Interdisciplinary Problem-Based Learning: Practice, Application, and Activism

This spring, Royann Petrell, an instructor in the Chemical and Biological Engineering department, paired up with Kate Neville, an instructor in Political Science, to invite Mike Bell to speak with students enrolled in their courses CHBE 480: Hazardous Waste Processing Technology and POLI 375: Global Environmental Politics.

Mike is the co-chair of the Sierra Club in Comox Valley and discussed the concept of Earth Jurisprudence, a political-legal philosophy that emphasizes relationships between humans and the environment and the importance of a healthy earth.

Alaya Boisvert, community service coordinator for the Faculty of Applied Science, helped to design collaborative discussions after Mike’s talk to get students from engineering and political science working together on problems related to the environment, law, and governance.

In addition to catering this event and contributing an honorarium, UBC Mix matched Royann and Kate together to offer this innovative learning opportunity for their students. Both felt that their students benefited from the interdisciplinary dynamics Mike’s visit afforded.

Royann said, “Mike was [also] impressed by what happened. Each table had something different to add to the discussion. He and I are now convinced that Mixes have the potential to bring important issues to the attention of students.”

Kate agreed: “As environmental politics students, they often talk about interdisciplinary work (and many of them are also students of humanities and social sciences), but rarely interact with the applied sciences, so the interaction with the engineering students was valuable.” Kate’s students also expressed appreciation for the chance to hear a practitioner’s perspective: “We have not had the chance to interact with many people in the policy, advocacy, and activism communities directly, so Mike’s perspectives were of great interest to my students.”

On feedback forms, students were enthusiastic about interdisciplinarity and its real-world applications.

“This event is inspirational to my academic learning,” one student said. “It helps thinking outside the box and relating different disciplines together to a real-life project.”

“The interdisciplinary approach is one that fosters reflective insight from critical minds with different backgrounds,” wrote another.

“This was a pretty neat opportunity – I wish I participated in a lot more interdisciplinary work!”

Image credit: Chain of Wolves’ Flickr photostream

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