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It seems to me that the task of students later as employees
and the task of learning institutions are the same and can
be thought of as interdisciplinarity.  On the student side,
interdisciplinarity means the garnering and sythesis of
complex information from a variety of sources (from
different disciplines, from different types of informants,
from a variety of texts), the presentation of complex
information in different modes (verbally, visually, in
writing) and in different settings (as reports, to groups
large and small, to different audiences), and the
acquisition of the skills necessary for controlling complex
information from different settings--through courses,
internships, and public service.  On the learning
organization side, interdisciplinary means the ability to
respond to demographic, disciplinary, economic, and
political dynamism.
 
Thus, it seems that students provide learning institutions
with a way to learn.  If an institution organizes learning
so that students can be interdisciplinary, learning the
skills to control complex information by providing the
necessary structures--access to appropriate coursework,
audiences, tasks, and other organizations such as businesses
and non-profits--then the learning institution is providing
itself with the opportunity to rethink learning in an
extra-disciplinary way.
 
Such a commitment would change the presently-exisiting
relationships between students and knowledge, students and
teachers, and students and evaluation.  Students would have
to become more autonomous and self-directing in their
relationship to knowledge; they would have to become
knowledge-producers instead of merely consumers.  Professors
would have to act more as facilitators of learning and less
as ownerships of knowledge.  And, evaulation would have to
be more appropriate.
 
Since the possibility of the loss of the power to grade has
been taken up in prior posts, I want to focus on this for a
minute.  Grading by professors is only one means of
evaulation and not the most appropriate one, if the goal is
to evaulate the interdisciplinarity of students.  One might
imagine separating, for example, the evaulation process from
the immediate learning process and locating the process of
evaulation in a different time and place from the classroom.
This could be done by having students submit to a common
test at the end of each year in which they would produce a
portfolio, project, or presentation.  If what businesses
need is students who can synthesize information and present
it in meaningful ways to disparate audiences, then testing
general skills, such as reading, writing, speaking, and
analysis, makes more sense than examining mastery of
specific content.  Moreover, there is no necessary
antagonism between mastery of content and control of more
general, more transferable skills.
 
A learning organization benefits from the reorganization of
these traditional relationships by becoming more clearly
responsive to its environment--its community, citizenry,
legislature, and the businesses which depend upon students
who themselves are ready to learn new skills and knowledge.
It seems to me that students, both as learners and future
workers, need to be seen as the means through which
traditional bureaucratic forms can be transformed in the
direction of flexibility and responsiveness.  If in the
future as employees students will be required to perform in
ways I have described as interdisciplinary, then educational
institutions are at the moment simply not demanding enough
of them and need to find the means to develop in students
interdiciplinary skills and in doing so will have to reshape
their own hierarchies.
 
Kim Gillespie <[log in to unmask]>
Program in Modern Thought and Literature