What is interdisciplinary Innovation?

We choose to use the term interdisciplinary innovation to describe a wide range of work in the education space:

  • multidisciplinarity, involves drawing appropriately from multiple disciplines to redefine problems outside of normal boundaries and reach solutions based on a new understanding of complex situations.
  • interdisciplinarity, involves the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g. a research project). It is about creating something new by crossing boundaries, and thinking across them.
  • transdisciplinarity, interdisciplinary learning moves across institutional boundaries into non-institutional spaces (partnerships with organization, citizen science, service work, entrepreneurship)
  • and perhaps even post-disciplinary, re-imagining the institution and all forms of learning.

“Interdisciplinary innovation arises from the positive effects that result when stepping across the social boundaries that we structure knowledge by. Those boundaries include technology, academic disciplines, internal school functions and the boundaries between these domains. In the knowledge economy, it is often the case that the right knowledge to solve a problem is in a different place to the problem itself, so interdisciplinary innovation is an essential tool for the future. There are also many problems today that need more than one kind of knowledge to solve them, so interdisciplinary innovation is also an essential tool for the challenging problems of today.”1

What is Curriculum Integration?

How do we get our learning communities to a point of interdiciplinary innovation? In his book Curriculum Integration: Designing the Core of Democratic LearningBeane (1997) writes that, “….in  curriculum integration, knowledge from the disciplines is repositioned into the context of [a] theme, questions, and activities at hand. Even when teaching and learning move into what looks like discipline-based  instruction, they are always done explicitly in the context of the theme and for a reason driven by it. It is here that knowledge comes to life, here where it has meaning, and here where it is more likely to be “learned.” Students are involved and engaged in an enormous range of knowledge, from information to values clarification, and including content and skills from several disciplines of knowledge (math, experimental sciences, social sciences, academic reading and writing, the arts, engineering and technology). This knowledge is integrated in student projects (with the context of themes and activities within them).2

What is Project Based Learning

Yong Zhao (2012) curates research modalitys on PBL in his book World Class Learners: Educating Creative and  Entrepreneurial Students. He narrows the research into three general  descriptions of PBL as a starting points:

  • academic PBL that is primarily classroom based, content driven, single subject and teacher led
  • mixed  models where teacher and student collaboration through groups is key  and a product is sought within the constraint of academic disciplines  inside and outside of a school
  • entrepreneurship  models that are completely student led, focused on a product with the  teacher serving as venture capitalist, consultant, and motivator and  focus group. Academic disciplines emerge out of need and feedback.

1For an erudite discussion on interdisciplinary innovation see: Blackwell, A. F., Wilson, L., Street, A., Boulton, C., & Knell, J. (2009). Radical innovation: Crossing knowledge boundaries with interdisciplinary teams. University of Cambridge/NESTA Report. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. See http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/techreports/UCAM-CL-TR-760.pdf Retrieved from Google Scholar.

2 ie.
  1. Personal Knowledge (PK) addresses self-concerns and ways of knowing about self
  2. Social Knowledge (SK) addresses social and world issues, from peer to global relationships, and ways of critically examining these.
  3. Explanatory Knowledge (EK) includes content that names, describes, explains, and interprets, including that involved in the systems of knowledge (Life Systems – Biology, Ecology, Anatomy, Physiology, Health; Physical Systems – Geological, Chemical, Physical; Numerical Systems – Statistical, Relational (Algebraic), Spacial (Geometric); Social Systems – Cultural, Political, Organizational, Historical, Economic; Thought Systems – Spirituality, Philosophy, Psychology) Visual and Performing Systems — arts, design, media; as well as commonsense or popular knowledge.
  4. Technical/Twenty First Century (TK) Knowledge incorporates ways of investigating, communicating, analyzing, and expressing in a technologically rich global environment— Research, critical reading and writing, finding, validating, leveraging, and synthesizing Information, mapping, modeling and representing data, communication, collaboration and problem solving, service and leadership. These core strands of knowledge inform an educational experience providing students with a bridge between the personal and social, intellect and experience, wilderness and culture