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What happens when a college crosses agriculture and visual communications? How about medical ethics and education? English and biology?
We didn’t know either, but we wanted to find out.
A group of faculty at Ivy Tech Community College–Columbus/Franklin joined together this past semester to participate in the “Interdisciplinary Day Program.” This pilot program paired professors from different disciplines to bring new perspectives into the classroom and help students see connections between seemingly disparate disciplines.
Participating professors swapped one class session and taught that class from their discipline’s perspective. For example, a biology professor taught an English class from a biology perspective; literature students read H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” and the biology professor explained the influences of science and technology on literature. The English professor had science students practice descriptive writing techniques to explore the functions of a cell.
We hoped such professor exchanges would activate students’ awareness of the interconnectivity of all subjects — and possibly generate an interest in students to enroll in courses they wouldn’t have considered before. We also initiated the Interdisciplinary Day Program to ask instructors to reach beyond their comfort zones and relate their area of interest to an unfamiliar audience.
As colleagues, we really wanted to challenge each other by creating pairs that were seemingly unrelated (granted, some were more on the extreme than others). For example, we paired professors from psychology and business, film and interior design and nursing and interpersonal communications. While we all felt confident that we could apply our subject matter to virtually any topic, there was some nervousness about how we would go about teaching it.
We were inspired by the creativity that professors used to share their topics. For example, the agriculture and visual communications professors brought their classes together and paired students with the goal of creating fliers and brochures centered on agricultural issues.
Both professors were impressed with the quality of the work that their classes produced. Agriculture students gained insight into how to market their staple products, and visual communications students gained experience in dealing with real-life clientele. Students took ownership of their projects and displayed a willingness to work with others from another class.
The only constraints that we put on the professor pairs were 1) Interdisciplinary Day was not allowed to be substitution; the class had to be taught from the visiting instructor’s perspective, 2) the swap had to occur early in a semester to avoid interfering with midterms and semester projects, and 3) there needed to be some kind of assignment or reflective activity for students to integrate new information into the course.
So what happens when a college crosses English and biology? Agriculture and visual communications? Wonderful things happen: innovation and student learning!
The next round of Interdisciplinary Day is slated for the spring 2013 semester, and we are looking forward to it.
James Boldman is assistant professor of communications, and Erin Lehman is assistant professor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus/Franklin.
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