By modeling the results of interdisciplinary projects and collaborations, and by making these projects and collaborations visible and accessible! ALOT of interdisciplinary work is going on at Columbia, and there have been many attempts to clarify and build on interdisciplinarity in the past.
The following excerpt is from a report on student-centered interdisciplinarity authored by a subcommittee of the Faculty Senate Academic Affairs Committee last year. This report was created in an attempt to "identify, from past research and from discussions with our colleagues, the most insistent challenges, those impediments that time and again keep students from effectively engaging in and faculty from fully developing collaborative and/or interdisciplinary projects and experiences."
• Students and faculty are largely unaware of the variety of interdisciplinary or collaborative courses already offered.
• Lack of knowledge of one another in different departments and schools—including lack of knowledge of other departments’ curriculum, degree programs, facilities and their students’ skills and interests—hinders collaboration and interdisciplinary work on a broad scale.
• Many of the interdisciplinary offerings that exist currently are examples of “simple” collaborations, whereas “complex” collaboration would require the more difficult transactions across schools within the college.
• Students can’t always articulate what they’d like to be a part of or how to get there, especially for an entrepreneurial project. They may have an interest or skill they’d like to use with other students inside or outside their department, but aren’t able to find others with complementary skills who can help them create something tangible.
• Students are not advised to be more intentional about their coursework, and schedules are often comprised first of requirements and then electives, and the electives might be chosen solely based on day and time, and not on content.
• Students need pathways, advising and outreach from the Advising Center, the Portfolio Center, the schools and the departments to help link them with other students.
• Columbia has had several initiatives to foster an environment of faculty collaboration and shared curriculum, however the existing reporting and budgeting processes have never provided the incentives and operational logistics to the faculty and administration to actively engage in these efforts.
• There is lack of dedicated resources such as a permanent and appropriate space where students, faculty and staff can play/work/learn without restriction.
• The message to “Live what you love” might benefit from a cultural shift in how we approach and ultimately deliver our programs to our students. Students currently are admitted and are funneled directly into specific majors (through Orientation, advising, etc.) with prescribed degree requirement that leave little to no room for exploration or experience outside of a major. (This contributes to the specialty culture described in section one of this report.)
• Although First-Year Seminar introduces students to interdisciplinary experiences, there isn’t a mechanism in the Core curriculum that reinforces this holistic educational approach as students move beyond their first year.
• Interdisciplinary and/or collaborative projects must be built in to classroom assignments to make the best use of student time and funds. Students could also benefit from oversight and monitoring from staff and faculty for self-started projects, and it’s difficult for that to happen outside of a credit-bearing class.
• We are almost certain to have a new set of college-wide Core requirements (Dr. Kim has been very vocal about this, and it is likely the incoming Provost will have this as a priority, as well.) The College could consider Interdisciplinary courses as a requirement in the new distribution.
This will mandate clear criteria for identifying this category of courses and also additional review and quality control. But this is certainly one way to visibly support students’ curricular interdisciplinary experience.
• One of the most important contributors to the future growth of our school is the ability to offer interdisciplinary majors that allow students to customize their learning experiences based on their skills as well as their career aspirations.
The need for this type of major is exhibited by the rising number of students taking courses outside their major in several key technology- driven departments that focus on Online Production and Distribution. The ability to customize curriculum based on students’ career potential and goals, coupled with a rigorous oversight of the contributing interdisciplinary courses, will position the college to offer innovative programs of instruction that meet student, academic, and business needs with a flexible and constantly improving curriculum.
The Interdisciplinary major, and other models of customization, however can only be a part of a larger cultural shift toward interdisciplinarity. Customization of majors encourages students to think across boundaries of discipline, but don’t require that we, as faculty, engage in the same risk-taking interdisciplinary culture shift. Also, interdisciplinary work, as noted in the culture section, runs the risk of seeming sloppy. A real shift in culture needs faculty leadership, a grounding in hybrid practice, and room to experiment.
• The existing Interdisciplinary Major should be modified with the following requirements: 1) a series of foundational courses gathered from existing courses across the college; 2) a sequence of specialized classes for the interdisciplinary student; 3) flexibility for students to construct their final major requirements with learning outcomes overseen by contributing faculty.
• In order for the college to offer innovative programs of instruction that meet student, academic, and business needs with a flexible and constantly improving curriculum the faculty must be untethered from the traditional program development and approval cycles.
• Develop an Interdisciplinary Curriculum Governance Model. Creating a new model for interdisciplinary curriculum development and approval will allow faculty to work collaboratively on interdisciplinary majors. Students will benefit from having the best courses taught by the best instructors regardless of school or department. Majors that span creative practices across school boundaries will be able to be developed using new models of budgeting and governance.
• Rather than focusing on faculty-driven prescribed or forced interdisciplinary courses, we recommend developing opportunities for students that are relevant to them, that center on a theme - or even a single object, i.e. “smartphone” as new Provost Wearden described in one of his forums – led by faculty from varied disciplines to introduce, explore, experiment beyond the known.
• With respect to technology and its role in delivering the means to an end, technology is but a tool that in the visual and performing arts is not always required or even desired. There is a concern that the emphasis placed on technological needs for our students will overshadow the importance of critical analysis, thought, creativity, resourcefulness and other skills that are also required for living a life you love.
• With reservation, we support the idea of allowing customization of existing degree programs to better serve students. How would this differ from the existing Interdisciplinary Major? A larger group would be needed for this discussion in order to develop this idea and implement it within existing systems and structures in order to make this a seamless process that will work with and for all college stakeholders and our students. Again, it is important that we do not build models that encourage students to run back and forth between disciplines, rather than building a new, fresh interdisciplinary culture.
• Develop new administrative management systems for faster and more efficient cross- and inter-communication between departments, departmental consortiums (e.g., Visual Arts departments of A+D, Fashion Studies and Photography) across campus.
• With President Kim’s commitment to “shape a consistent institutional narrative about ourselves”, we recommend there be 1) a repository for students/faculty/ staff to upload interdisciplinary/cross-disciplinary/ collaborative student/faculty/staff opportunities and ongoing experiences and 2) a single, dedicated web presence where these can be found.
Please see the report in its entirety uploaded below for the full discussion of cultural obstacles, current curriculum and curricular challenges, issues surrounding support and incentives, and the need for dedicated space (physical, virtual and/or conceptual).