Academic journal article Education

General Education, Interdisciplinary Pedagogy and the Process of Content Transformation

Academic journal article Education

General Education, Interdisciplinary Pedagogy and the Process of Content Transformation

Article excerpt

Interdisciplinary pedagogy for students is nothing new to academia, since the inception of universities in the United States much debate has focused on the merits of core curriculum integrating disciplines (Rury, 1996). Educators state that while philosophically interdisciplinary teaching within a General Education framework has been supported, pragmatically it has received little support. Most programs of General Education either undergo frequent change as departments vie for power or General Education programs are ignored (Irvin, 1996; Twombly 1922; Arnold and Civian 1997; Meacham and Ludwig 1997 and others). In 1995 at James Madison University it was announced by the University President and central administration that a new General Education requirement would be developed, and all programs and all departments were directed and encouraged to create new components for this curriculum. The intent from the administration's standpoint was to develop a general education package that would not compartmentalize course offerings and students' learning experiences like the typical "Liberal Arts Program" had done for decades.

As one might find at traditional universities, JMU's Liberal Studies Program was divided into specific units: composition, fine arts, history, literature, mathematics, natural science, oral communication, philosophy/religion, physical education, social sciences, and cultural studies. The philosophy behind this concept was that when a student had mastered these specific content areas, along with their major area of concentration and study, they were thus prepared to enter the world equipped to deal with the challenges that the average college graduate was expected to meet successfully. A special General Education Task Force had been in the process of analyzing these variables and completed an intensive investigative review before this paradigm was created.

As our society has grown increasingly diversified, various scholars felt that this concept of compartmentalization of the "general components" of higher education was not adequately meeting the demands that college graduates were facing. JMU decided to take a major step in the direction of altering this well accepted concept of liberal studies education by utilizing a philosophy that promotes the cultivation of habits of the mind and heart that are essential to the functioning of informed citizens in a democracy and world community.

The General Education Program at JMU committed itself to helping students develop their ability to reason and make ethical choices, to appreciate beauty and understand the natural and social worlds they live in, and to recognize the importance of the past and work towards a better future. One of the primary goals of this program is to prepare students to become flexible thinkers and life-long learners by providing a strong foundation of knowledge, skills, and experiences expected of all educated people within our society in this century. It is believed that this core of knowledge, skills, and experiences transcends every major and professional program and is essential for successful and rewarding personal lives and careers. This is achieved primarily by encouraging students to become active in their own education and deliberate in making good choices for themselves and in connections with others.

As our society continues to make incredible changes in almost all dimensions of life, it is increasingly important that students learn how to create knowledge out of the vast amounts of available information and place that knowledge in its appropriate contexts. The role of the General Education Program at JMU is to introduce these concepts within large, often competing contexts, since knowledge seldom develops in isolation. One of the unique cornerstones of this program is that students come to understand how distinct disciplines look at the world from different vantage points, using different methodologies, different tools, and different kinds of answers, reasons, or evidence. …

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