Reflections on Interdisciplinarity

Constructing Knowledge Across the Disciplines, Journal 3
Constructing Knowledge Across the Disciplines is the last full course before I begin preparing my research project next fall. The ideas to which we’ve been exposed in this course have implications, for me, not only in terms of interdisciplinary studies, but also as fundamental precepts upon which we can build a stronger system. From the beginning of this course, I have felt at home with the idea of interdisciplinarity, not least because general education courses, such as English, fit so neatly into an interdisciplinary Cegep. In fact, in many ways, the best part of the course is the fresh ammunition (to expand on Klein’s geopolitical metaphor) I bring to the fight for general education courses. I sometimes feel that the powers that be have forgotten the importance of general education courses, despite the essential role of such courses in the epistemological framework within which the Cegep system operates. Every once in a while, a new ominous rumour circulates that “they” are toying with the idea of eliminating some or all general education requirements; naturally, such speculation worries me for personal job security reasons, but beyond that, I genuinely believe in the value of general education courses at the college level, and it concerns me that students may one day be without them.
A few semesters ago, when reflecting on the Assessment as Learning course, I realized I had been fundamentally changed as a teacher by the experience. That course made me rethink my approach not only to individual assessments, but to course design, program planning, and departmental alignment. The effect has been longstanding; in fact, I have convinced my department that rather than focusing on whether or not we give the same mark for an essay, we should be examining how consistent we are, as a group, when it comes to feedback. I sense the same profound change with this course. I have embraced the idea of interdisciplinarity, and in particular, the idea of collaborative curriculum planning.
Generally speaking, general education teachers in the English Cegep system are accustomed to a great degree of autonomy. Unlike our counterparts in the French system, or our colleagues in certain other departments, we have a great deal of freedom when it comes to course content and planning. Our MELS objectives and standards are relatively vague and flexible, so we can essentially do what we want as individual teachers. There are, obviously, certain parameters determined by our colleges and departments within which we develop our courses, but as long as our course outlines fulfil the given criteria, we are left to our own devices. As a result, students have many options when it comes to choosing their genre (102) and theme (103) courses – for example, according to the 2007-2008 course catalogue at Vanier, students could choose from 26 theme courses, and 31 genre courses. In short, there’s not a lot of collaborative course design happening.
As a direct result of my work in this course, I am now deliberately seeking out collaborations with teachers both within the English department and in other areas. For instance, next fall I will teach the third-semester Liberal Arts English course, and in preparing the course, I have been working with my departmental colleague who teaches the fourth-semester course. Not only has this teamwork helped me immensely in planning my course, but I feel that we have defined a coherent whole, so that our students will see connections between the work they do in the fall semester and new material in the winter. My colleague and I are planning assessment projects that span the two semesters, and are looking for ways to share on-line interactive resources, and we’re planning course material that reflects the connections we’ve identified. Although our courses might be considered quite different, once we thought about it in terms of Beane’s organizing centre, we realized that both courses share a desire to consider literature from unconventional perspectives. Now that we’ve had our “great idea,” things are falling into place, and we both feel very confident that in the next few years we’ll refine this package, and may even be able to engage in some team teaching in the classroom – and in the meantime, we can at least make it clear to our students that we’re working together to make two courses more rewarding for them.
I am also hoping to take the preliminary course design that I developed with my simulation teammates and develop a complete course that can be offered at Vanier. I will be proposing this idea to our dean in the coming weeks, and if I get the green light, I’ll solicit input from teachers in our healthcare departments and computer programs. I don’t know that team teaching is likely at this stage, but perhaps if the course goes ahead and is well-received, the next logical step will be taken, and teachers from the disciplines will participate in the classroom. Ultimately, this course can indeed be a model for other Block B English courses, and perhaps be adapted for Humanities courses as well.
The CKAD course has been a very rewarding one for me. Now I need to take this new interdisciplinary perspective and change the system – after summer vacation, obviously Vacation!.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *