This project will build on a J. J. Kidd Fellowship, which has been awarded to Gavin Schwartz-Leeper by the European Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences consortium to undertake comparative analyses of constructivist approaches to inter- and transdisciplinary education and pastoral practices at leading liberal arts programmes in the United States as part of a process to shape a complementary and unique approach to transdisciplinary teaching and learning at the University of Warwick. I will visit a small private college (Pomona College), a large private university (Stanford University), a large public university (University of California Davis), and a large ‘global liberal studies’ program (New York University) to provide a cross-sectional view of practices at top American institutions. IATL funding (together with matching funding agreed from Liberal Arts at Warwick) will be used to visit the above-named institutions, which have been selected because of their leading reputations in the sector and to capitalize on already-developed connections between them and the University of Warwick. These connections will enable a research programme consisting of two days of teaching observation; one half-day of researcher-led student focus groups; and one half-day of researcher-led faculty interviews across each institution. I will record teaching sessions and examine these recordings with relevant faculty-members at the host institution to detail how curricula are created and describe perceptions of their success (or failure) when put into practice. I will set this against student perceptions of value and quality regarding academic rigour and post-graduation employability (following Pascarella et. al., 2005; and Luke et. al., 2014).
Using theoretical frameworks developed by Chickering (1969) and refined by Chickering and Reissner (1993), this project will focus on issues of perception; I will examine not just how these institutions generate or support learning event content within a transdisciplinary context (following Kolb, et. al., 2014), but how staff and students perceive those events to be valuable, successful, and/or relevant. This will allow me to develop an open and democratic approach to transdisciplinary modules and programmes at the University of Warwick that empowers students to pursue self-directed learning that works in a complementary fashion with teacher-delivered content. I will conduct this research in collaboration with Prof. Cathia Jenainati, Academic Director (BA Liberal Arts). Follow-on research and implementation will be undertaken in a collaborative fashion with IATL and Liberal Arts students from AY2016.
This approach will allow me to see how different institutions organize liberal arts/transdisciplinary curricula, how those curricula are used in various learning spaces, and how students and staff perceive (or measure) the success of those efforts. The interviews will also allow me to set perceptions of event-specific activities against the broader framework of transdisciplinary curricula: how closely do teachers tie each learning event to an overarching pedagogic narrative? Do students understand this approach, and how do they see it functioning between peer groups—i.e., in comparison to those undertaken by peers in non-liberal education programmes—in terms of the Chickering/Reisser differentiation/integration framework (Chickering and Reisser, 1993)? Do students feel a sense of empowerment towards or ownership of their degree programme? And in a related fashion, to what degree do transdisciplinary degree students feel responsible for self-directed learning, and do they see this responsibility as adding or removing value from their degree? Do students and educators share the same foundational philosophical aims for a transdisciplinary education (following Arcilla, 2014)? How were these aims generated and subsequently internalized, and how do they change over time?
Analyzing staff and student responses to learning events within a broader context of constructivist transdisciplinary narratives at these institutions will allow me to help create pedagogical, pastoral, and administrative approaches at Warwick that integrate internationally-recognized praxis with student-led strategic input. This comparative methodology also will allow me to develop further connections between these institutions and the University of Warwick: while we have agreed student exchange programmes already established, I would like to use this funding to build connections that lead to the establishment of teacher and researcher exchanges. These exchanges would form the basis of an international research network, to be supported by future funding bids and to build on the recent major Erasmus+ BLASTER award granted to IATL and Liberal Arts at Warwick.