One of the pleasant benefits of my current position-working with faculty using technology-is that I have the opportunity to meet faculty from many academic disciplines and to discuss what they teach and how they teach it. It reinvigorates me and I learn different approaches to teaching my own subject. In addition, through this work I met a group of faculty who have worked together to write a manuscript on using videos to engage students and encourage critical thinking. The manuscript is under revision now.
I have frequently lamented universities’ lack of substantive support for cross-disciplinary collaboration and teaching. Perhaps that is because my area of expertise is legal studies-and legal studies are multi-discipinary. So, it was with interest that I read the article Communicating Across the Academic Divide in a January 2, 2011 commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In that post, the author discussed one critical issue that is a barrier to such cross-disciplinary collaboration: inability to easily communicate. The author stated, “Talking across disciplines is as difficult as talking to someone from another culture. Differences in language are the least of the problems; translations may be tedious and not entirely accurate, but they are relatively easy to accomplish. What is much more difficult is coming to understand and accept the way colleagues from different disciplines think—their assumptions and their methods of discerning, evaluating, and reporting “truth”—their disciplinary cultures and habits of mind.”
Interesting and provocative. I had always thought that significant innovation could occur through cross-disciplinary conversations and had been frustrated by the lack of consistent, sustainable University encouragement of such efforts. But the author’s point is well taken.
While writing the article on using videos, it was evident that we each had different habits of mind and approaches to what would be required for the article. We reached a rough compromise and I hope that that compromise will result in a published article (the first submission was rejected), but my experience confirmed what this author learned: the challenge may be in convincing our colleagues that each of our approaches is genuinely valuable. My experience in coordinating and co-writing the article was positive, yet there were differences in approaches that had to be resolved. And we each had an interest in engaging students and encouraging critical thinking, so our different approaches did not prevent us from reaching a mutually beneficial compromise.