Historically, the higher education system adopted the disciplinary approach where students were granted with the opportunity and freedom to choose what they wanted to study in the colleges and universities. However, concerns grew later as Holley (2009, p. 36) notes in his article that there was a need to educate the whole person. This according to Holley implied that students required to be informed on other aspects of societal development as well; for instance, the common set of societal values. In consequence, this required the education curriculum to begin integrating the knowledge, ideas, and themes from other fields of study; thus, the coined term interdisciplinary study. This paper is going to examine the history of interdisciplinary approaches and also its distinctness from the disciplinary approaches.
Although the disciplinary approaches were important and significant as they offered more and wide knowledge to students in that particular field. This is because it required students to specialize in one field of study and exhaust everything that needed in that area. However, as Holley (2009, p. 38) notes, there was a need to have a balanced system of education that supported a vibrant democracy in America. This called for changes in some colleges and universities; for example, the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay was the first to be granted the charter in 1965 to engage in environmental studies so as to examine the problems associated with the environment and also engage the interdisciplinary approach as a means to identifying and studying those problems (Holley, 2009, p. 38). Other institutions also got involved in the process of fostering the interdisciplinary studies including Evergreen State College in 1967 and the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1965 (Holley, 2009, p. 38). As Holley further states, the interdisciplinary study approaches and efforts that were undertaken by the first institutions mentioned above aimed at providing the students with the comprehensive and unified educational experience. Therefore, studies emphasized on concepts that were considered to be important in realizing the interdisciplinary approach through the integration of the subjects, ideas, knowledge, and themes from other disciplines. Holley (2009) further notes that despite having being granted the charter and the license to perform an interdisciplinary approach, the universities did not find it easy to realize the anticipated growth.
Interdisciplinary study approach is important in natural and health science fields because it provides the students in that particular field with the approaches to explain and understand the probing and the meaning of the expression which can be obtained from the other fields of study such as humanities (Newell et al., 2001, p. 4). Newell et al. (2001) explain the distinction between natural science and humanities and arts. The authors explain that while natural sciences tend to be more concerned with the rules that govern the human behavior, the humanities and arts tend to be concerned with the behavior that is syncretic, unique, and personal (p. 4). This means that the arts and humanities seek to understand the regular, predictable, and lawful behaviors. Through this, the natural and health science students can have a comprehensive knowledge that is acquired through an interdisciplinary approach.
An interdisciplinary approach has changed the way natural sciences are taught in colleges and universities today. A good example of a field that involves interdisciplinary study approach is the environmental studies that involve multiple sciences; for instance, physical, chemical, and geological. Again, environmental science studies also involve understanding the effects of human activities which are studied in the social science and arts fields; for example, law and economics. The interdisciplinary study approaches as explained above continues to change the face of education in the contemporary society. This will provide students with the knowledge to understand the complexities of nature, society, and human beings (Jones, 2010). In disciplines like environmental science, interdisciplinary studies will assist students to attack the most critical technological and socio-technological problems facing the world today; for example, climate change, sustainability, and public health (Borrego & Newswander, 2010, p. 61).
The same concept also applies to the social sciences and humanities studies. The humanities, for example, focus on the complexities of real-world challenges and experiences. This involves emphasizing on the effects, expressions, values, and their meaning in the human lives (Jones, 2010, p. 4). As the human life continues to be complex, people seek to understand their own self-experiences. For instance, in the field of history as a humanity study, one cannot understand the concept of human civilization without involving other disciplines such as philosophy and religious studies as well. Understanding how the human civilization has changed over the past centuries requires other fields like the philosophy that provides the theoretical concepts that can help one with the basis of understanding the humanity personalities.
Despite that the disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches do not have many differences, but there is distinctiveness that is uniquely identified with the specific approach. For instance, in disciplinary approach, learners acquire knowledge and skills in a given discipline in which they specialize such as physics, biology, chemistry, and astronomy. On the other hand, interdisciplinary is the integration of more than one discipline in the learning process with the aim of enhancing and enriching the educational experience of learners. This approach involves synthesizing ideas, knowledge, and themes from other disciplines to enable learners to have a comprehensive learning process (Graff, 2016); for instance, in the case of environmental science where learners are equipped with knowledge and concepts from other disciplines such as physical, chemical, geological, and biological studies (Jones, 2010, p. 4).
In summary, this paper has examined the history of interdisciplinary studies and how it has affected the education system in the modern society. Despite several critiques, the interdisciplinary study approach is still embraced in the modern educational system as it not only equips learners with the specialized skills in their areas of specialization, but it also offers students with the social life skills that enable them to cope with the challenges experienced in the modern complex society.
Borrego, M., & Newswander, L. K. (2010). Definitions of interdisciplinary research: Toward graduate-level interdisciplinary learning outcomes. The Review of Higher Education, 34(1), 61-84. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/395602/pdf
Graff, H. J. (2016). The" Problem" of Interdisciplinarity in Theory, Practice, and History. Social Science History, 40(4), 775-803. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/social-science-history/article/problem-of-interdisciplinarity-in-theory-practice-and-history/8B306077373A433D85C837622F447440
Holley, K. A. (2009). Understanding interdisciplinary challenges and opportunities in higher education. Jossey-Bass, 31-42. Retrieved from https://writedom.com/api/download/567852
Jones, C. (2010). Interdisciplinary Approach-Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI, 7(1), 26.
Newell, W. H., Wentworth, J., & Sebberson, D. (2001). A theory of interdisciplinary studies. Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/jrankin/www/interdisciplinary/interdisc_Newell.pdf
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