Tapestry Article

This is a repost of an article published in Tapestry magazine, Issue 55 (2009/2010) pp. 12-13.

Get in the MIX! A New Way to Bring Interdisciplinary Learning to More Students
by: Geoff Costeloe, Terry Project Assistant

Photo Caption: Carla and Celeste partnered on a tree-related project for students in their classes

Editor’s note: Geoff appeared at my door, along with colleagues Shagufta Pasta, fellow Terry Project Assistant and Dave Ng, Director of the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory (AMBL) at the Michael Smith Laboratories, to update me on Terry Talks, one of the many programs on campus that has a sustainability connection. Geoff, a 5th year student pursuing a double major in Integrated Science and Political Science, initiated UBC MIX through his interest in extending his own positive experience with interdisciplinary learning, through the Integrated Sciences Program, to all students.

UBC MIX grew out of the ‘Wish’ talk Geoff gave at the successful 2008 Terry Talks Conference. In his talk, he dubbed the idea IF: The Integrated Forum. The project was endorsed by the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), a part of the Clinton Global Initiative that encourages and enables students to make changes to their world. Geoff attended the CGIU conference in Austin, Texas and discussed his plans with students from around the world. Geoff, who himself has traveled all over the world is interested in education’s role on global issues.

The project, refocused and renamed UBC MIX, aims to make any class on campus accessible to interdisciplinary teaching and learning. It is simple, effective and not resource- or time-consuming. There are even perks for the faculty members involved.

The integration of teaching and learning across faculties and disciplines is becoming a more and more popular discussion topic around our campus. From first year programs such as Science One and Arts One, to degree granting programs such as Integrated Sciences and International Relations, UBC offers a wide array
of opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. These are well respected programs that have one thing in common: they leave a positive, lasting impression on a student’s education and university experience.

As successful as these programs are, there are some setbacks with the current approach to interdisciplinary education. Interdisciplinary courses and programs rely on the dedication of faculty members for development, teaching, and administration. Students have to commit to taking a full course or major program in order to experience the benefits of an interdisciplinary learning community, something that many are unable to manage due to their already cramped schedules. As a result the vast majority of students go through their time at UBC without exposure to concepts and perspectives outside of their main field of study, and with little opportunity to explore how other disciplines and subjects are related and relevant to their work and their future. Despite the benefits of current programs, some measurable by NSSE, (see http://www.pair.ubc.ca/surveys/nsse/ for more information) there have been few initiatives that promise to bring interdisciplinary learning to a larger proportion of the undergraduate community. What is needed is a new way of approaching interdisciplinary study. This approach must be flexible and relatively easy to manage. It must be effective across disciplines and in different classroom settings, without the need for extensive curriculum readjustment or extra work for already be- leaguered faculty members. UBC MIX hopes to do all of this and more.

UBC MIX works through developing cross-discipline and cross- faculty partnerships between courses already taught at UBC. UBC MIX helps pairs of faculty members make small adjustments to their class curricula that can mix, or bring together, students of two different courses. The partnership could involve one or two joint lectures, electronic ‘pen-pal’ communication between the classes, a mixed-group project, or anything else the faculty members think would be valuable to their students. The idea is to complement the curriculum of both classes by exploring the links between them, exposing the students to new ideas and points of view. It is also important to ensure that there is no additional workload on students or faculty. Assignments are ‘tweaked’, not added, to allow the partnership to interact.

UBC MIX already has one exciting partnership underway involving Celeste Leander, who teaches Biology in Science One, Faculty of Science and Carla Paterson, who teaches History in the Faculty of Arts as well as Civil Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Sciences. Working with students in Science One and in History 104 this past Fall, they used a variety of classroom activities to draw on major themes from both classes. One example was a project about trees around campus. Students from the two classes formed groups, found and identified trees in the local UBC ecosystem, taking photos of themselves in front of them, then gave short presentations on the tree species and it historical uses in BC aboriginal communities. This was a chance for students to learn from each other and put the skills and knowledge they take from class and put them into practice.

There are lots of reasons that a UBC MIX partnership could benefit faculty members as well. Just as partnerships help break down barriers between students in different faculties, they can also help to bring new ideas into the lives of faculty members. Celeste and Carla were excited to learn more about each other’s area of expertise.

There are other perks for faculty members too. UBC MIX provides funding to partnerships that could be used for extra resources, field trips or to hire a TA or Graduate Academic Assistant.

Interested? UBC MIX is currently looking for faculty members to form partnerships. Check out www.terry.ubc.ca/mix or e-mail <ubcmix@gmail.com> for details about current partnerships and the benefits of getting involved in UBC MIX.

UBC MIX has been recognized by the Student Leadership Conference and will be a featured project that Geoff will present on January 9, 2010 http://slc.ubc.ca. You can see Geoff’s Terry Talk as well as eight other awesome student speakers at www.terry.ubc.ca/terrytalks; view photos from Terry Talks 2008 at www.flickr.com/photos/terrytalks.

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