I didn’t end up blogging a lot about the ideas from the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference I attended in Edmonton – lots more about the meetings with people and the day-to-day stuff I was doing. But there definitely were exciting ideas and exciting sessions (even if I skipped a fair few to see people!), and I did want to capture some of that.
Marcia Baxter Magolda did a nice keynote address at the beginning on the development of university students, from a longitudinal study she did where she interviewed college students in their early 20s about their ways of thinking and then interviewed the same people years later at 40. Lots of interesting ideas, but it seemed as though her scheme led up to a very selfish end: the highest stage of her stage theory, which partly paralleled William Perry’s, was ‘self-authorship’, with the students talking about making their own decisions based on their own values rather than accepting the values of others. That was OK as far as it went, but it did not get to the notion of interdependence and relationship, or to the notions of citizenship that we were advocating in our presentation. Making decisions oneself, but taking into account the ideas, perspectives and needs of others, from family to those effected by one’s decisions even in other countries, seems to me like a higher level than Baxter Magolda’s highly individualistic approach.
But I didn’t even mean to write about that! I started (and the title reflects) thinking about the idea of interdisciplinary studies. There was a very interesting discussion with Trish Ferret, Mary Huber and Bettie Higgs, based on Bettie’s presentation, about “what does it take to do interdisciplinary work?” My contention was that it was a matter of emotion rather than reason – it’s not really about being rationally convinced that it’s a good thing to do, or even about having the brains to do it. Rather, it’s about feeling as though you ‘have what it takes’ and having the confidence to step outside your own comfortable disciplinary boundaries.
I think it’s about confidence and security. It requires a level of maturity and comfort with your own discipline that allows you to ‘play’ with it rather than to be terribly serious, and also a bit of an ‘outside’ critical perspective that makes its underlying assumptions visible to you (rather than hidden and taken-for-granted). It also requires a level of personal security that allows you to make mistakes in the new discipline(s) you are exploring without being embarrassed and withdrawing, a willingness to ask questions, and a certain carpet-bagging willingness to use the tools of a discipline as soon as you know enough to make that possible, rather than feeling as though you have to wait until you have complete mastery of all the skills and ideas of a discipline before you can do valuable work in relation to it.
Maybe it’s just chutzpah!