Faculty Renewal through Interdisciplinary Collaboration

By West, Glenn R. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, February 1999 | Go to article overview
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Faculty Renewal through Interdisciplinary Collaboration

West, Glenn R., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance

College faculty members, particularly those in specialty areas, regularly confront the challenge of teaching the same few courses in novel ways in order to avoid boredom or burnout (Di Geronimo, 1985; Kaikai & Kaikai, 1990; Marlow, 1996). In fact, the literature on faculty burnout often cites boredom with course content as a common condition associated with burnout (Altshuler & Richter, 1985; Armour, 1987). Boredom in the classroom may be difficult to conceal from students, who may respond with apathy, thereby reinforcing a downward motivational spiral for faculty and students alike (Agte, 1984).

One solution to the problem is to teach a greater variety of courses (Rice & Austin, 1988), but this is often impossible. A professor may be the only member of the faculty qualified to teach in a specific area, and people in other roles may also be unable to vary their schedules (Dick, 1985). A professor with a four-course teaching load each semester with four or more course preparations each year, numerous advisees, and committee assignments simply may not have time to develop a new course to break the monotony. How, then, can faculty members renew their enthusiasm in the courses they teach frequently?

The "Linked Courses" Concept

Increasingly, teachers at all educational levels are seeking collaborative teaching opportunities with faculty in other disciplines in an effort to demonstrate the connectedness of knowledge (Haber, 1991; Page, 1992; Riley & Cardillo, 1998). An important benefit of this activity is that a participating teacher interacts closely with a colleague for an academic term. This relationship typically results in a synergy that inspires renewed effort in one's own discipline as well as curiosity about the other discipline. The connected curriculum may be organized in any number of ways. At Georgetown College we offer a program of "linked courses" in which students enroll for both courses that are linked. It may be significant that our Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies is one of the most active departments on campus in this program.

Examples of Linked Courses

The first linked course in our department was Lifetime Fitness, which seeks to instill values for healthful lifestyles. This one-credit-hour course, required of all first-year students, was linked to an introductory course in public speaking. A common concern voiced by professors of the speech course was that students regularly complained that they could not find topics on which to speak. The various topics covered in Lifetime Fitness nutrition, drug and alcohol abuse, physical fitness, tobacco, and other - provided fertile ground in which to sow and germinate ideas for class presentations.

The courses were scheduled back-to-back, with each professor having a free hour during the other course time. This scheduling enabled each professor to participate in the other's classes as a partner. It also provided a block of two hours that could be spent with students for intensive work on projects. The result was a seamless educational experience that bridged the two fields by means of a course project.

The course project involved developing a campus-wide presentation on a health/fitness-related topic. Everyone in the class was assigned a piece of the project. Several students were chosen to research the topic; others identified an off-campus keynote speaker in order to attract members of the college community to the event; still others were elected to deliver brief presentations related to the keynote address. Because the students were actively engaged in the decision-making process and largely responsible for the ultimate success or failure of the project, they enthusiastically developed an outstanding program that received high praise from the entire campus community. The course evaluations reflected the positive attitude of the students, and the linked professors reported a tremendous sense of accomplishment and renewed vitality.

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