A curriculum approach to critical thinking that is transdisciplinary, collaborative and relevant

In response to: http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/critical-thinking-in-the-curriculum-donald-lazere/37094?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

Philadelphia University’s mission is to define professional education at the university level through our teaching and research, and to deliver an educational experience that prepare students to be leaders at every level of their careers in a rapidly changing world. 

We are breaking people out of their disciplinary silos to work collaboratively on real-world, complex human problems — the kind that are relevant to industry today and in the future.  For the past four years we have engaged in a formal process of reviewing and revising the curriculum to more pervasively and sustainably deliver on the promise of a new, more relevant educational paradigm.  We are passionate about elevating the university experience by addressing what we believe is the false dichotomy between educating the professional degree candidates and liberal arts education.  Our proposition is that the liberal arts are better served by educating the engineer, design, architect, health scientist and business student in critical thinking through the lens of the student’s professional passion. 

The pedagogical nucleus is an education framework that defines, focuses upon and measures collaborative, active, engaged, real world learning that is infused with the liberal arts.  The most profound manifestation of that framework is in our newly formed College of Design, Engineering and Commerce (DEC).  Structuring the college as a collaboration brings disciplines into intimate proximity.  It affects all aspects of university life; governance, teaching and research. The enhanced curriculum includes four transdisciplinary courses taught over four years and culminating in a senior capstone.  We believe the disciplinary perspective is enhanced, not diluted by the “DEC Core” because the student must argue their disciplinary position in a team of otherwise trained colleagues.  You must understand your perspective in the context of the problem and your teammates’ decision frame.  Our beta testing of the curriculum found that students spent more time observing, researching and critically analyzing data before delivering their arguments.  They also tend to offer a variety of options rather than absolute conclusions.  There is an interesting mix of quantitative certainty (“the structure must have a foundation of X to support y”) and qualitative alternatives (“we could build a structure or we could offer an enhanced service”).  The passion derived from their discipline is not muted but it is argued in a less sterile environment. 

We believe three broad learning objectives can be achieved through this curriculum and add value to a graduate’s degree:

  1. Students learn to form transdisciplinary teams and function effectively as a part of those teams.
  2. Students define problems rather than expecting to be handed a problem to answer.
  3. Students create solutions rather than singular conclusions.

The transdisciplinary imperative is critical in professional education on the university level.  Most teams function as a triage structure to assign individual tasks that are then negotiated into a more holistic solution.  That is an inter-disciplinary team.  Transdisciplinary teams must understand the decision-making frames of their teammates, considering the critical thinking of other disciplines when making their decisions.  Importantly, when debating the possible solutions to problems, the student needs a deep understanding of their own discipline to properly represent that perspective in the team.  Deep disciplinary understanding, transdisciplinary awareness, observation and analysis, debate and solutions.  That is the liberal arts-professional education marriage made at Philadelphia University.

1 Comment

One Response to A curriculum approach to critical thinking that is transdisciplinary, collaborative and relevant

  1. Chuck Cadle says:

    Dr. Spinelli,
    I have enjoyed discussions with D.R. Widder. Entrepreneuralism is empowering people to imagine the possibilities and to collaborate with like minded individuals. It is an extension of creative problem solving. The passion for a new idea can only lead to reflective excitement about possibilities.

    Great blog.

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