Thursday, May 31, 2018

Teaching Interdisciplinary Students

        Contributed By: Lauren Granillo, Matthew Marquis, and Khang Ton

Teaching interdisciplinary courses involves several unique challenges which stem from student diversity. Students may be in different stages of their educations/careers, may have different interests and long-term goals, and may have been prepared to different degrees by their prior coursework. In our meeting on May 16, 2018, we discussed the current state of interdisciplinary education at UC Davis, the value of interdisciplinary education, and strategies which may be used to overcome its unique challenges.

We began the session by focusing on graduate groups at UC Davis as a model for interdisciplinary education. An open discussion was held regarding the advantages and disadvantages of enrollment in a graduate group and interdisciplinary education in general. members of the group shared their experiences participating in graduate groups and teaching interdisciplinary courses.One major theme that emerged was the advantage of obtaining a breadth of knowledge with the caveat that it must not come at the expense of gaining a depth of knowledge.

The group them moved on to an in-class activity meant to practice one teaching strategy which is particularly useful in interdisciplinary classes. The strategy, called a knowledge assessment exercise, is meant to address variation in student preparedness for a particular lesson. Knowledge assessment exercises gauge the students’ knowledge of  material prerequisite to the lesson and thus allow the instructor to focus effort on explaining topics which students know the least about. GTC members took turns presenting multiple choice knowledge questions to the rest of the group. The challenge to the questioner was to guess what proportion of the group would answer the question correctly. Several members of the group found the exercise enlightening in that they realized that trivia which they take for granted may not be known to people in other disciplines. As concluding remarks, it was noted that knowledge assessment questions should be carefully crafted to directly address knowledge that students will need for the lesson at hand and that the assessor should be cognisant of the inherent challenge in distinguishing a lack of knowledge from a lack of understanding.

Others challenges and strategies were then covered and are are summarized as follows:

Key ideas for instructors to consider when teaching and planning an interdisciplinary course:
  • How can I use student’s aspirations/current careers in examples
  • How can I best evaluate the level of knowledge that students have entering the class
  • Are there areas/examples that I can be more flexible in and open up to ideas from my students
  • How best can I encourage students from different academic backgrounds to work together and engage in interdisciplinary dialogue

The meeting was concluded with a brief viewing of 9 hypothetical steps to success in interdisciplinary teaching which were proposed by Allen Repko, Director of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program for the School of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington. These steps are:
1. DEFINE problems, issues, topics or questions that warrant interdisciplinary examination
2. PRESENT a clear rationale for taking interdisciplinary approach including the advantages to be gained
3. IDENTIFY relevant disciplines
4. CONDUCT a literature review (what is known on the topic from each of the disciplines)
5. DEVELOP a command of each relevant discipline. Set out the analytical structure central to each discipline, identify key underlying assumptions, and methods of evaluation.
6. STUDY the problem and generate insights including predictions from each of the relevant disciplines - in isolation!!
7. IDENTIFY conflicts between and/or areas of complementarity between the insights offered from each discipline
8. CREATE common ground by developing a cohesive framework of analysis that incorporates insights from the relevant disciplines in a systematic manner.
9. COMBINE disciplinary insights to construct a new, more integrated understanding of the problem.

Assessment Strategies for Language-Diverse and International Students

                   Contributed By: Natalie Swinford and Stacy Wittstock

UC Davis is a linguistically diverse campus, with much of its student population being bi or multilingual.
  • According to UC Davis Admissions, of the undergraduate students admitted in 2016-2017, about 41% spoke only English at home, 27% spoke English and another language, and 33% spoke only another language at home.
  • Additionally, in the 2017-2018 academic year, about 16% of the undergraduate degree-seeking population  at UC Davis were international visa-holders (Budget and Institutional Analysis, 2017), with the university accepting over 60% of its international applicants for 2017-2018 (UC Institutional Research and Academic Planning, 2017).

Who are Language-Diverse Students?
  • International visa-holders
  • Immigrant students
  • Generation 1.5
    • Students who either immigrated here when they were very young, or students whose parents are first generation immigrants
    • Grew up within the American school system, but likely spoke a language or languages other than English at home
  • Students from various cultural communities who may speak in non-dominant dialects at home (e.g., African American Vernacular English, Appalachian English, etc.)

Challenges Language-Diverse Students Face
  • May have varying levels of background or experience training in grammar, style, and/or other conventions for formal academic writing in English (e.g., citation practices, essay forms, etc.)
  • May have varying levels of proficiency in different modalities of English (i.e., speaking, listening, writing, or reading) (Menken, 2013)
  • May have limited or interrupted literacy education in their home language (due to refugee status, limited access to education, etc.) (Menken, 2013)
  • May have limited background knowledge on US culture or history
  • May display a “written accent” or other signs of ESL writing (Cox, 2011; Matsuda, 2012)

Teaching and Assessment Strategies
  • Take some time to understand your students’ backgrounds, and the knowledge, experiences, and skills they bring to your classroom
  • Provide regular opportunities for students to interact with their peers and with you
  • Build in opportunities for student self-reflection and formative assessment
  • Provide numerous opportunities for students to ask questions
  • Intervene when you notice a student is struggling
  • Provide frequent, timely feedback on writing and other work in class
  • Set expectations for writing early, and align those expectations with assignment rubrics, which in turn should be aligned with course objectives
  • Expect and respect that multilingual students will write with “written accents”
    • It is nearly impossible for students for whom English is not their first language to write like native English speakers do, no matter how fluent they are (Cox, 2011; Matsuda, 2012). This is not to say that students can never get to that point--just that they should not be expected to.  
  • Be strategic in your feedback, and focus on what relates most closely to your course objectives
    • Our instinct is often to correct errors, but much of the literature on written corrective feedback is inconclusive at best (Ferris, 2004).

Something to think about…
“As teachers, we cannot make students learn; we can only create a condition in which learning can happen. Still, the principle of instructional alignment reminds us not to punish students for what teachers do not teach or for what cannot be learned even with the best intentions of both teachers and students. In other words, the outcomes to be assessed must be achievable with instruction and students’ good-faith efforts” (Matsuda, 2012, p. 144).

Campus and Online Resources

Cox, M. (2011). WAC: Closing doors or opening doors for second language writers. Across the Disciplines, 8(4).
Ferris, D. R. (2004). The “grammar correction” debate in L2 writing: Where are we, and where do we go from here?(and what do we do in the meantime…?). Journal of second language writing, 13(1), 49-62.
Matsuda, P. K. (2012). Let’s face it: Language issues and the writing program administrator. WPA: Writing Program Administration, 36(1), 141-163.

Menken, K. (2013). Emergent bilingual students in secondary school: Along the academic language and literacy continuum. Language Teaching, 46(4), 438-476.