Climatology, artificial intelligence, data science & computation, digital humanities...
Multi-actor, inter-multi-trans-disciplinary and open science
identifying the limits of discipline-based knowledge organisation and proposing new ways to address them through interdisciplinarity.To innovate science education for the era of acceleration we need to support universities and schools to recognise and break down the institutional, conceptual, social, professional, epistemological and cultural barriers to science and social innovation induced by a vertical disciplinary organization. This way they can be able to develop, in the young generation, inter-multi-transdisciplinary thinking skills needed to grapple with the new methods and features of R&I and play an active role in our society.
FEDORA gathers inputs from a variety of voices to propose recommendations for co-teaching and open schooling. Preliminary findings came from three-part studies using literature review, interviews and interdisciplinary study groups, from this data arised three “shared narratives”
A great resonance in the study group emerged around the idea that interdisciplinarity in STEM education implies not only managing tensions between belonging-nonbelonging, defining-negotiating meaning, going in-out a comfort zone, zooming in-zooming out (from details to big pictures and vice versa). It also entails managing a particular kind of equilibrium that we called "between sense-making skills (systems, critical, analytical thinking) and strange-making skills (creative, imaginative, anticipative thinking)."
Despite the insufficient logistic context, an incredibly rich bunch of ideas emerged. Framed by the papers of Akkerman and Bakker on boundary crossing and objects, and by the Family Resemblance Approach, developed by Sibel Erduran, Zoubeida R. Dagher and colleagues, we have been inspired by the Gaelic word "meitheal", the performances of Gandini Juggling, and by The city of Euphemia by Calvino (The invisible cities).
In this virtual context, we explored the multi-dimensional roles of disciplines, the barriers they create, and their pros in structuring reasoning and mediating the interaction. We then challenged ourselves by wondering what attitudes and skills are needed to accept the risk of crossing boundaries and have an authentic experience as boundary people.
Let’s “experience the boundaries” together, let’s melt our experiences, let’s meet at city of Euphemia (Italo Calvino - The invisible cities), where the merchants of seven nations gather at every solstice and equinox.
"...summoning up your memories one by one, your wolf will have become another wolf, your sister a different sister, your battle other battles, on your return from Euphemia"
Interdisciplinarity is a very timely and relevant theme, but institutions (e.g., through official school curricula, or through rewarding, incentive, assessment, funding systems) do not seem to provide real guidelines to manage inter-multi-trans-disciplinarity. More in general, the problem of how to foster, through concrete institutional actions, inter-transdisciplinary or trans-institutional collaborations and/or in connecting educational contexts to the job realm is open. In many cases, the creation of inter-trans-multi-disciplinary collaborations is in fact hindered by evaluation/legitimation/accountability criteria in the institutions, together with specific funding systems. Furthermore, academic and school culture more or less implicitly seems to produce a “culture of closure”.
Culture of closure is created, for example, by valuing more dissensus and specific forms of disciplinary expertise rather than abilities like: consensus building, capacity to legitimize other's role or expertise in multi-/inter-disciplinary teams (skills in convincing others and/or recognising others), capability of bridging, ability to understand the cultural and social background that frames or influences one's view/perception/reaction. Cultural aspects induced within institutional domains manifest themselves as perceptions that become implicit assumptions, rituals, habits of minds and can emerge as emotional barriers. Emotional barriers that may emerge in interdisciplinary contexts are represented, for example, by the feeling of discomfort, or a sense of insecurity about one’s own role and expertise.
These feelings might be due to factors characterizing community’s attitude and what we called the “culture of closure” and by asymmetries/differences in the roles that close contexts implicitly induce. They can also derive from the clash between contrasting beliefs that act implicitly. A similar deep sense of discomfort may be felt by “boundary people” within close disciplinary communities. Disciplines can produce epistemological and cognitive barriers since each discipline has its own epistemology, in terms of aims and values, practices, methods and ways to systematize knowledge. Professionals in the various disciplines have, hence, their disciplinary identities that can emerge in interdisciplinary contexts as obstacles. People hardly possess multiple domains of expertise in one individual, and the main strategy cannot be to enlarge the expertise to other disciplines. Thus, boundary people must work in a team rethinking themselves from the epistemic point of view in that context, experiencing new roles in the development of knowledge in a team of experts and relating to his/her own and others’ expertise in a different way. However, interdisciplinary teamwork is not only difficult at the epistemic levels, but also for the lack of cognitive skills that are not so relevant in disciplinary contexts, like thinking out of the box, finding a common background, understanding the common goal and imagination and curiosity, and the ability of moving between roles of expertise and non-expertise in different phases of the work and being able to adapt the description of your expertise to the kind of interlocutor, to make it understandable. 68 Disciplinary closed communities, in order to strengthen their identities, develop proper symbolic languages, representations and communication practices; in order to collaborate and “negotiate” in interdisciplinary contexts it is necessary to address obstacles represented by the need to find a shared language (tools, words, structures...). When languages are competing, it can happen that there is little motivation to change. Moreover, finding ways to convey is demanding, and it is not only making a “shopping list”, borrowing from existing languages, but requires finding appropriate languages and effective ways to describe a nonvertical expertise.
Boundary crossing mechanisms are “learning potentials'' that need to be activated. Their activation can be facilitated if the “trading zone” is properly created or if it occurs in “new contexts'' or “third spaces”, where habits are given up and roles of participants are clear or have been made clear (e.g., summer schools for PhD students, like ESERA’s one, where every student thinks about the same topic but with his/her own expertise; transdisciplinary activities, like asking students to play the role of science journalist). “Third spaces” can be, for example, locations or hubs for innovation, or even primary teacher education institutes, where there are trans-disciplines like primary education. The issue of “scaffolding a trading zone as a safe third space” deserves special attention, since the experience of interdisciplinarity implies “accepting and managing uncertainty, ambiguity, openness, insecurity and feelings of discomfort”. To scaffold a “safe third space”, a solid plan for discussion - a “choreography” - must be designed and consistently managed by a facilitator. This means that, when the roles and the structure for discussion are not clearly determined by the special context, then principles and “rituals to embrace the ambiguity of interdisciplinarity” (e.g. rituals for going out and coming back the comfort zone, of inspiring creativity and converging to the personal area of expertise…) need to be shared and implemented. Principles may, for example, include: 69 - encouraging not to directly bring in your own thinking but listen and ask questions; -taking care to search for holistic views and encourage participants to find “personalized” entry points; - orienting the discussion on commonalities rather than on differences; - organizing sessions/learning groups with a common and explicit goal (e.g. to share knowledge with school, city & employers example);
- assigning roles defined enough to enable each person to be the protagonist, but also open enough to accept different perspectives and so on.
Concerning the mood and attitude, three aspects can make the difference in an interdisciplinary context, by turning knowledge exchange into a pleasing experience: to adopt an “acceptance and/or a “recognizing/valuing” mood. Acceptance concerns a large variety of dimensions: accepting intellectual risk, lack of closure, to embrace ambiguity, to be out of the comfort zone, to recognize otherness as source of knowledge and competence, not to have individually all the knowledge and competencies required, that the process of interaction is slower than usual. A great resonance in the group emerged around the idea that interdisciplinarity in STEM education implies not only managing tensions between belonging-nonbelonging, definingnegotiating meaning, going in-out of a comfort zone, zooming in-zooming out (from details to big pictures and vice versa). It also entails managing a particular kind of equilibrium that we called "between sense-making skills (systems, critical, analytical thinking) and strangemaking skills (creative, imaginative, anticipative thinking)." Accepting the intellectual risk, embracing ambiguity and managing the equilibrium "between sense-making and strange-making skills" appear interesting “constructs” that will be further elaborated during the second year of the project and will orient the design of instruction materials, being also the bridge to elaborate on our main research goals: to outline forms of knowledge organisation and participation that foster interdisciplinarity. As for accepting the risk, questions like the following need to be addressed: in interdisciplinary engagements, “who runs the risk?” (i.e. Who has more to lose? Who will feel the greatest impact of failure?). What knowledge organisation and participation structures embed or mitigate risk? To what extent might these structures be associated with the roles or commitment of individuals to the interdisciplinary engagement, and touch identity issues (“who am I in this?”). Embracing ambiguity is a key-concept in design-thinking methodology and, together with accepting the risk, is considered a strategic skill for leadership and for becoming a successful professional (see, e.g. IDEO). In FEDORA these constructs need to be re-conceptualized so as to orient science education to become a context to “form people able to navigate the complexity of the society of acceleration and uncertainty” (and not only to “train highperformant and successful professionals”). The equilibrium between sense making and strange making skills is particularly interesting to be explored, since it regards the tension between disciplinary identities and inter-disciplinarity. 70 In FEDORA disciplines and their epistemic cores are considered crucial to guide the students to make and consolidate “structured” educational experiences. Such experiences represent a solid ground that is needed to develop “sense making” skills and from which a student can take up the process of crossing the boundaries and developing strange-making skills.