"We had to come at it from a totally different perspective. The learning didn’t have anything to do with our disciplines, per se. It was broader."
~Scott, Professor of English
Myth vs. Reality Faculty consistently prioritize their academic discipline in education abroad courses. But focusing on a single discipline isn't enough to support intercultural learning.
Whereas disciplinary content helps students understand their major, intercultural learning enables them to apply that knowledge across cultural contexts (Universities, nd-b; Almeida et al., 2016; Smith-Augustine et al., 2014). That application transcends a single academic discipline, and increasing interdisciplinary course content helps students develop intercultural competence (Laux, 2021).
The Research Effective intercultural learning requires a high level of interdisciplinarity (Laux, 2021). Research reveals 5 key findings about increasing interdisciplinarity in education abroad courses:
Discipline-specific and global learning content are prioritized in education abroad courses
More than one discipline is needed to support intercultural learning
Many faculty feel unprepared to teach content beyond their primary discipline
Developing the expertise to integrate interdisciplinary content into a course is difficult and time-consuming
Faculty report that increasing interdisicplinarity in education abroad courses improves students' ability to navigate culture
The Solutions Helping students build intercultural competence requires a wide range of knowledge and skills, and strategic course design can help. The 5 design principles help faculty faculty increase interdisciplinarity in their course design. Getting started is easy. Faculty can:
1. Add courses from other disciplines. "A second course was added in areas that I was not knowledgeable about. By combining my course with the other one, it makes a better mix for most students."
~Rebecca, performing arts professor
2. Co-teach the course with colleagues from other disciplines.
"We taught an interdisciplinary course. We had to come at it from a totally different perspective. We had to rethink our learning outcomes. Our disciplines really took a backseat."
~Scott, English professor
3. Expand their own expertise.
"I teach environmental science, anthropology, sociology, and outdoor recreation. I lay over the cultural lens on top of that. The different perspectives [give a] level of resolution that enriches [the] student experience."
~Kevin, anthropology professor
4. Integrate local experts into the course.
"I organize seminars around different topics. I’ll have the leading black intellectual, an immigrant worker, musicians, and art historians come in and talk about it. People who can speak into those topics."