In our educational spaces, we often break our areas of expertise down into specific subject matters. We educate, train, and certify classroom teachers in terms of grade bands and content or disciplines. Students in schools spend time blocked off in different subjects where they receive instruction in a content area and earn grades that signify their level of expertise and competence in that area.
We separate our time in the educational pathway into grade levels and content areas to make it a bit easier to certify and support educators as they work with youth. But, these artificially designed pieces end up creating silos where educators and students set up camp and develop expectations about what, why, and how we learn. This raises the question about whether we need to erase the boundaries between disciplines, or do we need to—in a sense—harden them so that students learn where they start and end and are therefore better prepared for their futures?
A transdisciplinary lens challenges educators and researchers to consider the spaces in which learning occurs and overcome established paradigms and competition within and between disciplines. 1 This post will examine the ways that education tries to carve out a space for collaboration and ambiguity between the disciplines and suggests there is a need to deconstruct assumptions made about educational structures and systems to de/re-territorialize teaching, learning, and assessment. 2
Some theories of education shift the focus from understanding of formal concepts to meaning-making to encourage students and educators to cross disciplinary connections. 3 As instruction moves away from traditional understandings of content areas and disciplines to craft new blended content areas (e.g. Humanities, STEM, STEAM), there is an opportunity to find content area literacies in context in other disciplines. 4 A desire to study across “individual attributes, at the nexus of institutional and material practices and textual cultures, instrumentality, and the production of agency and identity.” 5 Educators seek not for disciplinary purity and isolation, but to explore knowledge, discourse, and literacy practices around mutual areas of inquiry. 6 Instruction may also focus on teaching strategies that integrate multiple domains of knowledge into a single unit of study, such as authentic learning 7 or project-based learning. 8
In the graphic above, you can see two disciplines with their own sets of practices, skills, content, and dispositions. In an interdisciplinary perspective, educators and the content work together synergistically to understand an object of inquiry.
One way to consider this is to think about a science teacher and an art teacher working together on a unit with students. The science teacher would consider the content and curriculum they are teaching. The art teacher would think about their content and curriculum. The process or product of the interdisciplinary unit might have students use art to illustrate or creatively express content of the other discipline. This is not a bad thing, but we’re reminded of Aristotle who stated, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
Metadisciplinarity is the understanding of the structure of a discipline, “of what the discipline is, what it tries to accomplish, and how it tries to accomplish its aims.” 9 Metadisciplinarity goes beyond one discipline into the structural understanding of various disciplines in order to make comparisons and connections between disciplines. 11 The elements of metadisciplinarity include practices such as defining notions, generalizing ideas, drawing parallels, developing classifications, choosing proper classification grounds and criteria; to find out causal relationships, building logical reasoning and making (inductive, deductive, analogical) conclusions. 12
In the graphic above, metadisciplinarity finds the connections, or correspondence (marked with “μ”) between subsets of practices, skills, content, and dispositions from one discipline to the other.
One way to think about this is using our example of a science and an art teacher working on a collaborative unit. Teachers and students would examine and compare the similarities and differences between the two content areas. They may consider the affordances of each of of the disciplines.
As detailed above, educational research and practice can be framed as a spectrum starting from content area silos and a disciplinary focus to more of an integrated interdisciplinary connection that includes multidisciplinary associations. The concept of transdisciplinarity is slippery, in flux, and has a plurality of definitions. 13 One of the features of transdisciplinarity is blurring and transcending disciplines. These spaces have been shown to provide fertile grounds for exploring patterns of change, transformations, and invariants in and across content areas. 14 Transdisciplinarity breaks down the silos and pro-
vides an enriched experience that is more true to life in that disciplines are experienced
simultaneously rather than in isolation. 15
In the graphic above, transdisciplinarity involves the blending of disciplines by blending of practices, skills, content, and dispositions from one discipline to the other.
One way to think about this is with our example of a science and art teacher working together on a unit. They consider the concepts, expressions, and forms shown in art, science, and in-between. They study gardens as heterogenous assemblages where art, science, and people meet. They consider how the plants need water and cultivating in order for the garden to prosper. In their work, they include elements of art, science, and beyond. But, their work process and product is an iterative assemblage as they consider where the living sciences, and abstract nature of art meet.
This post was written by Nenad Radakovic and Ian O’Byrne. This was originally posted here. Portions of this content from our publication titled Toward Transdisciplinarity: Constructing Meaning Where Disciplines Intersect, Combine, and Shift.