Solutions to difficult problems at the interface of the environment and human society require the synthesis of diverse types of information from natural and social sciences. Today’s undergraduate and graduate students must develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities that allow them to undertake such synthesis efforts and successfully engage in interdisciplinary efforts to solve socio-environmental problems. As part of its mission, SESYNC is committed to supporting research to advance understanding of the competencies that are critical for socio-environmental synthesis, including the ability to integrate knowledge from disparate domains.
This RFP seeks proposals that build upon existing knowledge from various disciplines to advance our understanding of 1) how undergraduate and graduate students learn to integrate data, concepts, techniques, approaches, tools, perspectives, theories, etc. from natural and social sciences to understand environmental problems and inform solutions, and 2) pedagogies that support the development of this cognitive ability in a socio-environmental context at the undergraduate or graduate level.
We invite teams to submit proposals for synthesis research to advance understanding of student learning processes and pedagogies regarding interdisciplinary integration, particularly across natural and social sciences in the context of environmental problems. Many types or combinations of synthesis approaches are possible, including for example: synthesis and evaluation of existing data, integration of knowledge to develop new theoretical frameworks, or connection of education theory/practice with other fields (e.g., artificial intelligence). Synthesis research activities should emphasize the process of teaching or learning at the undergraduate or graduate level rather than focus exclusively on content; proposals that include course content development must be framed within a larger process focus. As part of the proposed work, we encourage all teams to consider how to assess the ability to integrate across disciplines.
We hope to catalyze collaborations across a broad range of areas. Thus, teams might include experts from domains traditionally engaged in social and environmental research; learning, behavioral, and cognitive sciences; information and computer sciences; and education-related disciplines. Anticipated team products are scholarly publications, although other types of products, such as novel databases, may also emerge from this work. Because a major goal of this RFP is to produce research that informs classroom practice, educational policies, and curriculum and program development, we also encourage teams to consider the “actionability” of the project results (i.e., implementation and diffusion of findings and of emerging pedagogies).
Below, we provide examples of questions that could be addressed. These examples are meant only to illustrate the diversity of potential topics related to developing the ability to integrate knowledge across natural and social sciences, rather than defining the full extent of relevant topics.
- What is the role of disciplinary learning in the development of the ability to synthesize socio-environmental data, concepts, approaches, etc.?
- What are the critical barriers and opportunities for synthesizing knowledge across natural science and social science disciplines with respect to environmental issues? What pedagogies can help students overcome these barriers?
- “Knowledge structures” (“mental models”, “conceptual frameworks”, or “schemas”) refer to the way knowledge in a domain is organized and meaning is created. How do knowledge structures differ between natural and social sciences, and do these differences create barriers to interdisciplinary work? How can knowledge structures that facilitate the integration of knowledge across natural and social science domains be developed?
- What particular cognitive skills can help students identify meaningful patterns or integrate knowledge across disciplines? What pedagogies can help develop these cognitive skills?
- How can cyber-learning tools facilitate the instruction and learning of interdisciplinary integration across natural and social sciences?
- How do students learn to use and integrate large and diverse data sets? What are the challenges and opportunities for developing this competency, especially for integration of data sets across natural and social science disciplines?
- How might the fundamental skills and competencies underlying interdisciplinary integration be reliably assessed in individuals?
For questions about this RFP or the submission process, please contact: education @sesync.org
Repko, A.F. 2008. Assessing Interdisciplinary Learning Outcomes. Academic Exchange Quarterly. Vol. 12, pg.171