Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education


Date of this Version



Essays on Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy (1998-1999) 10(4)

A publication of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education


Copyright 1999, Deborah DeZure. Used by permission


Interdisciplinary initiatives are proliferating throughout higher education at an unprecedented rate (Edwards, 1996; Gaff and Ratcliff, 1997; Klein, 1996). They can be found in general education, replacing and augmenting distribution requirements; in emerging disciplines, such as cultural and gender studies, environmental studies, and neuroscience; in new curricular designs, such as learning communities, capstone courses, and service learning; and in the new pedagogies, such as collaborative learning, discovery and problembased learning, and the use of technology, particularly the Internet for instruction.

If we want our students to engage in complex intellectual tasks to integrate the insights of different disciplines, then lets join them in that task, modeling it and sharing the difficulties and the richness of its possibilities. Interdisciplinarity is not a rejection of the disciplines. It is firmly rooted in them but offers a corrective to the dominance of disciplinary ways of knowing and specialization. As Newell (1998) points out, we need the depth and focus of disciplinary ways of knowing, but we also need interdisciplinarity to broaden the context and establish links to other ways of constructing knowledge. It is this dialectic between analysis and synthesis that provides the creative tension from which we will all benefit in a world in which crossing intellectual boundaries is increasingly the norm.