interdisciplinary

Witnessing and practicing open-minded conversation


Aravinthan D.T. SamuelAravinthan D.T. Samuel, Professor of Physics, created The Science of Optics in the Visual Arts, an interdisciplinary freshman seminar that explores the mystery behind Renaissance-era innovations in realism that reached the standard of modern photography long before the camera. Samuel took advantage of the virtual classroom to bring world experts into the Seminar. “We ‘Zoomed’ to museums around the world including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Mauritshuis in the Netherlands.” Students spoke with curators at the very museums that hosted artworks discussed in class and asked world experts about the methods and practices of artists including Vermeer, Ingres, and Van Eyck. “Together, we learned that the answers to many questions are uncertain because of gaps in the historical record. Historians of art and historians of science are continuing in debates that may very well last forever.” For Samuel, the class was a safe space to witness expert debates and examine questions from all points of view. “Settling debates would be terrific. But many debates are perennial with people on all sides. If students can nevertheless gain an appreciation of why someone with a particular background or set of experiences holds another contrasting view, they learn the more important art of intellectual empathy that will be useful in any academic pursuit.”... Read more about Witnessing and practicing open-minded conversation

Learner-centered Pedagogy for Skill-building


Christina WarinnerChristina Warinner, Associate Professor of Anthropology, empowers students to explore real-world, thorny topics in science that also have widespread social implications through course work and guest speakers. She brings her own experience as an interdisciplinary researcher to the classroom and directly supports students as they delve into more complex material and learn how to navigate the hidden curriculum (norms of the discipline). Her students practice grappling with interdisciplinary dilemmas in realistic ways. “I want each assignment a student does to be both knowledge-building and skill-building,” she explains. Her courses attract students from both the humanities and sciences, creating a more intellectually diverse learning environment.... Read more about Learner-centered Pedagogy for Skill-building

Interdisciplinary learning through accessible, intentional technology


Hong Qu, Adjunct Lecturer in Public PolicyHong Qu, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, taught Data Visualization virtually last spring to over 70 students from different Harvard Schools, levels of experience, and corners of the world. To foster a close-knit community among students from diverse backgrounds, Qu intentionally curated a set of online tools and learning exercises to generate an “ambient telepresence.” For instance, he assigned group data visualization projects to promote peer learning and used VoiceThread for assigned peer critiques. During synchronous class time, students were invited to sketch with Qu using Jamboard on the shared screen—a novel form of participation to draw out the inner artist/designer in every student. “I wanted to give them a sense that we’re spending time with each other in this very challenging period to learn as a community, to work together on group projects, and to achieve organic connections and authentic relationships between all our unique places during this pandemic."

Teaching system-level thinking with an interdisciplinary lens


Fawwaz HabbalDoris SommerFawwaz Habbal, Executive Dean for Education and Research and Senior Lecturer on Applied Physics, and Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies, co-teach systems-level thinking. Their course, Aesthetic Pleasure and Smart Design: Janus Faces the Future, trains students to look at complex problems from the perspective of both artists and engineers. This requires the development of skills in scientific assessment and disinterested aesthetic judgment. In the spirit of Renaissance Now, an international movement to promote sustainable development, Habbal and Sommer model the combination of boldness and humility. Students in ES 27 read and reflect on material which ranges from aesthetic philosophy and history to triggers for scientific revolution. Then they tackle a complex problem through a proposal that will gain aesthetic acceptance and be scientifically effective. 

Using the classroom to challenge the boundaries of a discipline


Sawako KaijimaSawako Kaijima, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute, challenges students’ preconceptions about material often defined by their disciplinary norms through the use of visual programming to foster an “intuitive understanding of structural engineering in architectural design.” Structural design and architectural design often live separately in teaching and practice but are fundamentally linked. So her Interface Design: Integrating Material Perceptions course seeks to fuse these two disciplines. The use of a software tool developed specifically for this course, which is accessible even to students with no programming experience, “defamiliarizes architecture students from the common way of looking at materials” and introduces them to an engineering perspective right from the start.