Interdisciplinary Courseware to the Rescue?

In the midst of all the bling of media-rich, adaptive, personalized, [insert-buzzword-here] digital products, there is a lurking underlying problem:

The general education curriculum in higher education has barely changed. Today’s world is cross-disciplinary, culturally diverse, and team-oriented. There is almost no problem that can be solved in a silo content area with a team of one.

Map showing the interconnected nodes between a variety of subject areas in research.

Interdisciplinary Thinking, from New Scientist’s article “Open your Mind to Interdisciplinary Research”

We need new cross-disciplinary curriculum. We need courses that are more engaging and reflective of today’s real issues. We need courses like these (referenced from my 2009 post on Hacking Higher Education):

  • Trend Analysis (Math + History)
  • Biology and Human Enhancement (Biology + Philosophy)
  • Science of Exercise (Science + Health & PE)
  • Exploring Water Issues (Science + Politics)
  • Design and Digital Presentations (Graphic Design + Communication)
  • Data Analysis and Information Presentation (Statistics, Graphic Design, and Communication)
  • Exploring Recycling and Refuse (Science, Government, and Humanities)
  • Chemistry of Nutrition (Chemistry + Health & PE)
  • Poverty and World Culture (Humanities, Government, and Sociology)
  • Sociology and Psychology of the Web (Sociology + Psychology)
  • How Computers Think (CIS + Philosophy)
  • Art, Media, and Copyright (Fine Arts + Law)
  • Writing for the Digital Age (CIS + Communication + English)
  • Energy (Physics, Chemistry, and Government)
  • Information, Query, and Synthesis (Literacy, Logic, English)

The problem is that very few faculty can teach courses like this without extensive learning or teamwork, and very few authors that could write such a curriculum from scratch.

This is exactly the moment when “digital courseware” should rise to the occasion. Digital courseware could be built to support these kinds of inter-disciplinary courses with a well-designed learning experience (not just text, but formative assessment and designed interactions with students and faculty). It could be multimedia rich, adaptive, personalized, and all that good buzzword stuff.

With a solid digital courseware backbone to support the learning, faculty could be tapped from different disciplines to evaluate work, answer questions, and coach students in their learning. No one faculty member would have to learn all the nuances of the course immediately.

So why aren’t we getting that? Why are we just getting more Algebra, English Comp, and Freshman Biology courses? Because that’s what we keep asking for. We keep saying, “give us better pass rates for these courses we currently teach.” We keep funding the rebuild (and rebuild) of those courses that create retention and graduation pressure in higher education. What if the problem is not the delivery of the course, but in the course itself? What if students are never going to do better in these courses because deep at the heart of the issue, the student knows the course isn’t applicable to the world they live in?

The Big History course (funded by Bill Gates) is an admirable step towards creating a more modern and more interdisciplinary curriculum. MOOCs do not have to pay attention to credit counts, what “department” the course lives in, or how it will or will not count as an elective towards multiple degrees. Consequently, MOOC providers have the freedom to build interesting, modern, and cross-disciplinary courses like The Science of Everyday Thinking (from EdX) or Politics and Economics of International Energy (from Coursera).

But why is it outsiders to education that have to lead these efforts? Educators should begin asking for the “right” curriculum from courseware providers (looking at traditional publishers, digital platforms, and MOOCs). We need to ask for the curriculum we want to teach instead of that which we have always taught.

Of course, courseware providers aren’t going to build something they don’t think has a market yet – and so we have a classic “chicken and egg” problem. This seems like exactly the kind of problem that needs a funding push. If a beautiful digital course on “How Computers Think” or “Poverty and World Culture” became available nationally at a low cost, I’d like to think that institutions and faculty would be able to step up to the challenge of figuring out the rest of the logistics to offer these courses.

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Mindmap for Studying Social Media

For the last two years, I’ve been studying social media from all angles in anticipation of teaching a full course on Social Media (which I did in the Winter 2012 semester).  During that time, I tweeted all sorts of articles, videos, blog posts, and resources related to all aspects of Social Media.

Today I’m doing a 4-hour workshop on Social Media for the MCCVLCC, and in an effort to organize and make sense of two years of study, I decided to build a mindmap about Social Media from all the tweets I’ve made about this in the last year.

View of expanded mindmap for Studying Social Media.


There are eight major branches on the mindmap:

  • Guidelines and Policies
  • The Business of Social Media
  • Studying the Social Network
  • History of Social Networks and Media
  • Social Media and Education
  • Human Relationships
  • Technology and Tools
  • Legal, Ethical, and Privacy Issues

Keep in mind that this is not, by any means, a complete map of Social Media. This is just everything I’ve tweeted related to Social Media in the last year.

Mindmap: Studying Social Media

View of the eight categories of the Studying Social Media mindmap.

NOTE: Due to circumstances I can’t control, you will not be able to view this map from an iPad. Mindomo did just recently put out an App for building a mindmap on iPad, so I suspect viewing mindmaps of other people will be coming soon. Sorry! Please view with a computer for now.

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Tech Tools 2010

Today I was the keynote speaker for Tech Tools 2010 in Scottsdale AZ, which was really fun!

I survived the twitter backchannel (I “called out” the tweeters, according to @soul4real).  This seemed to work really well and I’ll write more about what I did later.  I also got “best dressed presenter ever” for wearing my magic doc martens with silver swirls.


Here are the links to today’s presentations and resources.

GE Plug into the Smart Grid (Augmented Reality)

Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age Mindmap

Careers in the Future

Have PRIDE in what you TEACH. (What did you learn this month?)

Interdisciplinary Studies

Organize Your Digital Self  (Slides or Mindmap)

For future reference, you can find all of my mindmaps, slide decks, and past recorded webinars under Resources in the menu bar on the top of this blog.

Several of you asked this afternoon about the magnifying program I used to magnify web URLs.  It’s called Virtual Magnifying Glass (free, PC, Mac, or Linux).  If you teach anything from the Internet to a room full of people, you should consider using it!

I was also surprised to discover that many participants who are Second Life regulars had not read Neal Stephenson’s book Snow Crash.  Stephenson basically describes “Second Life” (called the metaverse) in Snow Crash, written in 1992.  So if you want to speculate about what Second Life will become, reading Snow Crash would be a good place to start!

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Technology Trip to Hope College

Last week our new Computing & Technology Club (plus a couple faculty) went on a field trip to Hope College to see some of their coolest technology.

We saw lasers, their cluster supercomputers, their 3-D projector, and the particle accelerator. I think the technology that was easiest for the students to understand was the supercomputer and projector. Brent Krueger, Paul Van Allsburg, and Graham Peaslee were our great [Read more…]

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