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THE KNOWLEDGE INTEGRATION REVOLUTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION: CROSSDISCIPLINARY TEACHING AND LEARNING

In my article “Pursuing Science and Patriotism Simultaneously: The Contradictions” just published by Ultimate News, I write that Science as pursued by individuals has many problems, including erosion of genetic diversity, especially of traditional society. I add thus: 

“Science as pursued normally by individuals, has other problems. First, it just ensures the self-actualization and self-glorification of those who have the scientific knowledge and expertise, with minimal benefit to society. Second, because the economy may not absorb them, they run off to foreign lands after wasting time, energy and money training internally at societal cost. So local Society loses in the brain drain. Third, science emphasizes the requirement of proof and evidence, yet the dominant local wisdoms about the most important subjects cannot be demonstrated beyond doubt as science demands. Therefore, the pursuit of science at the expense of social, cultural, moral and ethical consideration in the falsehood that it must be pure, will end up eroding the binding force of local wisdoms that have been time-tested and proved assuring environmental, ecological, social, ethical, spiritual and moral integrity. The attitude of doubt, which science requires, contracts the societal mood of ready acceptance of wisdoms. As Jacques Rousseau says, what keeps society together, is faith, not knowledge. Science, like philosophy, suspends faith during the pursuit of knowledge”.

Apparently, the science that propagates the practice is “disciplinary natural science. This predominates on most university campuses of the world. As if that is not enough, and in an effort to marginalize faith (spirituality), culture, ethics and morality from the exclusive science knowledge enterprise, humanity has separated the arts (humanities) and social science from natural science, yet these are also sciences, and integral to one science of which they are just dimensions. 

I have so far written many articles emphasizing that in this World Wide Web-dominated era, demands intricate integration of knowledge and knowledge workers in integrated teams. The tendency has been to enclose knowledge in small cocoons of knowledge (academic tribes) and assembled in non-interacting broader fields of knowledge – Natural science, Arts, and Social Science (the territories of knowledge). 

In Uganda, the science enterprise has been penetrated politically to further separate knowledge from society, and to render the Arts and Social Science irrelevant in a university setting. The natural scientists, and scholars in related areas of knowledge and professionalism, have been given the impression that they are superior to their colleagues in the Arts and Social Sciences by giving them large emoluments, several times in excess of what scholars in those broad fields of knowledge. It is “divide and rule”, and corruption of the university structure and function in the 21st century.

Uganda’s scientists are part of the global movement of science, which is determined to remove faith from human experience, and which is increasingly immoral and unethical as I emphasized in my article “Billgating Science to conquer God’s Project Nature”. This has integrated Uganda in the abominable global corruption, which is like a movement against humanity, especially in the poorer parts of the world where the goal is to significantly reduce the human population using disciplinary science. 

This brings me to the unconfirmed report that the American government has given the government of Uganda 90 billion dollars to implement what must be a successful malaria vaccination programme. However, critical thinkers are not convinced that this is not without strings attached. They have developed a school of thought that this is part of a global science agenda to exterminate the Black man from the face of the globe.

So, increasingly, global disciplinary science is becoming suspect. This brings me to knowledge integration sciences, also called team science or new knowledge production cultures or systems. Because these put humanity at the centre of their dynamics, they can both expose the plots of global science by broadening minds, enhancing critical thinking and producing future-ready professionals who can question and limit the excesses of global science. 

By now you should be aware that these knowledge systems are interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and extradisciplinarity. If these become a mainstay at most university campuses, they can collectively become humanity’s weapon with which to combat corrupt, destructive global disciplinary science.

I have already written on interdisciplinary teaching and learning in university’s that can open up to new knowledge production systems. This time round I want to write on cross-disciplinary teaching and learning. The question I want to address is “Why is cross-disciplinary teaching and learning necessary?

I hope you are aware that of the six little friends of humanity – Why? How? What? Where? Who? When? the most difficult to address is Why. However, if we want to really know and acquire wisdom, understanding and insights about anything we cannot not avoid asking Why?

I have defined cross-disciplinarity elsewhere as……………… For the purposes of broadening the definition, I will define cross-disciplinarity as “A research attitude exemplified by a tendency to frame research strategies and insights through the lens of a single academic attitude or domain, but tempered by an openness to complementary strategies and insights from other perspectives”. Those who accept this definition have cast it as an example in methodological centrism and pluralism. Such other examples are interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and extradisciplinarity.

What exactly is cross-disciplinary teaching and learning? Or what are cross-disciplinary practices?

The University of Washington, USA, in its “Teaching and Learning Resources: Cross-Disciplinary Practices” states that “Crossdisciplinary practices refer to teaching, learning and scholarship activities that cut across disciplinary boundaries”. It adds that it enables its faculty and staff to leverage cross-unit and community partner collaborations to produce powerful analyses that embrace multiple perspectives and enliven 21st-century solutions.

According to Robo Wunderkind Cross-disciplinary” is a general term used to refer to learning activities which overlap across disciplines but remain connected by a single shared subject. Put another way, cross-disciplinary means that topics are studied by applying methodologies of other – unrelated – disciplines. 

Robo Wunderkind, in advancing the benefits of cross-disciplinary learning, submits thus:

“Nowadays the way we work can be described as cross-disciplinary: people rarely devote themselves to one profession, let alone the fact that the boundaries of one profession often overlap the framework of other disciplines. Therefore, at work, as well as generally in life, it is important to be able to apply knowledge broadly and view things from multiple perspectives, as solutions to one problem don’t lay within one discipline. Accordingly, learning should match the problem-solving patterns of the real world. In that sense, the key is to integrate cross-disciplinary subjects within the curriculum”. Wunderkind, cross-disciplinary learning is deeply beneficial in that it encourages higher motivation and deeper understanding. This approach helps deepen the learning experience and makes it more accessible to transfer ideas across different fields of study. Creating more meaningful learning helps learners to actually reflect on their gained knowledge and later easily apply problem-solving ideas from class to real-world solutions. This is also what I implied in my article on “The Knowledge Integration Revolution in Higher Education: Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning”.

Robo Wunderkind discourses that one of the main aims of cross-disciplinary learning is to teach children to make connections between ideas and concepts across different fields and apply knowledge gained in one discipline to a different one. Robo Wunderkind readily provides such a learning experience. The most exciting thing about Robo Wunderkind is that it is endlessly creative in its use. With little effort, it could be easily implemented in any field as it is so versatile. This approach encourages children to be more creative, inventive and more tech-literate. Additionally, programming the toy by themselves brings a great sense of achievement and encourages children to explore coding even more. This way of learning is almost effortless and extremely beneficial at the same time.  children develop important transferable skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and analysis in the process of programming.

According to SpringerLink, Cross-disciplinary learning refers to learning activities that are related to a subject outside the scope of a discipline without any integration from other disciplines. The study of genetics, for example, crosses several disciplines, including biology, chemistry (e.g., the molecular structure of DNA), and environmental science (e.g., conservation genetics). Additionally, facets of genetics also overlap with mathematics, social studies, and health studies. Cross-disciplinarity means that topics are studied by applying methodologies of unrelated disciplines. Cross-disciplinarity differs from interdisciplinarity: In the case of cross-disciplinarity, the boundaries of disciplines are crossed but no techniques or ideals, while interdisciplinarity blends the practices and assumptions of each discipline involved. While cross-disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity are different

We can thus characterize cross-curricular teaching as an approach that challenges the traditional view of education and invites teachers of different subjects to collaborate and bring multiple disciplines into a single course of teaching, thereby helping learners to make connections 

Jennifer Jensen describes the cross-disciplinary method as “an intentionally planned opportunity for students to learn, practice and transfer problem-solving skills in which teachers from different from multiple disciplines come together to plan their instruction. She says, “Cross-curricular teaching is important because it invites students to exercise several different approaches and draw from different knowledge bases when considering a topic. This mirrors the diverse thinking and problem-solving that happens in the working world while enabling students to see the interconnectedness of knowledge and gain deeper insight into various topics. By taking an active role in the learning, students can create more personalized connections and make sense of what they have learned”.

Jenny Fulton (2019) has described how to make cross-curricular teaching part of a teacher’s plan. She outlines 7 steps to create interesting curriculum connections:

  1. Communicate with supervisors

Before you even consider implementing this at the classroom level, you’ll need to talk to your supervisors. They may already have a system in place to support cross-curricular teaching. If not, share your desire to incorporate other disciplines into your class period, and get their feedback to see if it would be feasible. There may be logistics (such as grading) you’ll need to work out.

  1. Create a concept map

If we want our students to see and understand the connections between various subject areas, we need to make sure that we can see them. One way to do this is to create a concept map with your objective. Then, brainstorm all the curriculum connections you could incorporate into the project. For example, the students could create a survey of their classmates’ opinions on the topic and graph the results (math). You could have the project based on real issues that people faced in the past (history). The students might read books about their topic (reading fluency, comprehension, or literature), create visual aids (art), and, of course, demonstrate good grammar, spelling, and handwriting (or typing) skills.

  1. Integrate those subjects

Using the concept map developed above, begin planning concrete ways that you can integrate other skills into your main lesson and use those skills to reinforce your lesson objective. You could reinforce a lesson by having students write their own story problem

  1. Plan thematic units

Thematic units take one central idea and apply it in various ways to many subject areas. Thematic units take one central idea and apply it in various ways to many subject areas. History, geography, and science topics are particularly fun to do this with. Writing assignments could also align with what is being learned and would provide an opportunity to dive further into the topics.

  1. Combine lessons

Rather than having separate time slots for each subject, you could teach and grade those different lessons together in one sitting. For example, in one 45-minute class period, you might share some information about World War II (history), have the students take turns reading aloud from a book set during that time (reading/literature), and then have them compose a response (writing).

  1. Engage in project-based learning

Projects are great ways to teach and encourage students to utilize multiple skills. Rather than teaching the students all about World War II yourself, you could divide the class into groups and have each group research and present information about their chosen topic. Some of the cross-curricular tasks could include finding, reading, and summarizing both nonfiction resources and historical-fiction books; making a map of the war, noting any locations that played pivotal roles; creating a timeline with the most important events; and utilizing posters or PowerPoint to present the information. You could also give each student or group a Classcraft quest to complete that would include cross-curricular activities and assignments. These could easily count toward grades in multiple subjects.

Collaborate with other teachers           

If you only teach one subject (or a few), there are several to collaborate with other teachers. There are three types of collaboration

  1. Aligned collaboration

Teachers get together and plan out their year so that they are teaching related themes at similar times.

  1. Cooperative collaboration

Instructors agree to help each other teach the material and maintain a consistent approach. For example, essays written in history would follow the format taught in the English class, and any math performed in science would match concepts taught in math. Teachers may also borrow resources from each other and can even jointly teach the material.

  1. Conceptual collaboration

Instructors join forces to teach closely related concepts. This approach can be particularly fun for both the instructors and the students. It’s a great way for everyone to bond and learn in a single setting!

In summary, Crossdisciplinary teaching and learning produces graduates and scholars we need to appreciate our world and solve its and our problems. We need to change from disciplinarity to cross-disciplinarity to reorient our academia towards creating a cadre of graduates and scholars who are comfortable engaging in critical thinking and interacting integrated for sustainability and producing future-ready citizens.

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Written by Oweyegha Afunaduula (2)

I am a retired lecturer of zoological and environmental sciences at Makerere University. I love writing and sharing information.

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KNOWLEDGE INTEGRATION REVOLUTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION: INTERDISCIPLINARITY

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