Teaching that Transforms: Guiding Students to Make Connections Across Disciplines
In college, your classes appear to be completely discrete enterprises: one week's work will include lectures, discussions, and assignments related to five or six wildly different topics. Quick: can you find any links between 18th century British literature, world history from 1500 to present, geology, marketing, and college algebra? The only unifying feature of all of these courses seems to be you, sitting in each of them. However, there are themes and skills that resonate across many disciplines. The trick to recognizing relevant connections between separate subjects lies in taking the time to look for them. Professor Laura L. Behling, of Knox College, has created a classroom exercise that does exactly that. She asks students in her class to share another course they are taking and then guides them to consider how those subjects connect to the work that they are carrying out with her in English. She shines a spotlight on links between different subjects by asking a few powerful questions, drawn from writings by philosopher Martha Nussbaum:
"Where has your education this term given you the capacity for living a critically examined life?
Where has your education this term given you understanding of other human beings?
Where has your education this term allowed the expression of your critical imagination?"
Dr. Behling notes, "My own college education was decades ago. So this exercise helps me remember that there is more to students than just who they are in my class and that all of their courses are presenting them with opportunities for success and challenge." This exercise takes time--a full day of class, according to her essay-- but it creates an essential opportunity. Her students get to recognize and articulate the ways that different topics can fulfill the same common and meaningful purpose in their college experience. Teaching like this transforms required, elective, and major classes from distinct credits into linked learning. This is what college can be.