Transdisciplinarity on Paper: How do interdisciplinary faculty translate university initiatives into the classroom?
Ozkan, Desen Sevi
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University-level transdisciplinary initiatives have become prevalent as institutions reorient disciplines around complex problems that are relevant to society. Transdisciplinary research initiatives, like those of interdisciplinarity in the previous decade, are reinforced by federal funding agencies because of their potential to yield technological innovation, and in turn, economic growth. However, the sustained development of transdisciplinary or interdisciplinary curriculum design remains limited due to the multiple competing factors that govern the curriculum. This dissertation research focuses on the implementation of the transdisciplinary initiative as it pertains to interdisciplinary curriculum design. I use public institutional documents to trace the transdisciplinary institutional initiative as it is enacted at different university levels and interviews to understand the initiatives in practice, drawing from administrators, faculty, and staff experiences as they develop interdisciplinary courses. Many university-level initiatives that purport transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary education fall short in their implementation because of academic structures that directly or indirectly inhibit sustainable interdisciplinary curricula. Instead, administrative organizations like the Registrar's Office, Office of Integrated General Education, and Transdisciplinary Initiative Office develop networks and artifacts that connect faculty who have experience bypassing academic structures with faculty who seek out these forms of institutional support. These emergent practices are an adaptation to the university system rather than a proactive measure that facilitates the large-scale structural change claimed by university-level transdisciplinary initiatives. This study contributes to the understanding of potential long-term implications through the examination of interrelated university initiatives as they exist through metrics and incentives provided by the upper administration and experiences of faculty and staff in developing interdisciplinary courses.
General Audience Abstract
There is a trend in universities across the United States of implementing initiatives that incentivize departments to focus their research and teaching on complex problems that span different disciplines. These initiatives are attractive to potential university donors due to their perceived societal relevance and reinforced by external funding agencies because of their potential to yield technological innovation. These initiatives can be short-lived, however, as they seek to disrupt the traditional university structure. The purpose of this study is to examine how faculty and staff translate and negotiate the complex university structures and initiatives as they design interdisciplinary courses. I use public institutional documents to trace the transdisciplinary institutional initiative as it is enacted at different university levels and interviews to understand the initiatives in practice, drawing from administrators, faculty, and staff experiences as they develop interdisciplinary courses. The findings show that even for faculty and staff working to create interdisciplinary classes in alignment with these initiatives, they are faced with challenges as the initiatives are limited in their structural reorientation. Instead, mid-tier administrative organizations have developed networks and artifacts that connect those who have experience bypassing academic structures with those who express interest in following their lead. This study includes a discussion of broader socio-political and economic factors that contextualizes layers of faculty and staff experiences, administrator perspectives, and the university's public messaging through the historical legacies of academia, the economy, and society at large.
- Doctoral Dissertations