The material and the type of learners you’re dealing with are the most important things to consider when deciding which pedagogy will be most effective. Of the many teaching styles available, interdisciplinary instruction is recognized for its many benefits in schooling and beyond.

Interdisciplinary instruction is on the rise in higher education, especially in life sciences, where students must have a well-rounded understanding of each course they take to be successful in their studies. Keep reading to learn more about interdisciplinary instruction and how instructors use it to create better students.

What Is Interdisciplinary Instruction?

Interdisciplinary instruction is a form of teaching that analyzes and draws links between different disciplines to form a coherent and complete understanding of the issue at hand. It teaches students to take insight from other disciplines and synthesize them to create dependable solutions to real-world problems. 

People may have different interpretations or viewpoints on any given topic depending on their field of study. An article by IndiaBioscience used water to illustrate this concept by outlining how chemists, physicists, biologists, and musicians all view water differently. 

The chemist sees water as a mixture of elements, while the musician explains what they know about water using the sounds often associated with it. In interdisciplinary work, all these different perspectives would be used to develop a deeper understanding of what water is. This is the goal throughout interdisciplinary instruction on any given topic.

Once a student under interdisciplinary instruction has gathered the perspective of water from multiple disciplines, they can use this knowledge to solve real-world problems. In this case, issues surrounding water pollution, water availability, and other pressing water issues.

Interdisciplinary instruction and life sciences

Life science is a broad discipline that studies living organisms and life processes. Some of the most common practices in this discipline include biology, medicine, and agriculture. The interdisciplinary approach is effective for these areas of study, as they often require general knowledge and understanding of math, chemistry, physics, and biology. Understanding these subjects allows students to apply their knowledge to more complex topics and aids in overall problem-solving. 

For example, a student studying to be a nurse is expected to have a well-rounded knowledge of several disciplines. A nurse may use math to ensure correct dosing, ethics to consider patient autonomy, chemistry to understand how medications react to the body, and psychology to better understand a patient’s behavior and recognize changes. 

How Interdisciplinary Instruction Creates Better Students and Graduates

Interdisciplinary instruction is a learning style that provides students with many valuable tools that prepare them for real-world problem-solving. Some key benefits students will gain from interdisciplinary instruction include the following.

Complex problem-solving skills

Interdisciplinary teaching helps students better understand complex issues and use their well-rounded knowledge to provide the best viable solution. One of the biggest challenges students will face throughout their schooling career and beyond is the ambiguity of certain issues. Interdisciplinary instruction acts as a guide for students learning to examine different, sometimes conflicting, perspectives. 

It also encourages students to consider ethics in their problem-solving strategies. Discussing ethics from the perspectives of other disciplines allows for student engagement and original thinking, which they will need to make real-world decisions with ethics in mind. 

This is an important skill when pursuing a career in life sciences, as the field often deals with the ethics of using living organisms in research and practice. 

The ability to create links across various subjects

Learning how to use their knowledge of one discipline to aid their understanding of another will help students become more confident and well-rounded in their professional development.

In the world of life science, being able to view living organisms and the issues surrounding them from various perspectives is vital. For example, if a student is working in medicine and conducting research on a possible drug, they would benefit greatly from understanding the chemistry behind the drug, the math used for correct dosing, and the ethics behind testing the drug. 

Only after considering all of these perspectives can they confidently push the new medication to the public with positive feedback and results.

The ability to better evaluate the “big picture”

In life sciences, many factors are often at play in any situation or problem. Interdisciplinary teaching widens the scope of learning so that students can problem-solve from all sides and be confident that they understand all aspects of the topic at hand.

Science disciplines are not isolated from each other, making it nearly impossible to draw informed conclusions without interdisciplinary instruction. When students learn how to incorporate the perspectives of different disciplines, they can better provide a solution that considers all of the factors that will be affected. 

Strategies Used in Interdisciplinary Instruction

There are three primary approaches to the interdisciplinary curriculum:

  • Contextualizing
  • Conceptualizing 
  • Problem-centering

The approach is chosen based on the type of inquiry used in the classroom. In some cases, instructors could use all three in their interdisciplinary units to further deepen their students’ understanding of the material and sharpen their problem-solving skills. All disciplines in life science can benefit from each of these approaches, as they come with their own advantages.

Contextualizing

Contextualizing, or context building, is a method that involves embedding course material in the fabric of time, culture, and personal experience. Educators favor this method as it serves as a way to bridge the gap between concepts and real-world experiences. Contextualizing topics allows instructors to increase student engagement and spark original thinking.

In life sciences, it is helpful to show students the importance of the material and how to apply it in the real world. Context on hypothetical or historical situations can help students apply their interdisciplinary knowledge to determine the best course of action. Through contextualizing, teachers can introduce situations that allow integration from other disciplines to form a complete picture of the concept. 

Contextualization is often seen in medicine, specifically with doctors, nurses, and other professions that deal directly with human care.

 In medical school, instructors may provide students with hypothetical clinical situations. These scenarios allow them to exercise their knowledge in their field while also applying the knowledge from other disciplines to reach a diagnosis and treatment plan, all while ensuring that they follow ethical practices. This type of exercise not only serves students as they aim to fully comprehend a topic but will continue to be useful as they continue in their careers and face real-world situations. 

Conceptualizing

Interdisciplinary instruction teaches students to view concepts differently depending on the discipline being considered. Conceptualizing involves identifying the core concepts that multiple disciplines have in common and drawing connections between them. Conceptualization is a vital skill in interdisciplinary learning as it allows students to become comfortable abstracting known data to its empirical core. This also shows students that there are underlying patterns and processes throughout science, helping them continue drawing links to other disciplines.

An example of conceptualizing can be seen when studying the concept of change. Change can be interpreted from the perspective of biology (evolutionary theory), physics (compression), chemistry (law of periodicity), social studies (social change), and math (number series). 

Problem-solving

In interdisciplinary instruction, problem-solving is used regularly to challenge students to gather, analyze, and use their knowledge across several disciplines to reach a conclusion. Coupled with contextualization, instructors can present concepts and encourage critical thinking about real-world issues and situations. 

This learning experience goes beyond simply understanding the material by calling for action. Using this technique in learning teaches students to use their interdisciplinary knowledge to create an action-oriented solution to real situations.

Other Types of Instruction 

Interdisciplinary instruction is just one of the four primary approaches to teaching. Transdisciplinary instruction complements interdisciplinary instruction, as it involves the interaction and co-mingling of multiple academic and nonacademic disciplines. 

A key difference between these two forms of instruction is that transdisciplinary teaching involves collaboration between, rather than across, disciplines. In other words, multiple disciplines work together to create a cohesive curriculum that allows students to solve multifaceted problems.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is another pedagogy that lends itself to interdisciplinary instruction, as it encourages a student-centered learning environment that revolves around solving real-world issues. This type of learning usually requires an extended amount of time to go through each topic or issue while students problem-solve across all disciplines. 

There are other approaches, however, that do not serve interdisciplinary learning. Understanding these other forms of teaching can illustrate why an interdisciplinary approach is one of the best teaching options for the life sciences.

Intradisciplinary

Intradisciplinary instruction is a more standard form of teaching that focuses only on the discipline at hand. For example, if a student takes a course in chemistry, the instructor prompts students to think only in the scope of chemistry and answer questions or problem-solve using the information learned in that subject. Since the disciplines that fall under life sciences require knowledge of foundational sciences, there are better options than intradisciplinary instruction.

Subjects that do well with intradisciplinary instruction are typically the foundation of any higher-education degree and are commonly known as core courses. This can include humanities like English or STEM subject areas like math and general science. These courses have several concepts that can be applied to different topics. 

Cross-disciplinary

Cross-disciplinary instruction is when teachers and students approach another discipline from the perspective of their own. The core difference between cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary instruction is the lack of intermingling between the fields. Instead, this approach teaches students to use their knowledge in one discipline to better understand another. 

Sciences may work together, but cross-disciplinary instruction can be challenging as it subjects a person to an isolated version of thought. Cross-disciplinary instruction is often seen in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning, as these subjects are closely related and allow students to practice applying their knowledge of a specific subject to another.

Multidisciplinary

Multidisciplinary instruction can be confused with interdisciplinary instruction, as they both involve viewing a topic or issue from the perspectives of several disciples. However, a key difference between the two is that multidisciplinary lacks the synthesizing and harmonizing of interdisciplinary learning. Although multidisciplinary teaching brings in other disciplines, a boundary is still drawn between each. Whereas with interdisciplinary learning, the perspectives are brought together and used to create an action-oriented solution.

In multidisciplinary instruction, teachers will lead their students in solving a problem in one discipline using a different discipline’s approach, such as figuring out how to reduce CO2 emissions from a car. Although this problem can be identified in an environmental-focused discipline, it can draw its solutions from a mechanical field by studying how to improve engine performance in vehicles.

Using Caduceus Courses in Your Interdisciplinary Approach

Interdisciplinary learning is spreading throughout higher education, specifically in the field of science, as instructors are beginning to recognize the benefits of teaching students to consider the perspectives of multiple disciplines when problem-solving. This approach creates original thinkers who are comfortable with abstraction and who can successfully draw insight from multiple disciplines to fully understand a topic. 

Caduceus International Publishing offers courses that fall under the umbrella of life sciences, all of which can be used to help students connect the dots between concepts and better understand their studies as a whole. Additionally, these courses can provide students with extensive knowledge and perspectives of core concepts across multiple life science disciplines. Browse our list of health science courses and contact us to learn more about how to use them to support your interdisciplinary curricular instruction.