Interdisciplinary & Individualized Major Programs (IMP) 2023 Conference at CUNY Graduate Center

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Founding Chair Dr. Reneta Lansiquot, Co-Chair Dr. Sean MacDonald, and Professor Tamrah Cunningham presented at the 14th annual meeting of a national conference, Interdisciplinary & Individualized Major Programs (IMP) 2023, CUNY Graduate Center, March 15-17. Their panel presentation was titled “Interdisciplinary Studies at City Tech: Courses, minors, and game-based learning.” Here is the abstract of their talk: This panel presentation will spotlight interdisciplinary studies at CUNY New York City College of Technology (City Tech) through the lens of interdisciplinary courses, interdisciplinary minors, and the newly established Interdisciplinary Design Game-Based Learning Lab (ID GBL^2). The presenters will discuss interdisciplinary learning outcomes, assessment, design game-based learning, and undergraduate research.

The theme of this year’s conference was The Future of Interdisciplinary and Individualized Studies: “The promotion of interdisciplinary and individualized learning is not new. Individualized and interdisciplinary forms of learning trace their roots to the progressive educational movements of the early 20th century. In the past few decades, higher education has increasingly adopted some of the characteristics of this progressive educational tradition by promoting connections between classroom learning and the ‘real’ world, by recognizing the importance of mentoring, and by breaking down some disciplinary silos. More recently, the rising cost of higher education and the upheavals of the pandemic have reinforced student interest in making their education meaningful and relevant to their lives and career ambitions, a goal many IMPs heartily endorse. In this context, what distinguishes IMPs from other academic programs? How can IMPs best navigate institutions that remain organized around disciplines? What challenges do IMPs face when promoting the learning goals of their students?”

Interdisciplinary Course Continuity and Remote Learning

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Among the many considerations that remote learning brings to revamping our modes of instruction, maintaining the integrity of an interdisciplinary course is yet another crucial aspect. Revisiting the origin of ID studies at City Tech, we can see the purpose is to expose students to complex problems using multiple disciplinary perspectives and to break away from the univocal mode of instruction that students encounter in other courses at the college. At this unique juncture in City Tech history, we offer guidance as to how you can still achieve the Interdisciplinary Learning objectives of your course.

  • Contact your invited guest lecturers and ask them how they would like to interact in your course. For example, a professor may prefer to meet synchronously via Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, or Microsoft Teams. This is perhaps the best practice because it offers students the opportunity to interact with the lecturer. In other instances, they may wish to provide a recorded lecture.
  • If a guest lecturer is using a recorded lecture, develop a plan for them to interact with students. Examples of this would be inviting your guest lecture to participate in a discussion board (e.g., Blackboard, OpenLab). Another might be having a reflection assignment and the guest lecturer can provide the students with feedback. Be creative and be sure that your lecturer as an interaction with students beyond just the recording.
    • Another tip on recorded lectures: It is best to convert any recordings to an .mp4 file allowing students to view the lecture on any number of personal and mobile devices. Remember Microsoft PowerPoint recordings can only be played by in PowerPoint, and this may not be accessible to all of your students.
  • For co-taught courses, connect with your fellow professor to navigate the rest of the semester online. In these cases, both instructors already have shared access to Blackboard. Rely on each other’s strengths to make material and assignments accessible and consider other platforms, such as OpenLab, with which a co-instructor might have a preference or more experience.
  • Get creative. All potential options for offering ID courses via remote learning have not been mentioned here, so please, think outside of the box. For example, in one ID course there are typically several site visits to monuments around the city. By providing students with links to the Google Earth’s images of these monuments, students will be able to “visit” these sites with a three-dimensional experience.
  • Student engagement is largely determined with strategic professors. You are encouraged to do your best this semester to maintain your course structure and ID learning objectives, but perhaps the biggest obstacle in ensuring that students stay engaged during this face-to-face hiatus. Email, Blackboard, and OpenLab are going to be essential to contacting students about the new skills and resources needed to access your course.

What is Interdisciplinary Studies?

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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.