Saturday, April 14, 2018

On Interdisciplinarity

Author's note: I was asked to write an executive summary about interdisciplinarity for an internal report regarding our strategic planning process. I share it here for your consideration and comment.

Interdisciplinarity is the response to the observation that problems don’t obey traditional disciplinary boundaries. We organize our higher education structures around disciplinary boundaries for a variety of practical and justifiable reasons, but such structures make it easy for us—and more importantly, our students—to fall prey to the fallacy that we understand the whole because we understand the parts. The real problems of the 21st century, such as ethical use of digital data, education reform, global climate change, and post-work economics can only be addressed by exploring the intersections of traditional academic domains.

In 1968, Melvin Conway observed that organizations are constrained to create systems that reflect their own internal communication patterns. This is clearly manifest in the conventional curricular structures of higher education in general and Ball State University in particular. These conventions long predate our contemporary understanding of how people learn. We know that individuals learn by connecting new knowledge into an active network of prior knowledge. We know that context matters—context that includes the place, time, community, and content. We know that learning happens when students bring all their senses and skills to bear on problems that they are motivated to solve, in teams, in connection with a network of experts, with rapid and honest feedback. Most importantly, we know that the world our students already inhabit is constantly connected, containing ubiquitous and chaotic information. An interdisciplinary approach to higher education is therefore not merely an option: it is an ethical necessity for any who think deeply about our role as educators.

A corollary of Conway’s observation is that we can change how we create educational systems by altering how we communicate with each other, and this can point us toward an enlightened future for higher education. By enshrining interdisciplinarity in our university, we align ourselves and our students toward addressing significant contemporary problems. We have taken important and pioneering steps through programs such as the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry and the Immersive Learning program. However, these are pushed to the periphery of the student experience rather than the center. We can instead embrace the challenge of facing interdisciplinary problems--as scholars, in our teaching, research, and service—and the strategic plan can shine light onto our path.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Burning down hours, burning up coffee

My game development studio decided, at the end of Sprint 2, to start tracking how many cups of coffee they consume from our communal Keurig each day. Truly, this is an exceptional team in terms of coffee consumption, and they recognized this might be an interesting bit of data to track. They finished Sprint 3 last Friday, and so today I tallied up the results on the coffee tracker, and I added a new vertical to the burndown chart:

The careful observer will note that I had a bit of trouble placing the dots, since we're measuring cups of coffee consumed on a different scale than hours burned down. Hours remaining are counted at the beginning of each MWF meeting, so the first data point is the total original estimate and steady leads to zero. For coffee, we're counting cups consumed each day, including the first and last days.

To facilitate smoother tracking for Sprint 4, I added a new right vertical to my template:
Time will tell if the right vertical axis values are correct.