|Home | Archives | About | Login | Submissions | Notify | Contact | Search|
Copyright © 2002 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.
The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Benbasat, J. A. and C. L. Gass. 2002. Reflections on integration, interaction, and community: the Science One program and beyond. Conservation Ecology 5(2): 26. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol5/iss2/art26/
To print the entire article (including any tables, figures, or appendices), use this link to the unified version of the article.
To print separate parts of the article, click in the frame containing that part (text, figure, table, or appendix) before choosing File, Print.
Synthesis, part of Special Feature on Interactive Science Education Reflections on Integration, Interaction, and Community: the Science One Program and Beyond Jülyet Aksiyote Benbasat and Clifton Lee Gass
University of British Columbia
We describe three interrelated programs in interdisciplinary, undergraduate science education, two at the first-year level and the third an upper-division degree program. They are administered through the Faculty of Science, rather than through individual departments, and are taught by multidisciplinary teams of professors from various departments.
In contrast to many programs discussed in the literature, these programs are intended for majors and honors students in all scientific disciplines. They aim to develop transferable skills and a broad outlook on science, in addition to a rigorous foundation in disciplinary knowledge. Interactive engagement and integration of content across disciplines are at the core of the approach.
Each program brings together a strong community of scholars that includes students, faculty, staff, and administrators. We explore the benefits of these communities to students and describe the attraction and challenges for the faculty and students who work in them. In that context, we discuss institutional challenges that we faced in creating and sustaining those communities, and in disseminating the ideas on which they are based. In conclusion, we consider the general problem of designing and implementing cross-disciplinary programs.
KEY WORDS: Integrated Sciences program, Science One program, University of British Columbia, diffusion of innovation, integration of knowledge, interactive engagement, interdisciplinary programs, interdisciplinary science education, learning community, university administration.
Published: January 9, 2002
Se hace el camino al andar.
You make the pathway while you walk.)
Over the last decade, an interdisciplinary community of undergraduate science students, staff, faculty, and administrators has been developing at the University of British Columbia. This community brings together interested parties from the Faculties of Science, Agriculture, Applied Science, Arts, Education, Forestry, and Medicine, as well as the School of Human Kinetics. As a community, we envisage ways to make undergraduate science education more effective, given various assumptions about our goals. The professionals in our community apply these ideas in developing and teaching curricula, and the students apply them as active participants in their own education. Because some of our innovations challenge bureaucratic traditions and are fairly expensive, their success depends on administrators embracing them as well.
We describe here a set of innovations in undergraduate science education that manifest fundamental ideas about how people learn, how others can assist them, and how administrative infrastructures can facilitate these processes. Three of the innovations are programs that contain courses, and the fourth is a lecture series that informally supports the others, independent of curriculum. The stakeholders, the protectors, and the beneficiaries of these innovations are distributed throughout the Faculty of Science and beyond, as a network, rather than being concentrated in any one department or discipline. We discuss the importance of this dispersion of influence and diffusion of ideas, which we consider essential, particularly in terms of infrastructural factors that determine the growth, evolution, and sustainability of programs. Together, these programs establish an environment based on teamwork that is conducive to cross-disciplinary understanding and that engages participants in conversation about what they do and don't know. How this unfolds and how well it works depend on the composition and dynamics of the teams, which change yearly.
We want you to understand the programs as semiautonomous programs (Simon 1973) rather than as detached courses within departments. We will describe, from several perspectives, how they fit together and what they demonstrate about students, professors, and administrators, and about large, complex institutions like research universities, which tend to resist change. We want you to appreciate how students and faculty work in these programs, and how that experience contributes to their intellectual and professional growth. More generally, we want you to understand how these programs contribute to the overall quality of undergraduate science education in our institution and what it has been like to teach and administer them, especially in the economically trying times of the last decade.
We will describe the innovations in sufficient detail to communicate their flavor, and offer observations about their effectiveness. We will discuss how we implemented ideas about how people learn and how institutions can function, then describe the risks and opportunities we encountered, in the hopes of encouraging others who may want to embark on similar adventures. What we express here are our own experiences and our views about them, but in no sense are the innovations "ours." They emerged from discussions among members of a large, informally constituted team that comprised many faculty members, several administrators, and many more students. Wherever we refer to "we" or "our," therefore, we refer to the community at large. Although our experience spans the entire history of these programs, we speak for no one but ourselves and, because these are all works in progress, we welcome your feedback.
Starting with "Science One," which was commissioned by an incoming Dean of Science in 1990 and implemented in 1993, several programs have evolved to form progressively intertwined learning structures and inclusive learning communities. Science One and its progeny, the "Coordinated Sciences Program," which began in the third year of Science One, are intended for first-year students (1 year before they declare a major within science and 2 years before most of them declare a field of specialization within that major). There were about 200 students in total enrolled in the two programs at the beginning of 2001. The "Integrated Sciences Program," a degree program that students enter in their third year, was established in 1998. About 120 students were enrolled in it in 2000-2001 and it is still growing; so far, about 80 students have graduated from it.
These programs rest on a small set of key concepts. They are intentional communities of scholars, characterized by strong interactive engagement among all participants (Hake this issue). In addition to subject matter content, they strongly emphasize the development of transferable skills (Faculty of Science 1996, University of British Columbia 2000, Elby 2001, Peterson et al. this issue), and integrate content both within and among disciplines. As much as we can, we treat all of science as one subject, not by minimizing or ignoring disciplinary strengths but by emphasizing and complementing them and allowing them to interact. This reveals similarities that allow insights from each discipline to flow into each of the others and back again, illuminating all of them.
The Science One Program
In the Science One Program, professors from the four core science disciplines (biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics), lecturers with PhDs, and an Academic Director work together in the classroom to present integrated views of science to about 70 first-year students and to learn from each other. Applicants are selected on the basis of their interest in science (as revealed in an autobiographical essay), the breadth and quality of their high school science background, and their participation in extracurricular activities. Students receive only one grade for 21 credits of first-year science (equivalent to seven 1-term courses). They also take English and electives, giving them 30 credits in total. With the right electives, this qualifies them to enter all majors, honors, or co-op degree programs in the Faculty.
Using a combination of lecturing, Socratic interaction with the whole class, demonstration, and small-group discussion, one faculty member at a time exercises primary responsibility for the flow of events and information. That instructor is not alone with the students, however, because more than half of a team of seven science PhDs, on average, are in the room, listening and responding whenever they think it appropriate. Presentations are usually from the viewpoint of one discipline at a time, but in the context of each of the other disciplines, and interactions among faculty are frequent. These interactions often heighten rather than diminish differences among disciplines. For this reason, what we call "integration" is more like "cross-disciplinary collaboration." All Science One classes are held in a single classroom, near a suite of rooms that includes a communal lounge, a computer laboratory, the offices of the Director and staff (but not faculty), and a secretary. Table 1 summarizes and compares the features of the programs.
The Coordinated Sciences Program
Launched in 1996, the Coordinated Sciences Program is the direct progeny of Science One. It is an attempt to bring some of the benefits of Science One to more students in a less expensive program, and embodies three simple innovations. First, 100 to 160 students' schedules are coordinated, so that they move through their four first-year science subjects together. This gives the program a home base, providing plenty of opportunity for students to bond into a community. This facilitates the development of informal peer mentoring, allows students and faculty to be more aware of how students are faring, and eases collaboration among instructors. Although the subjects are taught separately and students receive separate grades for them, the professors who lecture and the lecturers who run workshops meet each week to coordinate their efforts. Except occasionally, professors do not interact in the classroom, but students take one 2-hour workshop, or tutorial, each week, where much of the work promotes integration of content across disciplines.
The Integrated Sciences Program
Students in Integrated Sciences, a degree program, design their own upper-division curriculum, which must bridge at least two disciplines within science or beyond. These custom curricula must include three Integrated Sciences "core" courses that are explicitly interdisciplinary, are co-taught by professors from different disciplines, and would be difficult to justify from within any single discipline. When applying for admission to the Integrated Sciences Program after their second year of undergraduate science, students must accomplish several things. They must demonstrate in an essay and during two interviews that they are developing a vision of their own education that encompasses more than one discipline, and that it is more valuable for them to explore those fields as a set rather than independently. They design a 2-year interdisciplinary curriculum that embodies that vision and satisfies University and Faculty requirements for graduation, as well as additional requirements. For example, students must take fourth-year courses in more than one discipline. Students graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Integrated Sciences if they complete the curriculum they propose. This flexibility and the mentoring that accompanies it are valuable. We encourage students to review their programs periodically.
The Integrated Sciences "core" courses (we now offer six) are highly interactive, strongly emphasize the development of transferable skills, and generally stress group discussion and collaborative research. They are interdisciplinary and are taught by a team of faculty from different disciplines. We do not practice "serial monogamy," where a succession of professors each offers a mini-course under one course name. Rather, professors actively discuss each other's content in the classroom, much as they would do in a research environment. This converts the classroom into a microcosm of the scientific enterprise in general. Of course, engagement of professors from different disciplines means engagement of disciplines. This significantly broadens students' scientific horizons. In addition to the content-related objectives that distinguish different courses, core courses aim strongly to develop transferable skills and attitudes to support the students' other studies. To the extent that we meet these process-level objectives, students who do well in core courses should also do well in their other courses. We have not yet tested that prediction.
The Science First! lecture series
Science First! is a widely advertised, well-attended lecture series in which speakers tell the story of their research, individually or in teams. It is a way for students to learn more about how science actually works than most of them would by taking in normal courses and it is a way to bring research faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars together in the context of education, blurring the boundary between research and education. In one case, the series developed around a theme, The Brain. This brought together researchers who had known of each other's work but had not worked together, and led, in turn, to an interdisciplinary course on evolved and artificial intelligence in the Integrated Sciences Program.
The programs we discuss rest on a small set of pedagogical principles, which serve a set of global objectives. We aim to convert students from passive to active, and from dependent to independent and interdependent, learners, to develop their conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking in addition to detailed knowledge, and to develop their analytical, synthetic, and communicative skills. Most importantly, we aim to undo years of single-track thinking and empower our students to harness the full range of their knowledge and intelligence in solving problems. The principles we stress here are "integration of content" across disciplines and "interactive engagement" of participants. We will argue that the common tools and language required to integrate content facilitates interactive engagement.
Integration of content across disciplines
We think of understanding as that capacity which allows people to use old information in contexts different from those in which they learned it. Under this operational definition, understanding requires recognition of relationships among situations that may appear different superficially. This is not an easy task for anyone who is accustomed to listening passively, memorizing details, and avoiding the opportunity to display ignorance in public. Nor is it easy for students accustomed to viewing the world through the separate lenses of each subdiscipline.
As portrayed in most textbooks, scientific knowledge is fragmented into separate subjects. Even within disciplines, chapters offer their own terminology, take-home lessons, and special insights, all presented in relation to a limited set of phenomena as viewed from a limited set of perspectives. To a large extent, this fragmentation reflects the specialization of scientific disciplines, which develop in partial isolation from each other. Undergraduate science education typically fails to achieve a sense of the interconnectedness of nature or an appreciation of its wholeness. Educators everywhere complain about their students' limited ability to think about what they know, their poor understanding, and their limited ability to express that understanding clearly. We believe that those problems are related, and that fragmentation of knowledge contributes significantly to each of them.
In typical first-year biology textbooks and courses, molecular and cellular genetics are separate from each other, and both of them are separate from the genetics of inheritance in families. These are separate from population genetics, which, in turn, is separate from evolution, ecology, speciation, extinction, and biodiversity. At best, this fragmentation is artificial, for events in each of these nested domains unfold simultaneously in the real world. At worst, it justifies the proliferation of details to be memorized, yields little conceptual understanding of the subject or appreciation of the unity of human knowledge, and produces a kind of knowledge that tends to disappear shortly after any examination. Students and faculty generally speak of "making" connections between bits of information, as if topics were really separate and special effort were required to connect them.
Early in our planning for Science One, we attempted to "make" connections among the disciplines and only later discovered that the connections had been there all along and we had only to recognize, appreciate, and make use of them. Under our integrated approach, students easily discover connections because they must do so to understand and because understanding counts more than knowledge. As they come to value understanding, students learn to work with details not as isolated facts but as elements in webs of relationships. As one Science One student argued eloquently (Frid Appendix 1), they seek connections and make them their own.
Whether students realize it or not at first, the fundamental unit of understanding is not the fact but the relationship, and their "scientific memory" comprises a network of such relationships (Gass 1995). A fundamental premise of our approach is that scientists remember the facts of scientific arguments more by remembering their organization than by remembering them independently. We base this assumption more on our experience as scientists than on our reading of pedagogy, although pedagogical theory does address this topic. For example, Newell and Green (1998) argued that integrative education can empower the development of reasoning skills by clarifying the role of assumptions in scientific arguments and by legitimizing metaphor and analogy as a way to apply ideas from one discipline to problems in another. These skills are fundamental to synthetic and creative thinking, which are higher-order processes in Bloom's (1956) taxonomy. Indeed, the most profound arguments among scientists are not "about" details, although they may hinge on them. Usually they are about ideas, relating to the structure and function of the universe.
The idea that proficiency gained in one context can "leap," via abstraction, into other contexts and be useful there appears in theories of education, language, psychotherapy, and the development of humans and other animals (Brewer 1973, Bandler and Grinder 1975, Laing 1972, Maturana and Guiloff 1980, von Foerster and Maturana 2000, Laverty 1980). Structure implies order, which implies relationships among elements of a system (Gass 1985). Two examples are that causation rests on functional relationships among interacting components (Holling 1959), and that classification rests on patterns of similarity and difference among elements. Bohm (1969) argued that, for reasons relating to the physical structure of the universe, the human sense of order rests largely on the ability to recognize patterns of similarity among otherwise different things and patterns of difference among otherwise similar things. We think of these operations as transferable skills, because they are context independent, and because they improve with the right kind of practice. No one old enough to go to school is a neophyte at either operation, because recognizing and working with similarities and differences is fundamental. We suggest that learning environments that stimulate, encourage, and reward the development of these abilities also promote learning (especially of a particularly potent kind that Hake (1998) terms "conceptual understanding") and promote the development of higher-order thinking (Bloom 1956).
Students of chemistry, biochemistry, and cell biology learn to use the Michaelis–Menten enzyme kinetics equation (Nelson and Cox 2000) to describe the rate of catalyzedchemical reactions as a function of the concentration of substrates. Independently, students of ecology learn to use the Holling (1965) disk equation to describe the rate of removal of prey by predators as a function of prey density. Not all students (nor all professors) realize that the two equations express the same pattern of kinetics on different spatial and temporal scales. But when a Science One chemist and biologist are each committed to ensuring that the students understand one version of the story, it would be difficult for them to avoid discussing this remarkable convergence of explanatory systems in the classroom. Capitalizing on those similarities lends depth and generality to the learning and students learn the underlying dynamics more easily.
An added benefit is that two professors from different disciplines working together can cover the same ground better, faster, and more enjoyably for everyone than they can separately. A Science One chemist and physicist estimated that they saved considerable time in their first term together just by using common terminology wherever possible. They spent less time explaining terms and avoided the confusion students often experience when they encounter multiple ways of referring to the same thing. This benefit, mediated by interactive engagement, accrued to both chemical and physical components of the program and spread in several ways to the other disciplines. At least as importantly, it helped students (and professors) recognize and appreciate cross-disciplinary connections and encouraged them to explore them further.
Another way of capitalizing on similarities is to use metaphor and analogy in our teaching. Nashon (2000) claimed, on the basis of his observations of high school physics classes in Nairobi, that metaphor is a powerful window into the physical world for students. In expressing similarities, metaphor draws its power not just from the beauty of the subject matter, but from the real power of each mother tongue to express anything and everything that is important in any local community (see also Davis-Case this issue, Lertzman this issue).
When practicing research scientists from different disciplines communicate openly with each other in the Science One and Integrated Sciences classrooms, serious consequences unfold. Scientific disciplines are subcultures of science as a whole, just as science is a subset of all culture. Each discipline has a different history and disciples of each discipline employ somewhat different terminology, metaphors, and assumptions, and engage in somewhat different "styles" of argument. Because most professors are more accustomed to thinking inside the box of their own discipline rather than thinking across boxes, and because most are better at spotting this tendency in others than in themselves at first, class meetings exhibit tension, asymmetry, and lively discussion. Actions that faculty take to make living with these tensions constructive and cooperative rather than destructive and competitive contribute to a culture of positive interactive engagement (Hake this issue), both inside and outside the classroom. The community comes to share a common language for thinking about similarities and differences among the disciplines, and for thinking about issues in any one of them.
In Science One and in each Integrated Sciences core course, this communication includes faculty and students, in all combinations of interactions. Working in these environments transformed how we interact with other faculty and with administrators, thereby transforming our relationships in ways that, for the most part, strengthened and reinforced what we do in the classroom. We hope that, as students recognize its utility and feel comfortable with interactive engagement, they take it back to their dormitories, their homes, and their relationships with other students and professors, and some do. Because interactive engagement is something they learn to do (rather than learn about), it spreads recursively through the wider university community and beyond (Rogers 1995). We discuss this diffusion from several perspectives under Strategies for Diffusion and Sustainability, below.
Because of the overlap and the fact that faculty tend to plan their coordination in rather general terms in Science One and Integrated Sciences, they are prone to interrupt each other during class, as they see the details unfold. They ask for necessary clarification, just as they hope their students will do. They tell stories about scientists they have known, add new information and new insights to the conversation, and inject their own interpretations. They often interrupt when a colleague says something so fascinating that curiosity demands more depth than the lecturer had planned to give. Sometimes it is possible to plan these interactions, but usually they arise spontaneously, flowing naturally from the long-practiced habit of scientists to listen carefully to scientific arguments and respond when they disagree or don't understand. Faculty do not minimize real differences in their views. Indeed, they often exaggerate those differences for dramatic effect, as when a physicist formally chided one of us for failing to introduce cellular and physiological energetics in a thermodynamic context. Several months later, the same physicist developed an energy budget for the earth, including the biosphere, which became a central feature of our treatment of ecology.
When a biologist, a physicist, and a mathematician discuss in class the relative velocities and accelerations of African antelopes and lions (Elliott et al. 1978), they do it from their own disciplinary perspectives and with respect to their own personal interests. The physicist examines a system of moving masses, the mathematician dreams of derivatives, and the biologist analyzes the ecological consequences of the lion catching the antelope. A chemist may ask questions about molecular mechanisms underlying muscular contraction or metabolism. Somehow the team manages to converse in public, forging an understanding and appreciation of each other and their respective disciplines, and drawing students into the conversation. The excitement and uncertainty of this scenario are not lost on students. Nor is the invitation for them to participate, and they do to the extent that we make it safe for them to do so.
This kind of engagement among faculty affects students differently than when students engage each other. It is also different than when students and one professor at a time engage. When faculty engage faculty in class, it is serious adult business, professional to professional, public. Although this business is nearly always conducted collegially, its seriousness and excitement are transparent to students and many of them soon begin to emulate it. An important factor in faculty to faculty interactive engagement is that authority is an enemy in professional science, and truth is a virtue. Professional scientists can't simultaneously hide behind authority and behave professionally as scientists, even when it might save them embarrassment. Professional ethics require honest responses to questions about truth and validity, and professionals tend to ask each other good questions about things like that when they are serious. For the most part, faculty enjoy this frightening process; usually, but not always, it also works for the students.
Another pedagogical benefit of engagement relates to scientists' need to clearly distinguish facts, theories, predictions, interpretations, and beliefs when they communicate with colleagues about their research. In a research environment, such clear communication develops naturally. Because researchers usually share common objectives and operate at similar levels of knowledge and sophistication, they usually do not need to explicitly label these categories. But the same researchers are not always precise in communicating with students, students may not notice it when they are, and students tend not to be careful in communicating with faculty or with each other. Unlike researchers, students need to "learn" to distinguish categories and use them fluidly in conversation, and they require explicit support for that learning (Elby 2001). Our point is about the nature of that support. In highly interactive intellectual environments that are both rigorous and safe, we suggest, everyone learns to listen more carefully than they would otherwise. When this occurs, students learn to use these distinctions as much by a kind of social osmosis that includes emulation as by being taught. When we sustain this safe intellectual and social community, students learn quickly to think clearly and speak and listen carefully as scientists; they question facts and interpretations, ask clear questions, and listen intelligently to the answers. This experience leads us to wonder to what extent all of us underestimate students.
A critical factor in the development of depth and rigor in this conversation, we believe, is growth of trust and respect for individuals and their points of view, and a parallel maturation of skepticism. Trust, which Gibb (1978) defined operationally as willingness to risk, encourages individuals to expose their ignorance and to share their curiosity, imagination, and passion for learning, as well as their knowledge and understanding. Because of the importance of both interpersonal trust and skepticism in scientific discourse, the biologist and critical thinking consultant Craig Nelson argues that we must "take control of the social environment of our classrooms" to ensure fairness and promote engagement (Nelson personal communication). This is the culture of interactive engagement (Hake 1998, 2001). Because of the mushrooming of types of interactions when professors interact, this culture is richer than if only one professor at a time were in the room. Students learn to listen not just for the details and conclusions of arguments, but for their logical structure. They listen for the verbal, mathematical, graphical, and other operations that lead, convincingly or not, from assumptions to conclusions, and they learn to develop arguments with the power to convince skeptics. Again, they learn higher-order thinking (Bloom 1956, Elby 2001).
Scientific arguments rest on more than logic and language, of course. They rest on both theory and observation, and so students must learn the "stuff" of scientific disciplines if they are to participate fully. How much of that content do they learn? More importantly, how much do they remember and are they able to use? We believe that most students who learn in the way that we describe retain what they learn longer and more usefully than they would in more teacher-centered, less interactive environments. One key to retention is understanding, as opposed to knowledge of facts. As Hake's (1998, 2001) work suggests so clearly, conceptual understanding gained through interactive engagement makes knowledge useful by freeing students from the context in which they learn things and by encouraging them to re-use it in new contexts. We suggest that this is not restricted to science, but that human beings in general can benefit from interactive engagement throughout their lifetime, if they learn to do it early enough and continue to practice it often enough.
The shift that these ideas imply, from what teachers teach toward how students learn, retain, and apply knowledge, leads to a notion that appears paradoxical at first: teaching students less material can help them remember more. How much content to present is an optimization problem. As Holling et al. (1979) suggested about models of complex systems in general, what to leave out is as important as what to include.
When students practice active participation for a year or two, it becomes instinctive to them. Overall, we think that, at the time of their graduation, our students retain more of the culture of active, self-directed learning and interactive engagement than do most students in traditional programs, but it varies considerably in degree. We do not know what determines how early science students must learn interactive engagement, or how much practice it takes to maintain the skill, attitude, and willingness to engage. Some students must learn after they arrive in graduate school that knowing what question to ask and how to answer it is more valuable than knowledge, per se. We expect our students to earn this in one year in our first-year programs and in two years in the case of the Integrated Sciences program; for the most part, they do.
Science One and the Coordinated Sciences and Integrated Sciences programs all qualify as interdisciplinary programs under Edwards' (1996) defining criteria. They are for undergraduates, they are truly, intentionally, and explicitly interdisciplinary, they are institutionally recognized, and they have persisted, stabilized by hard funding. Above, we explored the benefits to students of highly interactive interdisciplinary communities and described the attraction for and challenges to faculty who work in them. Here, we discuss institutional challenges that we faced in creating and sustaining these communities, and in disseminating the ideas that they represent.
Despite endorsement at various administrative levels, it was a serious challenge to launch Science One and then adapt the system of education that we had developed for it to new circumstances. Mazur (personal communication) noted that changes to educational systems are generally resisted, and offered the metaphor of "energy of activation," in which even exothermic chemical reactions must be raised to a critical energy level before they can proceed spontaneously. Some opposition is rooted in innovators' own fears and beliefs, and tests their willingness to embrace new ideas. More of it is ingrained in territoriality stemming from differences among disciplinary cultures. This is exacerbated by the fact that, under zero-sum financial conditions, new programs threaten the funding available to well-established ones and impinge on already scarce human resources. Even students are reluctant to adopt new ideas. Because effective curricular change is complex, these threats are present even when the pedagogical advantages associated with it are undisputed. Although this resistance is serious and often frustrating, it does subside, as we describe below.
Planning and implementation
Science One is the centerpiece of this discussion because it was the first of a series of initiatives in the Faculty of Science during the last decade and an important test bed for ideas. Throughout its history, the program has stimulated discussion about what might be accomplished in undergraduate education and what it takes to accomplish it. It has provided a model for similar initiatives at UBC and other places. This catalytic effect will become clear when we discuss the role of students and faculty in the diffusion of educational innovations.
Planning Science One. The idea of Science One originated with Arts One, a successful interdisciplinary first-year program for Arts students that began about 30 years ago at UBC. Arts and Sciences experience different causal forces at UBC and are administered independently; communication between them is limited, although it is increasing (Snow 1964). From the beginning of Arts One, the Faculty of Science tried in vain to generate interest in a similar program for first-year Science students. Finally, in 1990, a new Dean of Science initiated planning for Science One. Some members of the planning committee had sustained interest in this for decades and were eager to contribute their ideas. Consequently, the program emerged by pressure both from "above" and from the trenches. Grassroots leadership, however, does not guarantee immediate acceptance. Every new idea had to be argued fully, especially in terms of finances.
The first year of planning was a study in disciplinary standoffs, although the committee makeup was nearly ideal; it included "thinkers and doers, idealists and pragmatists, educational innovators and conservatives" (Gaff 1998), as well as an Associate Dean. We came to the table "strong disciplinarians." We held strong notions about how and when first-year science students should learn what. We also represented the views of our departmental political and economic constituencies, which in every case were provincial and narrow in relation to the vision we were charged to develop. Our divisiveness dissipated as we discovered that, although we disagreed on detail, we shared a commitment to a deeper, more effective, and more enjoyable way for science students to begin their undergraduate careers than any of us had known before. This enabled us to work together as a team.
As usual in planning, the committee report defined the objectives, included sparse course outlines, and suggested suitable topics for integration across disciplines. It also recommended dedicated space. But it did not specify the process of implementation. We were left to organize the program to best advantage, fund it, build a community, and extend its impact. We had to engineer an infrastructure robust enough to implement the philosophy and recommendations of the committee, yet flexible enough to generate interest in colleagues with different views of education and in students with a variety of needs. The planning group offered to be the first instructional team and an academic Director who had not participated in the planning process was appointed. This team provided continuity between planning and implementation (Gaff 1998), and the Director introduced a fresh perspective from someone with little political baggage. With the opening date just 4 months away, the Director had to hire lecturers and select the first class of students while juggling pedagogy, politics, finances, and entrenched attitudes.
Most of this process took place quickly and intuitively rather than by rational planning. Only later, after we had experience with Science One, could we implement new programs systematically. We adapted some features of Science One repeatedly to new programs, and others required fine-tuning to suit new circumstances. Each program is built around a community, has a home base, offers intellectual freedom and flexibility for students and faculty, and is administered from the Science Faculty rather than from departments. By stages, funding for each program progressed from soft to hard. Program teams communicate and cooperate with each other, and ideas, methodologies, and philosophies diffuse into the wider community through links with departments and other channels (Rogers 1995). Below, we describe the challenges of funding the programs and developing stable yet flexible administrative infrastructures, then discuss factors that either enhanced or inhibited diffusion of the innovations through the UBC community and beyond.
Estimating even the direct per-student costs of instruction is an intricate process both for special programs administered through the Faculty and for departmental offerings, making it difficult to compare relative costs and benefits. Nevertheless, Science One and Integrated Sciences, which are team taught, cost about twice as much per student as most mainstream courses and programs at similar levels, without taking into account the dedicated space they require. The Coordinated Sciences program piggybacks on existing sections of component courses, with some additional funding for the integrating workshops. The Dean "buys out" the entire departmental teaching load of Science One professors and one course equivalent of Integrated Sciences professors, and the departments use this money to hire replacement lecturers. It is hard to imagine either program being approved by department heads without this concession. Departments share the burden and eventually the benefits, as students enter their honors or majors programs and courses. Science One acquired hard funding soon after an external review in its 6th year, Coordinated Sciences in its 4th year, and Integrated Sciences in its 2nd year. This progression expressed increasingly positive attitudes about special programs and trust in those who teach and administer them, in spite of the cost.
Important concerns remain about the cost of these programs, however. Do the benefits justify the costs? How will working within these programs affect professors' research programs? Do we need more than one professor at a time in the room? Should we employ graduate students rather than lecturers to teach the tutorials and workshops. In general, should the university sanction elite programs for selected students? Most importantly, do students in special programs learn better than they would in regular programs?
Tension between the costs and benefits of innovation focuses attention on fundamental questions. In general, we believe that the considerable benefits of these programs largely outweigh their extra costs, some of which can be considered investments in effective teaching and learning in the Faculty; increasing numbers of our colleagues agree with us. Training faculty in student-centered and collaborative education benefits other students and other programs when faculty return to teach in their respective departments. In addition, early development of transferable skills and intellectual independence pays off later for our students and many of their peers.
In addition to budgeted, hard funding, educational units on campus compete for soft funds, such as teaching and learning enhancement and teaching equipment grants. Because we had no secure money for special projects and lecturers, we had to apply for competitive funding. This both clarified and sharpened our ideas and helped to disseminate them. Partly because our record of successful applications attracted attention, colleagues across the university knew what we wanted to accomplish. They came to discuss our work and their own ideas, which led to the development of more effective relations among departments, between departments and the Faculty, and between Faculties in the context of undergraduate education.
Our new programs challenge existing academic structures, require financial systems that accommodate accountability in inter-departmental and inter-Faculty transactions, and trigger questions about how to achieve integration without sacrificing rigor. The ideas of flexibility and adaptability emerged in each of these contexts, and highlighted the danger of over-administering our programs. Tightly defined or unbending rules, structures, and procedures may give the impression of security but cannot evolve in response to changing social, political, financial, or educational circumstances (Holling 1995). Nor can they rebound quickly from failures when students or faculty try ideas spontaneously or test their limits. Similarly, ideas can diffuse into departments through returning professors only to the extent that they are free to innovate there. The same constraints operate on students. Within programs, they learn actively only if it is encouraged and rewarded, and they continue to engage only if later courses support it. They accept responsibility for directing their own education only if degree programs allow them to do so. Perhaps the biggest challenge is that each of us must be adventurous enough individually to work effectively outside prescribed norms of teaching, learning, and administration.
At the beginning, both principles and details of implementation were subject to negotiation. With time and practice, negotiators came to understand and accept our major principles and objectives. As they experienced the benefits to students, they developed trust in us and in our ideas. This facilitated negotiations and shifted them to determining "how" rather than "whether" to achieve objectives. We were enthusiastic about possibilities but naive about institutional roadblocks, and this combination may have been our greatest strength. Admitting our inexperience often encouraged people in key administrative and academic positions to help: in trying to answer naive questions and explain their constraints to us, they themselves recognized unnecessary roadblocks and realized new possibilities. Administrative and academic flexibility is on the rise across the campus, and successive innovations are now easier to implement. This is due to networking and consultation across administrative units and also to strong support for it from the highest levels of administration (e.g., University of British Columbia Academic Plan 2000).
People not directly involved often criticize interdisciplinary programs vigorously. They argue that flexibility and interdisciplinarity are incompatible with rigor, or that "integrative studies courses are characteristically shallow, and trade intellectual rigor for topical excitement" (Newell 1998). We believe our programs avoid this trap, but the argument is important. All of our programs build on solid grounding in disciplines, and Science One and Coordinated Sciences attract top entering students preparing for majors or honors programs in science. Integration demands synthesis, and synthesis enhances creativity (Appendix 1, Newell and Green 1998). This occurs not at the expense of deep understanding in specific fields but in addition to it. Understanding remains the basis of scholarship in these programs, and "inter"-disciplinarity adds rigor to the process.
To operate effectively in this critical environment, we needed an infrastructure that offered support and shelter, yet allowed us to interact constructively with the outside world and be accountable to it. We operated under the assumption that sustainable programs must offer value to stakeholders, whether they experience them from the inside or observe them from the outside, even while they negotiate differences from their own points of view. Now, people tend to generate their own models of the programs and communicate with us about aspects that are most relevant to them. In that sense, the programs are semi-permeable black boxes, each with specific inputs and outputs, that interpenetrate other black boxes on campus (Klein 1990). Outsiders find it unnecessary to understand the inner workings of our programs in detail to appreciate their potential, and few attempt to do so. However, when they do, it is important to filter their hardest criticisms, allowing the programs to evolve through their own dynamics rather than by reaction to outside influences. This affords flexibility and privacy for experimenting with ideas and tools until we feel confident enough to let them diffuse out into the departments and beyond.
A major challenge in designing the programs was to build the kinds of communities that provide intellectual, social, and emotional support for everyone, students and faculty alike, to perform near (or beyond) their limits. The two main strategic components of these communities are a home base with a fixed address and courses in which disciplines overlap.
The home base. We insistently pursued dedicated homes for our programs, despite the chronic shortage of space at UBC. In the first year of Science One, we squeezed tutorials, study and social functions, and offices into a seminar room borrowed from a department. It was uncomfortable, and privacy was only imaginary, but it was colorful and bustling, and it was ours. Immediately, it gave us an identity.
Like family homes, program home bases offer warmth, consistency, and continuity. They are places to work, interact socially, and find help from peers or professionals. Unplanned conversations promote integration in this kind of environment, because participants have such diverse interests and experience and they willingly share them. Students learn from each other while they learn from us, and collectively we develop a culture of belonging, loyalty, and trust. Faculty meet at the home base for planning sessions, and congregate there before and after classes. Lecturers are available for academic help on demand because their offices are there, and they are also immersed in the social scene. Secretaries free faculty and staff from paperwork, and guide students through the maze of university systems and procedures.
In Science One, the home base includes an internet-wired classroom, where all class meetings are held, and a tutorial room. Each program has a common area with tables, couches, and blackboards, a staff meeting room, and a small computer laboratory. Sharing is an important strategy for structuring programs that begin with minimal funding and few personnel. It gives them prominence, provides economies of scale, and achieves critical mass of staff and students. Administering the programs through the Faculty, rather than departments, facilitates sharing if the senior administrators remain at arm's length. For example, the Coordinated and Integrated Sciences programs shared lecturers and other resources when they were starting out. First-year and upper-division students learned and socialized together. The older students had already taken responsibility for and planned their own education, and easily became role models and mentors for their younger cohorts. Each community includes alumni who come to talk about their accomplishments, complain about their difficulties, share their experiences in co-op programs and graduate or professional schools, or just reminisce. They are an important part of an extended mentoring network.
Common courses. Members of a community must interact, preferably in several contexts. Normally, university students achieve this only in non-academic settings, or in some courses but not others. Science One and Coordinated Sciences students, however, take most of their science courses together as a single cohort, as they do in MIT's Concourse and Integrated Studies programs, allowing intellectual connections and collaborations to develop. The core integration courses required of all Integrated Sciences students serve a similar purpose, setting the program apart from General Science and other "build-your-own-curriculum" type programs (Edwards 1996). Professors coordinate their efforts to varying extents in each program, building collaborations that focus on pedagogical objectives.
Two aspects of the dynamics of these learning communities are worth noting, especially in the two first-year programs. First, the cultures change each year, depending on the mix of personalities in the teaching team and amongst the students. Although, as expected, the students help each other over rough spots, they may also amplify each other's insecurities and, in some years, the whole class may exhibit synchronous waves of mood swings. Once we recognize these symptoms, it is relatively easy to turn the tide in a small group closely monitored by faculty and mentors who communicate with each other. Some students in each cohort lose self-confidence and find it difficult to cope. This is understandable, because not all top high school students will excel at university, but its impact is especially pronounced in Science One, where students work together in small groups, are exposed to each other's strengths and weaknesses, and know how well their peers are doing. Our awareness and availability for personal discussion, and public recognition of achievements help, as does including enough kinds of challenges to allow each student to shine in some way.
Second, the dynamics differ from those in regular university courses in that it is part of the culture for our students to behave both as individuals and as a group with respect to events, rules, regulations, and course content. This gives them unusual power to influence the programs in both positive and negative ways. For example, they often make suggestions with the potential to enhance learning conditions for everyone. It is usually to everyone's advantage for us to negotiate in these situations as long as we are consistent and inclusive, and compromise neither standards nor pedagogy. The value of this kind of influence extends beyond our special programs, because our students contribute in regular classes as well. In general, they question knowledge and authority, both privately and in the classroom. Faculty and other students resist this initially, but professors often agree and sometimes tell us stories of these experiences.
Extending community: diffusion
To be successful in the long term, programs must evolve to meet new needs without sacrificing their underlying philosophy. We involved increasing numbers of faculty, as administration responded to our need for growth and stability. Promoting our ideas, philosophy, and methods effectively to students, faculty, and administrators required ways to communicate new opportunities and lift or circumvent barriers. Diffusion occurred naturally from the flux of people through the programs, but we also used various strategies to accelerate it and extend it into new territory. Different messengers carried different messages, and whenever possible, they were already well known and trusted by the target audience. We reflect on this enterprise below.
Because Science One is expensive, we knew from the beginning that we were on a "honeymoon," and that funding and other support would disappear if we failed to extend its benefits to more students. In that sense we felt threatened, but we also felt a responsibility (Chomsky 1979) to make learning communities, integration across disciplines, and interactive engagement work in new settings and to new ends. Science One was an incubator for new standards in curriculum development, and the Coordinated Sciences Program was an economical adaptation of it. The Integrated Sciences Program allowed upper-division students to build broader programs than disciplinary programs would allow, and a few Science One alumni chose to enter it in its first year. Although it is directed at a much broader audience across the university, the Science First! lecture series also manifests the spirit of the new programs by carrying research directly to students. Certainly the success of Science One was the critical first step in the visioning process that cascaded into the implementation of other programs.
Universities are complex, hierarchically structured systems with stakeholders and decision-makers at several levels of the organization. Innovations on the scale we discuss here require collaboration both vertically, in the administrative hierarchy, and horizontally, such as directly between departments. Holling (personal communication) claims that, to succeed, bureaucratic innovations require strong administrative support from at least two levels above their level of implementation. For example, we believe that Science One could not have survived or thrived without the Dean's strong support and, because we relied on soft money distributed from university-wide pools for several years, the Dean required similar support from above.
In the 3rd year of Science One, its first Director assumed the position of Associate Dean Academic while continuing as Director. This speeded diffusion by placing her in position to hear about problems and opportunities, and to connect individuals who might not otherwise meet. It also expanded our network across Faculties, because Associate Deans must work together. By the time the Integrated Sciences Program began in the 5th year of Science One, our Dean had become Provost and we had a new President who was much more open to educational reform than her predecessor. The new Dean of Science had been a yearly guest lecturer in Science One and all four of her Associate Deans have worked in the programs.
In the beginning, the community of innovators was small but shared a common vision. For example, the chair of the Science One planning committee also chaired all other planning committees on educational initiatives in the Faculty of Science between 1990 and 1998. This included the curriculum subcommittee for the Faculty of Science Strategic Plan (1996), which in turn influenced the university-wide Academic Plan (University of British Columbia 2000). He is now the Director of the Environmental Sciences degree program, which is similar in philosophy and pedagogy to Integrated Sciences. Unity of vision, along with a common language rich in pedagogical metaphors, and interpersonal respect and familiarity allowed us to knit the programs together, both academically and administratively, by seeking out and building on bottom-up and top-down flows of trust. We believe this accurately describes what occurred, although some commentators describe this same period on our campus as having been dominated by distrust and the imposition of unfair constraints by administrators at all levels.
Trust is important in another way as well. By design, faculty spend 2 or 3 years working in these programs, then return to their departments, where other courses and programs evolve through their efforts. Students also carry attitudes, operating principles, and modes of interaction with them into their subsequent activities. Faculty and students disperse into all corners of the Faculty of Science, and well beyond. Faculty carry news of the programs to other universities, informally through their work as scientists or as invited speakers on science education. When students enter graduate and professional schools, they also carry news of the programs with them. University of British Columbia administrators become emissaries in their own extended communities, and both publicity and parents carry the word to the public.
Students as agents of diffusion. Our students are motivated, faculty easily care about them, and most do well in their future studies. Perhaps because they are not socialized into disciplines in the first year nor do they develop ethnocentric attitudes (Bechtel 1998), they embrace more diverse courses of study than most science students. Life science students take more upper-level mathematics and physics, physics students more philosophy and physiology, and computer science students more neuroscience and psychology. They take minors in Arts and Commerce, do double majors and double honors in addition to a variety of Arts, Fine Arts, Human Kinetics, Agriculture, and other courses. Some get more than one degree: one student in geophysics/astronomy and studio fine arts, another in physics and physiology. Colleagues all over the campus ask what makes these students tick and how they got to be the way they are. Whether or not we can answer this question adequately, the fact remains that our students make a lasting impression, raise the profile of the programs, and speed diffusion of ideas about education. Many students understand this clearly and consider themselves full members of the team of innovators, and the Dean, the Provost, and the President encourage this attitude.
Former students become teaching assistants, design workshops, write manuals, and work on our web sites. Some co-authored the Science One hypertext book. Others engage in team meetings, act as conduits between faculty and students, and mentor new students. Integrated Sciences students and alumni visit community colleges to promote the program to transfer students. Many of them become seriously interested in the quality of education in general. Some participate in campus discussions and committees, and assume leadership roles in the politics of change. When the Associate Vice President invited student proposals for full-term, upper-level courses in a new Student-Directed Seminar program, former Science One students designed and taught three of the first four courses. These actions reflect the students' deeply ingrained sense of belonging and their conviction that they can, will, and must make a difference in the education of their peers and the evolution of the university. They express trust in the programs, the community, and the principles of individual and institutional transformation that they represent.
In a culture in which students are trained early to be passive recipients of knowledge, some are particularly fearful of the student-centered learning that is at the heart of our new programs and resist it. This is most acute at the beginning of any course, and especially at the beginning of new programs in which any aspect of the familiar routine is markedly different than what students expect. They feel threatened when memorization is de-emphasized and discussion and synthesis are accentuated, for example. They are also concerned that Science One offers a single grade for 21 credits of work instead of separate grades for the four subjects covered in the program. Given that student success is still defined in terms of grades, which are often believed to be the main criterion for admission to graduate or professional schools, even students with great potential may select courses based on their reputation as "hard" or "easy" rather than on pedagogical grounds or because of deep interest in the subject. More than 60% of first-year science students at UBC declare themselves as pre-medical students, and most of them consider anything but top grades a major roadblock. Grades also guide the awards and scholarship system with its high threshold for renewal, and "will I lose my scholarship?" is a common question.
Despite the small size of each program, diffusion of ideas through our student body has a significant impact in the Faculty of Science. Rogers (1995) proposed a sigmoid curve to describe the degree of adoption of new ideas in organizations, and described several phases defined largely by trust. In its first year, Science One had 45 students, representing less than 1% of science undergraduates. Eight and a half years after its implementation, current and former students of all three programs who are still undergraduates at UBC number over 1000, or 18.5% of about 5500 science students (Fig.1).
Faculty as agents of diffusion. Because students flow through the system in a few years, their numbers equilibrate, but the number of faculty who have been exposed to the new programs increases each year. By now, about 100 of 300 faculty members in all nine science departments have participated in one or more of the programs by teaching courses, giving guest lectures, participating in the Science First! series, or advising students. More than 40 have had considerable influence on the evolution of the programs and interactions with students. This translates to the "take-off phase" of Rogers' (1995) sigmoid growth curve and suggests that we are progressing toward Faculty-wide acceptance. The major Faculty players in this diffusion are professors, lecturers, guest lecturers, and administrators.
One factor in the growing acceptance is that no new program has its "own" faculty, other than lecturers; professors volunteer from departments, and the departments are compensated financially. Because most students in the two first-year programs enter majors, honors, or co-op streams in science departments, we must satisfy each of those entrance requirements, and Integrated Sciences students take most of their courses in departments. Thus, departments are clearly major stakeholders in our innovations by contributing faculty, sharing costs, and receiving students who have been influenced by them. The more common but insular system, which semi-permanently isolates faculty in interdisciplinary programs from their disciplines (Edwards 1996), would likely have inhibited acceptance of the programs and slowed diffusion of ideas beyond their boundaries. Deciding to serve non-scientist students would also have slowed diffusion because they come temporarily and only for elective courses.
We could argue that the rate of diffusion would be highest when faculty rotate rapidly through programs. But faculty improve throughout their tenure, and they gain increasingly deep pedagogical insights and enjoy themselves more with experience. They are also happier when they stay longer, because many of them join us for the opportunity to experiment with teaching in a well-supported and cooperative environment. We have tried to balance efficiency and continuity with diffusion by encouraging professors to return to their departments after 2 or 3 years of overlapping rotations. Sometimes faculty move from one new program into another. This slows diffusion, but catalyzes the maturation of programs to a sustainable level.
Professors in all three programs develop divided allegiances: they represent their departments' interests, but they are also members of interdisciplinary teams bound by common goals. They work much more easily together than we would ever have imagined, because specialists in different fields defer to each other more easily than those in closely related ones. They have less stake in the details of each others' disciplines and this encourages them to collaborate. They can afford to trust each other. In contrast, inflexible administrative structures within departments could constrict what should remain a free-flowing series of collaborations into rigid formulae for teaching.
Teaching in the new programs is an all-absorbing activity, because teamwork in general is time consuming and the programs, especially Science One, tend to become a "lifestyle." The Science One planning committee recognized this by recommending that pre-tenure professors be involved only as consultants and guest lecturers. However, the university can ill afford to exclude them from teaching in innovative environments. They are the next generation of professors and their acceptance is required for long-term sustainability of programs. Young faculty are well prepared to lead educational reform; many have experienced changing paradigms at their alma mater, and some have taken courses in pedagogy. Most are motivated and enthusiastic, and share street language with students. If their research careers could be protected, they would benefit from an "induction" through the programs, not only as teachers but also as researchers, via cross-fertilization, comfortable collaboration with experts in other fields, and easy access to highly motivated students.
Merit, promotion, and tenure procedures at UBC, which have been strongly biased toward research, are beginning to reward educational leadership (Boyer 1998), but it remains to be seen how consistently this intent will be applied. As new programs are established, we may develop enough confidence to assign pre-tenure faculty to them. To ensure that educational initiative and accomplishment are weighted properly, tenure and promotion decisions could be made jointly between departments and programs. Professional lecturers would also benefit from reformed promotion and tenure criteria. No matter how brilliant they are, young academics without security, autonomy, or the possibility of professional progress face burnout, complacency, and lack of initiative.
We hired lecturers, rather than teaching assistants, because most have PhDs, special educational expertise, and a well-articulated interest in teaching, can work full time, and are vastly more advanced in their disciplines. This allows them to engage fully in administrative and academic matters, and they provide more continuity than graduate assistants or professors can. Although permanent funding is in place for the positions, the people in these positions remain untenured. We could lose any lecturer at any moment by not providing employment security or fair and appropriate remuneration.
Loss of lecturers would be deadly for programs intended to be incubators for larger-scale innovation. Consider the global objective of getting more students to learn more effectively and imagine lecturers with permanent positions as "floating change agents" in the Faculty, rather than belonging directly to programs or departments. They would be offered by the Faculty to programs and departments that request their services. To give them a home for research and give departments a stake in the positions, search committees and promotion/tenure committees could include departmental representatives. Given the expertise these lecturers acquire in emerging programs, they could enhance other offerings and design new initiatives increasingly effectively in collaboration with colleagues within or across Faculties.
Guest lectures serve several strategic purposes. First, when guests talk about their research without "teaching" anything in particular, it frees students to think creatively and ask probing questions, and establishes a qualitatively different atmosphere in the room. The sessions become conversations about "science as a verb," or process, rather than lectures about "science as a noun," or collection of knowledge (Peterson et al. this issue). Students realize the variety of scientific disciplines, learn to appreciate how research scientists work, and practice thinking about hypotheses, experiments, controls, and interpretation. The lectures expand the community of scientists with whom students can talk comfortably, opening opportunities for them to participate in research. Many of them find volunteer or paid positions, take directed studies courses, or do honors research with former guest lecturers. Guests see the students' creativity, and many of them come back yearly to hire more. Another kind of purpose is to alert professors to how interesting, valuable, and easy it can be to "conduct" interactive engagement, even in first-year classrooms. Seeing for themselves with students already familiar with the pedagogy is the best way for professors to understand. Once they do, their stories spread among their colleagues. The Science First! lecture series extends some of these benefits to the whole campus community.
Diffusion beyond. Science One was the first of several pedagogically innovative programs at UBC to follow Arts One. Most Faculties are actively reviewing and revamping curriculum and pedagogy. Our new programs are near the leading edge of a wave of openness to innovation that is broader than our own Faculty and deeper than UBC. As the community grew, opportunities to benefit from each other's experience multiplied and grew richer. One example is that Pharmacy recruited a Coordinated/Integrated Sciences lecturer to work in their problem-based program. We have networked in varying ways with Applied Science, Agriculture, Pharmacy, Arts, Graduate Studies, and Commerce as they established their own programs. The fact that Science experiments with new programs must be at least a catalyst for Faculties that rely on prerequisite or core courses taught in Science. A global example of diffusion is that, after observing first-year interdisciplinary programs at UBC, MIT, and Yale, the National University of Singapore (NUS) established its Special Programme in Science, which adopted and adapted features from all those institutions. The authors of this paper have spent more than 6 months at NUS during the design, implementation, and review phases of SPS, and we feel that SPS is better than Science One in at least one way. It is a multi-year program in which students do research projects in departmental courses that are graded by SPS. This allows for much stronger vertical integration.
To varying extent, new programs in all of the above-mentionned faculties rest on the principles we have outlined in this paper: interactive engagement, integration of content across disciplines, community, a home base, and vertical and horizontal networking. To our knowledge, no program has adopted any of our features intact; rather, they adapted some or all of the principles to their own constraints, and sometimes they reinvented principles independently as we ourselves had done. Carl Rogers (1958) claimed that students must change knowledge in some way to make it their own. It is interesting that the same principle seems to hold for institutional learning.
The University of British Columbia is a "Research I" university that has been benefiting since 1993 from most of the educational reform strategies suggested by the Boyer Commission in 1998. The success of our particular programs rests on a "sense of community." "Inquiry-based" learning, "interdisciplinary education," "linked communication skills and course work," and "research-based learning" are central too. Students "build on the freshman foundations" that they gain in first-year programs (we assume this in Integrated Sciences Program applicants). The systems for rewarding faculty are beginning to change throughout the university, making strong participation in both teaching and research more synergistic than counterproductive (André and Frost 1997).
We have reflected upon an interdisciplinary, interactive, and increasingly extensive network of programs that is transforming undergraduate science education at our university and beginning to influence other institutions. This community of scholars represents all disciplines and includes undergraduate students, staff, faculty, and administrators, and even parents and other adults in the community at large who wish that they had had similar opportunities in university. We emphasized two pedagogical strategies that are central to our programs, integration of content across disciplines and interactive engagement of students and instructors, and several kinds of institutional factors that are essential to their success. Pedagogy and content alone are insufficient, because proper attention to the administrative infrastructures in which programs reside is required for them to function well pedagogically and sustain themselves. Programs like these must embody the freedom to experiment and recover from failures, and a community to support those attempts. In the longer term, the ideas and operations on which they depend must diffuse into the larger community, and be fertilized by inward diffusion. None of this can work without money, space, and human resources, all of which are in short supply. Success requires enthusiastic and strongly motivated participants.
Communities like ours cannot work well, we believe, unless participants at all levels share a commitment to excellence, honesty (especially openness to their own and others' ignorance), and accountability for action. They must adhere to high ethical standards too; the personal relationships with students that develop in small communities offer opportunities that would not otherwise exist but also risk inequity. For example, instructors can increase the rate and depth of learning by matching the difficulty of challenges to the abilities of individuals, keeping each student near his or her optimum. That kind of subjectivity rests on students' openness in communicating their experience, instructors' sensitivity and wisdom in interpreting and acting on that information, and the community's tolerance for this kind of individualism. Because students, faculty, and communities vary considerably in these qualities, the dangers are real.
The demographics of our programs set them apart from most other integrative programs that we know about (Edwards 1996). Our students are strongly motivated and are relatively high achievers; they tend to be risk takers when compared with most UBC science students. Few enter with "set" career paths and most eagerly accept responsibility for discovering their own paths. This allows us to impose high standards and confront them with deeper challenges than most students face. The student workload is heavy, but so are the returns. In working on and presenting their term projects, for example, Science One students realize that they can do "real" science with only a first-year background. This eye opener is a source of pride for them, and for faculty as well. We do not know how well these programs would work with non-science students like Tobias' (1990) "second tier students," or with classes much larger than 150 students. Nor do we know how well they would work in non-research institutions or if taught mainly by non-researchers, although we are experimenting with this "mix" in Integrated Sciences. We do know that we are not equally successful with all students, and that some professors have great philosophical and practical difficulty with both integration and interaction.
We are also aware that we only partially understand how these programs work. Before Coordinated Sciences, we considered integration of content across disciplines and interactive engagement among professors in the classroom to be essential to the success of Science One. But professors do not interact "live" in Coordinated Sciences, and coordination of content is minimal except in the workshops. Coordinated timetables, shared intellectual pursuits, and a home base contribute strongly to community, however, and, although working with this larger group was a serious challenge for the first 2 years, we now attribute much of the success of Coordinated Sciences to this "cohort effect." In turn, this led us to suspect that community is more important in Science One and Integrated Sciences than we had thought. Community is especially important in large institutions where anonymity is the norm, and where some students' classes are larger than their hometowns.
How effective are our innovations? How should we define success? How can we evaluate our programs, and how can this inform a general approach to building new programs that work? Although we track our students and do considerable qualitative analysis (Benbasat 1999), we and our colleagues are wary, as scientists, of qualitative methods such as feedback from other faculty, parents, and students themselves. We are even more wary of uncontrolled statistical analysis, and appropriate controls are difficult to develop. We do know that in a large third-year genetics course, former Science One students are much better problem solvers than students who achieved similar second-year standings (Dryden 1999). Although some aspects of our programs do clearly contribute to the success of their students and to the sustainability of the programs, their full impact is difficult to assess. There are now good tools for evaluating conceptual understanding in first-year physics courses (Hestenes et al. 1992, Halloun et al. 1995), and Hake's (2001) meta-analysis of student performance in courses that used those tools points to interactive engagement of students as a powerful determinant of success. We need similar tools to evaluate conceptual understanding in the other sciences, and to evaluate students' grasp of science as an approach to discovery. At least as important as conceptual understanding are students' attitudes towards learning, knowledge, and new skills, and how they respond to various pedagogical approaches (Carolan 1999, Elby 2001).
After 8 years of working in the trenches with the pedagogy and administration of programs, we have acquired just enough experience, knowledge of students, faculty, and administration, and understanding of financial and other constraints in our own institution to predict with some confidence the reception and success of given proposals. Despite some successful experience working in other institutions, however, we are uncertain whether we understand enough about how pedagogy and institutional factors interact, in general, to quickly assess objectives and constraints in any given institution and recommend specific strategies. We have learned how to recognize certain problems and opportunities, but even in institutions similar in size and emphasis to ours we would have to engage the most important stakeholders in conversation with each other to develop effective plans. These conversations would have to include, at a minimum, those with visions of innovation and those who would be affected by it. Some of these people may not know each other, and there may be no precedent for such interaction across hierarchical or disciplinary boundaries. The conversations would have to be directed first to educational objectives and second to pedagogical and administrative approaches; particularly to assumptions underlying people's notions of what is possible. Allowing funding or administrative constraints to shape the discourse in these early stages would compromise the vision. This would be a considerable challenge, but we are eager to try.
Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a comment, follow this link. To read comments already accepted, follow this link.
We dedicate this paper to George Spiegelman, the untiring change agent who chaired so many crucial committees during the evolution of our programs, and especially acknowledge John Sams, the Associate Dean who encouraged and empowered us in the early years. First as Dean and now as Provost, Barry McBride usually worked quietly and behind the scenes, but we always knew that he would support effective innovation. We also acknowledge Ari Benbasat, Mark MacLean, Martin Adamson, Richard Hake, Samson Nashon, and an anonymous reviewer for many helpful comments on earlier drafts. Above all, we acknowledge the teams and the students in all the programs: so much hard work, so much fun, and such rich rewards.
André, R., and P. J. Frost. 1997. Introduction: leading the learning experience. In R. André and P. J. Frost, editors, Researchers Hooked on Teaching: Noted Scholars Discuss the Synergies of Teaching and Research. Foundations of Organizational Science, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi.
Bandler, R., and J. Grinder. 1975. The Structure of Magic. I. A Book about Language and Therapy. Science and Behavior Books, Palo Alto, California, USA.
Bechtel, W. 1998. The nature of scientific integration. In W. H. Newell, editor. Interdisciplinarity: Essays from the Literature. The College Board, New York, New York, USA.
Benbasat, J. 1999. Everything you wanted to know about Science One: report to the external review committee. Unpublished document. University of British Columbia.
Bloom, B. S., editor. 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: the Classification of Educational Goals: Handbook I, Cognitive Domain. Longman, Green & Co., New York, New York, USA.
Bohm, D. 1969. Some remarks on the notion of order. In C. H. Waddington, editor. Towards a Theoretical Biology. Aldive Press, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates. 1998. Reinventing undergraduate education: A blueprint for America's Research Universities. (Or see a text file.)
Brewer, W. F. 1973. The problem of meaning and the higher mental processes. In W. B. Weimer and D. Palermo, editors. Cognition and the Symbolic Processes. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, USA.
Carolan, J. 1999. Comments on teaching physics in Science One. In J. Benbasat Everything You Wanted to Know about Science One: Report to the External Review Committee. Unpublished document. University of British Columbia.
Chomsky, N. 1979. Language and Responsibility: Based on Conversations with Mitsou Ronat. Pantheon Books, New York, New York, USA.
Davis-Case, D. 2001. The reflective practitioner: teaching and learning in community-based forest management. Conservation Ecology 5(2):15. [online] http://www.consecol.org/vol5/iss2/art15
Dryden, N. 1999. Science One graduate performance. In J. Benbasat. Everything You Wanted to Know about Science One: Report to the External Review Committee. Unpublished document. University of British Columbia.
Edwards, A. F. 1996. Interdisciplinary undergraduate programs: a directory. 2nd edition. Copley, Acton, Massachussetts, USA.
Elby, A. 2001. Helping physics students learn how to learn. Phys. Educ. Res. American Journal of Physics 69:554-564.
Elliott, J. P., I. McTaggart Cowan, and C. S. Holling. 1977. Prey capture by the African lion. Canadian Journal of Zoology 55:1811-1828.
Faculty of Science. 1996. Strategic Plan, University of British Columbia.
Gaff, J. G. 1998. Avoiding the potholes. Strategies for reforming general education. In W. H. Newell, editor. Interdisciplinarity. Essays from the literature. The College Board, New York, New York, USA.
Gass, C. L. 1985. Behavioral foundations of adaptation. In P. P. G. Bateson and P.H. Klopfer, editors. Perspectives in Ethology. 7:63-107. Plenum Press, New York, New York, USA.
Gass, C. L. 1995. Some ideas about teaching. Unpublished manuscript.
Gibb, J. R. 1978. Trust: a New View of Personal and Organizational Development. Guild of Tutors Press, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Hake, R. R. 1998. Interactive-engagement vs traditional methods: a six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics 66:64-74.
Hake, R. R. In press. Lessons from the physics education reform effort. Conservation Ecology.
Halloun, I., R. R. Hake, E. P. Mosca, and D. Hestenes. 1995. Force concept inventory. In E. Mazur. 1997. Peer Instruction: A User's Manual. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA. 253 p.
Hestenes, D., M. Wells, and G. Swackhamer. 1992. Force concept inventory. Physics Teacher 30:141-158. (The Force Concept Inventory was revised in 1995. See Halloun et al. 1995.)
Holling, C. S. 1959. The components of predation as revealed by a study of small-mammal predation of the European pine sawfly. The Canadian Entomologist 91:293-320.
Holling, C. S. 1965. The functional response of predators to prey density and its role in mimicry and population regulation. Memoirs of the Entomological Society of Canada 45:1-60.
Holling, C. S. 1995. What barriers? What bridges? In L. H. Gunderson, C. S. Holling, and S. S. Light, editors. Barriers and Bridges to the Renewal of Ecosystems and Institutions. Columbia University Press, New York, New York, USA.
Holling, C. S., D. D. Jones, and W. C. Clark. 1979. Ecological policy design: a study of forest and pest management. In G. A. Norton and C. S. Holling, editors. Pest Management. Pergamon Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Klein, J. T. 1990. Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory, & Practice. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
Laing, R. D. 1972. The politics of the family and other essays. Vintage, New York, New York, USA.
Laverty, T. M. 1980. Bumble bee foraging: floral complexity and learning. Canadian Journal of Zoology 58:1324-1335.
Lertzman, D. A. In press. Rediscovering rites of passage: education, transformation and the transition to sustainability. Conservation Ecology.
Maturana, H. R., and G. D. Guiloff. 1980. The quest for the intelligence of intelligence. Journal of Social and Biological Structures 3:135-148.
Nashon, S. M. 2000. Teaching physics through analogies. OISE Papers in STSE Education. 1:209-223.
Nelson, D. L., and M. M. Cox. 2000. Lehninger principles of biochemistry. 3rd edition. Worth Publishing, New York, New York, USA.
Newell, W. H. 1998. The case for interdisciplinary studies: response to Professor Benson's five arguments. In W. H. Newell, editor. Interdisciplinarity: Essays from the Literature. The College Board, New York, New York, USA, pp. 109-122.
Newell, W. H., and W. J. Green. 1998. Defining and teaching interdisciplinary studies. In W. H. Newell, editor. Interdisciplinarity: Essays from the Literature. The College Board, New York, New York, USA, pp. 23-34.
Peterson G., L. Gunderson, and C. L. Gass. In press. Theories for sustainable futures: lessons from an interdisciplinary short course. Conservation Ecology.
Rogers, C. R. 1958. The characteristics of a helping relationship. Unpublished manuscript.
Rogers, E. M. 1995. Diffusion of Innovations. The Free Press, New York, New York, USA.
Simon, H. A. 1973. The organization of complex systems. In H. H. Pattee, editor. Hierarchy Theory: The Challenge of Complex Systems. Praziller, New York, New York, USA.
Snow, C. P. 1964. The Two Cultures: and a Second Look. New American Library, New York, New York, USA.
Tobias, S. 1990. They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier. Research Corporation: A Foundation for the Advancement of Science, Tucson, Arizona, USA.
University of British Columbia. 2000. Trek 2000: Academic Plan.
von Foerster, H., and H. R. Maturana. 2000. Truth and trust: three conversations between Heinz von Foerster and Humberto Maturana. Videotape produced by Pille Bunnell. Change Management Systems and American Society for Cybernetics.
Address of Correspondent:
Clifton Lee Gass
Director, Integrated Sciences Program
Co-Director, Coordinated Sciences Program
Department of Zoology
University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4
Phone: (604) 822 5842
Fax: (604) 822 2416
|Home | Archives | About | Login | Submissions | Notify | Contact | Search|