Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Boundary Breaking for Interdisciplinary Learning

Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Boundary Breaking for Interdisciplinary Learning

Article excerpt

Responsible Editor: Carlo Perrotta, University of Leeds, United Kingdom.

Copyright: © 2015 A. Kidron and Y. Kali. Research in Learning Technology is the journal of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), a UK-based professional and scholarly society and membership organisation. ALT is registered charity number 1063519. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

Received: 31 October 2014; Accepted: 27 September 2015; Published: 28 October 2015

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The 21st century and the 'knowledge revolution' pose challenges that demand different ways of thinking and the development of new skills. One of the critical skills is the ability to think and integrate knowledge across disciplines and to understand the relations between fields of knowledge (Frodeman 2010). Developing such an interdisciplinary understanding requires a learning process through which learners integrate insights and modes of thinking from a number of disciplines to advance their understanding of a topic which is beyond the scope of a single discipline. Boix-Mansilla (2010) refers to such a learning process as interdisciplinary learning . But when we turn to higher education institutions, as key players in preparing young people to cope with the challenges that this century poses, we find that although there are theories and pedagogical approaches that have the potential to promote interdisciplinary learning, it seems that current academic organisational structures are typically geared towards instruction that compartmentalises disciplines, instead of providing students with the tools for integrating knowledge (Salomon 1991). In fact, it is argued (e.g. by Christensen et al . 2011) that colleges and universities are in the midst of a complex crisis and are, therefore, expected to rethink their traditional goals and practices, in the face of competition from newer alternatives such as online education. Taking a disruptive innovation stance, one should 'rethink the age-old assumptions about higher education' (Christensen et al . 2011, p. 4). The current work suggests a rethinking of three traditional practices that tend to characterise typical higher-education instruction: (1) compartmentalisation of disciplines; (2) traditional pedagogy; and (3) traditional hierarchies based on levels of expertise.

The purpose of this work is to contribute to the body of knowledge that explains the processes by which students develop interdisciplinary understanding of contents, as well as to suggest technology-enhanced means for supporting students in these processes in the context of higher education. Our high-level conjecture (Sandoval 2014) is that interdisciplinary understanding entails a deep understanding of disciplinary ideas, simultaneously combined with the ability to see connections between different disciplinary ideas in several domains, and that these abilities are gained through meaningful dialogue and exposure to a diversity of ideas and ways of thinking.

In order to promote interdisciplinary understanding, we developed the Boundary Breaking for Interdisciplinary Learning (BBIL) model, which harnesses technology to address the limitations described above regarding compartmentalisation, traditional pedagogy and organisational hierarchies.

The BBIL model refers to three perspectives:

1. From the curricular perspective , the model seeks to address the compartmentalisation challenge by technology-enhanced features, designed to promote interdisciplinary understanding and focusing on a cross-cutting theme to help learners integrate knowledge from several disciplinary lenses;

2. …

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