Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

The World Studies Extended Essay: Challenging Students on Global Issues - an Interdisciplinary Approach

Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

The World Studies Extended Essay: Challenging Students on Global Issues - an Interdisciplinary Approach

Article excerpt

The world Studies Extended Essay (WSEE) is a challenging but rewarding experience that allows students to explore issues of global significance through an interdisciplinary approach. They are able to 'integrate knowledge and modes of thinking from two [...] disciplines in order to [...] offer explanations in ways that would not have been possible through single disciplinary means' (BoixMansilla and Dawes, 2007: 219).

As a consequence they must think critically and creatively about these issues, and develop the intellectual rigour of synthesising multiple perspectives in tackling real, locally-grounded and personally relevant research questions. It is a unique and exciting opportunity to engage with an increasingly widespread appreciation for the knowledge, skills and aptitudes that interdisciplinarity promotes.

This was the argument presented in the first part of this paper, which was published in International Schools Journal vol XXXII No.2 April 2013. Explored through an understanding of the role of interdisciplinarity within the context of the International Baccalaureate, and the development of the WSEE within this, it has contributed to an emerging and on-going discussion about introducing Diploma Programme students to the main tenets of interdisciplinary thinking, and furthering their appreciation of the complexity of contemporary global issues.

Part two of this discussion, presented here, argues that whilst the WSEE is viewed as a major development in the place of interdisciplinarity within the Diploma Programme, the challenges, as well as the rewards, need to be considered. More specifically, it will argue that given the complexity inherent within interdisciplinary thinking and in particular the assessment of it, careful consideration has been given in the design of the assessment model to ensure that it provides the rigour demanded by assessment regimes, and at the same time allows for sufficient opportunities for students to creatively explore global issues within an interdisciplinary framework.

Facing the challenges of interdisciplinary work

Whilst, as an organisation, the IB is strongly committed to the role of interdisciplinary understanding - in both the Primary Years Programme and Middle Years Programme the standards and practices require that there is transdisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity respectively - and its complementary role to disciplinary learning, this is not without its challenges.

One concern that has been raised is with regard to the assessment of the WSEE against the more traditional disciplinary Extended Essays (EE) and this is certainly something that the assessment staff and curriculum development staff of the IB have been cognisant of and have considered carefully. In terms of the assessment of the WSEE within the EE framework, 'whilst the impetus of interdisciplinary work is to move students beyond the disciplinary boundaries' which limit their understanding of particular world issues, there are elements of disciplinary research which are consistent within the interdisciplinary framework (Boix-Mansilla and Gardner 2003: 5).

For example, Boix-Mansilla and Gardner argue that accepted methodology, dominant conceptualisations and epistemic values are common to both disciplinary and interdisciplinary work (2003: 6). In many respects one might argue that the adoption or borrowing of what might be considered to be the theories and methods of disciplines inform the 'acceptability' of interdisciplinary outcomes (BoixMansilla and Gardner 2003: 6).

And, in determining the disciplinary lenses through which to explore their global issue, students of the WSEE are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts, methodologies and theories of these. However, the focus of the assessment here is not on this understanding but on how well the particular disciplinary lenses advance a students' understanding of a global issue.

Whilst it has been accepted practice and belief within education that the 'disciplinary canon was used as a parameter against which work was assessed in terms of perceived credibility' (Boix-Mansilla and Gardner2003: 6), the transcending of disciplinary boundaries is also regarded highly. …

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