4/29/06

Interdisciplinarity Through University Online Course Schedules


Here's a simple way to use existing technology that encourages building bridges for faculty and students.



It involves online course registration and course listing. When students look for a course in Communication, e.g., say on "Media and Political Communication" courses related to it appear under that course which students may also want.



So, on the web:



COMM 310 MEDIA AND POLITICAL COMMUNICATION 3 CREDITS

* See also [link: Philosophy of Media, Philosophy Department]

* See also [link: Speech in the Public Sphere, English Department]



My idea here has a simple rationale: people are interested in ideas first, disciplines second. Why should any student rest content with a COMM class if an English class more closely suits their interests? Universities should guide students through their course offerings in a way that pays homage to an intellectual path being explored rather than to a departments enrollment figures.



What's the technology involved? Every course is entered in the course catalog with keywords that will include other course titles. A student searches for a course and finds a main hit, but also sees suggested and related hits (say two at the most). Libraries use technology like this all the time, and so does Amazon.com. A student should never hit a dead end while searching for a course; they should have trails that lead elsewhere in the university, if possible.



What happens academically down the line? Departments start to see in their own course listings the relations between their departments and others that they did not see before; they see, for example, that someone in philosophy, biology, and history are all concerned with how scientific knowledge is communicated to the public--students and, more importantly, those three faculty, are made aware of one another. Interdisciplinary connections begin to be made organically, growing out of mutual interest. This leads, perhaps, to team teaching, panels, and cooperative grant proposals.



It's a small idea, but maybe a big payoff.