple disciplines.
Bryn Mawr College offers interdisciplinary and integrated curricula in neuroscience, computational methods, biochemistry and molecular biology, environmental studies and geochemistry.
Carleton offers a few interdisciplinary majors and a number of Concentrations, that by definition are interdisciplinary. Our Environmental Studies major is a good example of a major that allows students to creatively combine courses in the sciences, social sciences and humanities.
Hope's first interdisciplinary major was the biochemistry major created in the early 1990s. Since they, interdisciplinary minors in environmental science and neuroscience have been added and the biochemistry major has transformed into a biochemistry and molecular biology major.Faculty teaching in Hope's neuroscience program come from seven departments, spanning the natural and applied sciences division as well as the social sciences division. In addition to faculty collaborating across departments and divsions, students with many different majors come to the program with different ways of thinking and knowing.
Co-curricular activities such as internships, volunteering, and tutoring also promote integrative learning opportunities because students get a chance to apply content and skills learned from their college classes to the real world.
The Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) program provides a successful structure for encouraging co-curricular learning by engaging students and faculty on work directly with communities to address pressing issues.
Smith supports opportunities for integrative learning through a variety of programs that weave together intellectual and practical experiences, including Concentrations, capstone coursework, community-based outreach and learning projects, and the Praxis internship program, guaranteeing every student a college-funded stipend to pursue a substantive, unpaid summer internship related to her academic or career interests.
The Praxis Program and the Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center (LILAC) at Bryn Mawr facilitate off-campus activities for students taking courses, as well as students seeking field placements at local organizations.