What is Interdisciplinary Studies?

Definition
Interdisciplinary studies involve two or more academic disciplines or fields of study organized around synthesizing distinct perspectives, knowledge, and skills. Interdisciplinary study focuses on questions, problems, and topics too complex or too broad for a single discipline or field to encompass adequately; such studies thrive on drawing connections between seemingly exclusive domains. Usually theme-based, interdisciplinary courses intentionally address issues that require meaningful engagement of multiple academic disciplines. Pedagogical strategies focus on, but are not limited to, inquiry or problem-based learning.

Although many academic disciplines, such as African American Studies and Engineering, are inherently interdisciplinary, to be considered an interdisciplinary course at City Tech the course must be team-taught[1] by more than one faculty member from two or more departments[2] in the College. An interdisciplinary course, by definition, has an interdisciplinary theme as its nucleus. In its essence, such a course brings the analytic methods of two or more academic disciplines to bear on a specific problem or question. Thus, a course in Music History is not likely to be considered interdisciplinary, but a course in Music History from an economist’s perspective might very well lead to such a course. The application of different methods and concepts is the key to assessing whether a course is or is not interdisciplinary. The term interdisciplinary is occasionally used to identify individual projects or assignments, but these, though possibly commendable, fall short in the necessary scope for learning experiences that demand in-depth exposure to the methodologies of distinct intellectual disciplines, and the creative application of these methodologies to specific problems.

Studies show that interdisciplinary courses improve student learning (Elrod & Roth, 2012; Klein, 2010; Lattuca, 2001; Lattuca, Voigt, & Fath, 2004; Project Kaleidoscope, 2011). To foster interdisciplinary learning, the Interdisciplinary Committee has identified goals and outcomes that students taking interdisciplinary courses should be able to achieve.

Learning Outcomes of Interdisciplinary Courses
Students will be able to:

  • Purposefully connect and integrate across-discipline knowledge and skills to solve problems
  • Synthesize and transfer knowledge across disciplinary boundaries
  • Comprehend factors inherent in complex problems
  • Apply integrative thinking to problem-solving in ethically and socially responsible ways
  • Recognize varied perspectives
  • Gain comfort with complexity and uncertainty
  • Think critically, communicate effectively, and work collaboratively
  • Become flexible thinkers

[1] See “Application for Interdisciplinary Course Designation” question 9b for team-teaching options.

[2] Exceptions are made for Departments that provide a home for multiple disciplines, such as Humanities and Social Science.

Suggestions for Reframing a Course as Interdisciplinary

Following is a list of some types of ways that a course could be organized in order to fulfill interdisciplinary requirements.

  • Shared credits: two faculty split the credits of the same course.
    Faculty will not receive double workload hours for the same course. For example, a course with three contact hours equates to a total of three workload hours that are appropriately split among teaching faculty (there may be more than two faculty). Although a one-credit lab will not meet the criteria, it could be part of a 4-credit science interdisciplinary course.
    If a 3-credit course deems 6 workload hours for two faculty, then this course should be reconfigured so the 3 workload hours can be amicably split.
  • Trading credits: two faculty agree to teach two separate sections of courses, both interdisciplinary, but not necessarily the same course. They trade lessons between the two courses, so that workload is equalized, but both courses gain the interdisciplinary designation.
  • Guest lecturers: the course provides multiple perspectives via experts who deliver the interdisciplinary content. This may include, but should not be limited to, site visits.
  • Learning community: two courses are assigned as a learning community, and two faculty provide the divergent viewpoints. One course becomes officially labeled with the interdisciplinary designation and the other course is assigned credit to some other area in the student plan of study.
  • Independent study: a learning experience that allows for self-directed study relating to an area of academic or professional experience. Key elements of the course include critical analysis, application or development of ideas and concepts related to the area of inquiry and guidance by two or more faculty mentors. [1]

Faculty teaching interdisciplinary courses are encouraged to, and should strongly consider, using free/open-access course materials whenever possible to avoid requiring students to buy double books.

As an interdisciplinary course will probably be new to students, background information should be included in course syllabi including a clear explanation of the scheduling of participating faculty and needed contact hours.

To facilitate scheduling, an interdisciplinary course designed to be offered fully or partially online should be considered, as appropriate, and is encouraged.

[1] Refer to page 39 of the New York City College of Technology Catalog 2015-2016 for additional guidelines.