Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration to Engage Diverse Researchers

Article excerpt

Grounded as a self-study using arts-based inquiry to explore the experiences of six university faculty members participating in a cross-disciplinary faculty development program, the purpose of this paper is to (1) describe the Madison Research Fellows (MRF) program, and (2) explore the impact of the MRF program. Participating members included assistant professors and researchers in the disciplines of education, sociology, biology, psychology, business and information systems, and instructional technology for distance education. The MRF program described in this paper may provide a model for others who aim to create similar cross-disciplinary collaborations in institutes of higher education.

Institutes of higher education naturally contain networks of professional researchers and educators with specialized expertise across vast fields of knowledge. Unfortunately, university faculty members are often isolated in their individual disciplines with little opportunity to tap into the diversity around them in systematic ways (Diversity and Organizational Leadership in Higher Education, 2006; Schlemper & Monk, 2011). Such cross-disciplinary collaboration can stimulate critical interactions leading to the formation of new perspectives and interdisciplinary research. Because faculty bring richly varied processes of self-authorship to their roles in educational and research paradigms, effective faculty development should include explorations of knowledge that interact with the understandings of others (Lankshear, Snyder, & Green, 2000; Siegel, 2007).

The Center for Faculty Innovation at James Madison University (JMU) developed the Madison Research Fellows (MRF) program to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration by providing an organized structure for faculty to interact with others from various fields. The goal of the MRF program was to create a shared discourse community, as described by Borg (2003), where diverse members actively choose to communicate, question, share, and pursue academic goals related to research. The purpose of this paper is to (1) describe the MRF program, and (2) explore the impact the MRF program had on a group of six diverse researchers. Our hope is that the described program may provide a model for others who aim to create similar cross-disciplinary collaborations.

The MRF program of 2011-2012 frames this paper; we, the authors, were the Madison Research Fellows for that academic year. The first section of this paper describes the MRF program, detailing its guiding principles as well as the products and processes we developed for 2011-2012. In the second section, we describe our academic backgrounds to provide insight into the perspectives we brought to the program. We examine the impact the MRF program had on us as researchers in the third section. In this section, we also discuss how the process of creating a group typography representing the experience contributed to the program.

The Madison Research Fellows Program

The Center for Faculty Innovation (2012) at JMU developed the Madison Research Fellows (MRF) program in the fall of 2009 to provide faculty across all academic disciplines with the opportunity to enhance their research. Each academic year, a new group of participating faculty meets regularly to share research ideas and provide feedback to others. Discussions are contextualized around themes identified by the Center for Faculty Innovation (CFI). For 2011-2012, the theme was human diversity. Themes from the previous years were multi-disciplinary investigation of evolutionary processes (2009-2010) and mind+brain collaboration (2010-2011).

The MRF program aims to create a small intentional community of diverse faculty to stimulate intellectual debate and cross-fertilization of ideas from varied perspectives and academic fields. The program's guiding principles are:

* the process of intellectual inquiry and engagement are "at the heart of a university's academic mission,

* ongoing and sustained intellectual engagement among colleagues produces a flexible mind and enhances the intellectual life of a university,

* faculty members are more excited and engaged in their classroom experiences when given the opportunity to exchange and debate ideas with colleagues, and

* challenging and supportive environments for faculty scholarship contribute to a heightened sense of intellectual stimulation" (CFI, 2012). …