THE INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES PROGRAM IN TEACHER EDUCATION
Many people contend that the most pressing concerns facing people in our globalized society require a complex synthesis of knowledge stemming from the intersection of multiple disciplines. A growing number of interdisciplinary initiatives in higher education have shed light on the need for (and difficulties of) interdisciplinary program development. Interdisciplinary programs have increased in higher education; however, many have met with difficulties in implementation in the absence of strong foundational theory, adequate curriculum, and well-defined aims (Boix-Mansilla, 2010). This descriptive/analytical paper seeks to bring into focus the oft times tumultuous task of designing and implementing an interdisciplinary studies (IDS) program at a major state university. The university itself is significant due to the fact that it is one of the largest Hispanic serving institutions in the nation. As the demographics of the country continue to show a rise in the Hispanic population, universities that service this growing group will also continue to move to the forefront in higher education.
The IDS program, which is the "major" for undergraduate teacher education students seeking elementary, special, bilingual, ESL (English as a Second Language), middle level and early childhood certification at this large state university, does not escape the challenges noted by Boix-Mansilla. This program was developed in response to the state legislature's call in the 1980s for more content knowledge and liberal studies in teacher education and the elimination of 'education' as a major. Universities throughout the state were mandated to offer interdisciplinary studies or separate disciplinary programs as "majors" for teachers to replace previous degrees in education. Few interdisciplinary studies programs, however, evolved into anything more than interdisciplinary studies programs with course work in separate subject areas study of math, science, social studies, and literacy education offered in segregated courses.
Conversely, the IDS program at this university under the leadership of faculty in education with a strong humanities background, created a synoptic interdisciplinary approach that blends knowledge from diverse disciplines to create new knowledge across and beyond existing disciplines (Klein, 1990). Five core courses integrate science, humanities, math, social issues, literature, art, and history that culminate with a student initiated capstone project that relies on primary sources, self-reflective practice and sustained inquiry. In the beginning, tenure-track faculty from the humanities, sciences and education collaboratively designed and team taught in the program, and the program was housed separately with its own director and faculty. Faculty from across the university taught in the program and met regularly as a unit. Curriculum making, according to these founders, was an exhilarating, albeit complex cross-disciplinary process.
After the founding professor's retirement in 2000, the program waned for some years. The rapid growth of the university, the establishment of separate colleges, and the pursuit of research status diverted faculty attention away from this program. A new coordinator, with expertise in environmental science, was hired in 2004 to work with faculty. Courses titles and course descriptions were revised to better reflect the contemporary needs of students (see Table 6.1). Five new or revised core courses were approved by the faculty and are now required for all education majors in special, elementary, early childhood, bilingual, ESL (English as a Second Language), and middle level childhood programs. Three years ago, a second senior faculty (the first author here) with expertise in curriculum studies was hired to advance the program.
During the 2008-09 school year, the small but enthusiastic IDS program faculty convened in a year-long study group to articulate new directions for the program. …