Interdisciplinary Studies are a response to increasing specialization and fragmentation of knowledge on university campuses. With disciplines and majors come paradigms of scholarship – rule-bound investigative methods and theories and assumptions and ways of presenting evidence and arguments that separate one discipline from the next, and one sub-discipline from the others, producing ever more specialized knowledge over time. The benefits of specialization are many, leading to profound investigations of particular problems. But there is also value in understanding the interconnections of fields of knowledge, especially when we wish to apply scholarly methods to larger goals of engagement with the wider community as citizens.
Interdisciplinary approaches allow for meta-cognitive reflection by students and faculty members on the sense-making protocols intellectuals use in framing, investigating, and writing conclusively and persuasively about complex problems. These approaches also enable courses to be centered on topics not easily contained within a discipline, and facilitate collaborative pedagogies, often using project-based courses and service learning.
The Honors College embraces both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to delivery of its curriculum. The latter presents experts from different disciplines to address diverse aspects of a complex problem (e.g., the search for self), with each expert invoking the issue from the perspective of a specific discipline, while the former requires presenters to meld two or more disciplines to create a new (interdisciplinary) approach (e.g., environmental literature, religious studies, Asian studies, linguistic philosophy, social psychology, etc.). Although interdisciplinary courses or portions of courses are not exclusive to the Honors College, what is unique is having interdisciplinarity be central to the mission of the freshman and sophomore curricula.
Honors Core Program
Courses in the Honors Core offer students credits that satisfy university Core requirements. The Core courses serve as the introductory courses for all of the Honors College learning objectives. All students, whether they enter as incoming freshmen or as Track II students, are required to enroll in HONC 1310 and 1320.
Honors Core I: The Search for Self (HONC 1310)
Taken in the fall semester of the freshman year, the content of Honors Core I is centered on great books of the Western canon (history of ideas about self or human nature). Residing at a level beyond the content is a way of teaching what Peter Elbow experience.
A dilemma is created on this second level as each course proceeds, because the ideas covered do not accord with one another, nor do they flow in a logical or chronological sequence one from the next. Consequently, even though each student receives a plausible case that Thinker Number One is correct and that Thinker Number Two is correct, Thinkers One and Two do not agree; thus a student must reflect to find a way to confront and perhaps resolve the discrepancy. Understanding the disciplinary context in which each thinker operates helps students appreciate nuance in ideational differences.
With each new thinker introduced, the reflective method becomes ever more sorely tested as the discrepancies and disciplinary assumptions multiply. Thus, the course begins to operate on a level beyond either of the other two, one that existentially engages students in a process of cognitive and moral challenge. Assumptions are questioned and worldviews examined, while faculty members guide students in discovering and honing methods of analysis.
Honors Core I is team taught, allowing for a multidisciplinary approach. Students meet bi-weekly in a small group discussion setting, and once weekly for a large group lecture. This course will introduce students to the skills of self-authorship, interdisciplinary learning, written communication, and critical inquiry and analysis.
Honors Core II: The Search for Community (HONC 1320)
Taken in the spring semester of the freshman year, the content of Honors Core II centers on a history of ideas about human society, the conflict over disparate social and cultural arrangements and public policy pronouncements becomes more specific. The course either examines differing societal formulations or it surveys some “hot button” social problems along with their attendant policy implications. In each case, students have to choose from multiple possibilities, all the while keeping in mind how a choice in one area calls out for consistency with choices in other areas. What is taking place for students can be nothing short of “building the big picture” with respect to society and public policy. The developmental component pushes students toward and through what William Perry terms “multiplicity” and into “contextual pluralism,” and what Mary Field Belenky and her colleagues call “constructed reality.”
Honors Core II is also team taught, allowing for a multidisciplinary approach. Class meetings alternate between large and small group meetings, with large group taking place no more than once weekly and continually less frequently as the semester progresses. Students enrolled in Honors Core II will complete a service learning project as part of the requirements for this course. This course will introduce students to the skills of integrative scholarship and ethical decision making as well as continue to practice previously introduced skills.
Honors Core III: The Search for Other (HONC 2310)
Offered in the fall semester of the sophomore year, Honors Core III presents ideas that directly engage notions of pluralism, expressly examining diversity in a variety of arenas religion, race, gender, social class, culture, legal systems, medical systems, ecosystems, etc. By this point in the curriculum, content is pushing beyond that of the Great Books canon and into newer texts feminist, post-colonial, post-structural, post-modernist.
Encountering this content brings with it an inherent challenge, requiring nearly every participant to question assumptions and taken-for-granted, received “wisdoms” acquired in one’s youth. Honors Core III is not (usually) team-taught, with students enrolling in one of five or six different offerings, in courses with student-teacher ratios of no more than fifteen to one. Having small classes all semester (contrasted with the Freshman Seminars’ sometimes large, sometimes small groups) puts students in a position to make more frequent oral presentations. By taking increasing responsibility for what transpires in the classroom, a student has a greater number of opportunities to make “commitments in the face of contextual pluralism” (William Perry).This course will introduce students to the skills of analyzing familiar cultural assumptions and will continue to practice previously introduced skills.
Honors Core IV: The Art of the Search (HONC 2320)
Taken in the spring of the sophomore year, Honors Core IV explores fundamental questions of aesthetics, beauty, the craft of human creative practices, and how the fine arts impact and enrich our lives. With small enrollments of no more than 15 students per faculty member, class participants can take charge of portions of the course to create and present examples of the content under study (painting, sculpture, music, film, theater, dance, and so on). In addition to practicing previously introduced skills, this course introduces students to skills that will allow them to analyze ideas, techniques, and processes that inform creative works within different cultural and historical contexts.
Honors Interdisciplinary Studies Minor
The requirement of interdisciplinarity remains critical to the mission of the junior and senior curricula, through which students are able to earn a minor in interdisciplinary studies. They are required to complete two junior-level seminars, courses delimited not by a discipline but by topic; a senior seminar that investigates global issues in an interdisciplinary manner; and an Oxford Tutorial followed by a Senior Capstone, during which a student completes a year-long, interdisciplinary project of undergraduate scholarship.
For partial completion of the Honors minor, students must complete a minimum of two Honors Seminars. These seminars are offered every semester and offer an in-depth, interdisciplinary study of variety of topics. These courses allow students opportunities to practice the skills that are introduced throughout the Honors Core Program and move them toward proficiency of these skills.
Oxford Tutorial (HONC 3320) fulfills the first of two required courses for completion of the Honors Capstone Project. It is designed to help students look critically at evidence, understand research ethics, develop research questions, try out arguments, and learn processes of scholarly inquiry. Tutorial should help students to not only synthesize information and respond critically to their sources, but also to master the facts and evidence upon which their responses are based. The course goal is for each student to develop a proposal and plan for her Capstone Project and to complete a substantial portion of the research and/or organization of the project before the end of the term. Capstone mentor with whom the student will meet weekly until the project is completed.
Honors Capstone is designed to support students as they develop, write, and present the Honors Capstone Project. Its most important function is to ensure that each student contributes new knowledge through completion of the project. The heart of the course will be the workshop, which will consist of writing, sharing, reading, and commenting on one another’s work. By the conclusion of this course, students should demonstrate proficiency in integrative scholarship, written and oral communication, and critical inquiry and analysis.
Senior Seminar is the capstone course for the Interdisciplinary skills acquired in the Honors minor. This course offers an in-depth study of a selected topic with a global studies emphasis. One option for senior seminar credit is to serve as a Pedagogical Assistant in Honors Core I or II. By the conclusion of this course, students should demonstrate proficiency in interdisciplinary learning, self-authorship, analyzing familiar cultural assumptions, and ethical decision making.