Integrating Curriculum by Degrees

When integrating curriculum  you need to take tiny steps or big leaps — it all starts with conversations                             

©Leslie Owen Wilson                                                          

The following PowerPoint was developed for my graduate Fundamentals of Curriculum (EDUC 721) class at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Before I used it with my students it was the focus of a series of professional presentations on the topic of subject matter integration. Early in my academic career it occurred to me that folks were erroneously using terms like multidisciplinary and integrated interchangeably when they discussed melding curriculum or subjects. These imply different types and degrees of integration and I wanted to make that very clear to colleagues. In an attempt to provide some continuity and refer participants to available literature at the time, some of the terms used to label and differentiate my delineated levels of integration were taken from an early work of Heidi Hayes Jacobs as she attempted to describe integration through a series of metaphors that used the perspectives of different types of lenses. See Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation.” ASCD, Alexandria, VA. 1989.

What most folks need to know about subject integration is that it takes time, and a willingness to learn something about other’s disciplines so that one can fully understand new perspectives and latch onto the available possibilities for interesting fusions. Personally I am a big believer in the power of integration to add meaning and understanding to learning. I think it is the way we learn naturally. For instance, how many of you have started an internet query on Wikipedia, and then hours later have ended up on some seemingly unrelated topic by following intertwined threads provided by a series of hotlinks that peaked your interests. Voilá, you have just had an integrated educational experience fed by your own curiosity. Often the most meaningful educational journeys start from a trigger idea, concept, or term and end as a fully integrated, richly layered experience.

 View PowerPoint (PPS) on Integration by degrees or view in integration by degrees PDF file (the PPS is animated, you cannot see those  moving intersections in the PDF file) 

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On the road to integrationrail-road-191097_1920

Important talking points made in my PPT on subject integration:

For integrated designs, especially if you are working with others, it is necessary to add some other steps before crafting the end vision of the learner:

  • Decide on a conceptual design framework first – as planning progresses you can always change or tweak the design, but it helps to have some type of framework in order to begin.
  • After the framework is chosen then create your vision of the learners at the end of the process. This can be done singly and then melded, or it can be done as a group process.
  • Using the filter criteria as suggested in Understanding by Design, (see my Backwards Design page if you are unfamiliar) decide what content and processes to include
  • Craft assessments that match content and which also fit into your end vision of the learner
  • Decide on methods of delivery
  • Collectively reflect, evaluate, and revise 

       The Major Benefits of Integrated Curricula

Pros: There are some very powerful reasons to consider integrating or fusing curriculum, especially in an era of too much information.

  • Helps remove or reduce redundancies
  • Offers students opportunities to see more easily the interconnections between discreet pieces of knowledge, different disciplines and content
  • Offers an avenue for deeper learning as students and faculty are provided with different and altered perspectives
  • At interdisciplinary levels, integrated designs help students focus on the critical, evaluative, and creative thinking aspects of learning
  • Facilitates better understanding between academics and promotes exploration of different disciplines

       Major Criticisms and Perceived Barriers

Cons: There are concerns that:

  • It greatly waters down the disciplinary focus and therefore compromises traditional content
  • People without deep understanding of a discipline and advanced training cannot fully understand the finer points or nuances inherent in a field of stud
  • Barriers such as parochial departmental mindsets, and administrators’ inabilities to see beyond the narrow confines of dollars, credit limitations, and student head count can restrict the effectiveness of developing quality integrated program
  • Designs and connections are sometimes haphazard and poorly formed
  • Weak or ill-conceived partnerships have little or no basis for continued or supported work and can often be counter productive and divisive

Things which facilitate integration: In order for integrated designs to work it is absolutely imperative to build and develop – rapport

  • Well-defined areas of intersection or common interests for possible integration
  • Clear performance parameters and negotiated expectations
  • Understanding and respect for one another’s knowledge and disciplinary expertise
  • Clear and concise language free of disciplinary jargon
  • Visual schema that will allow you to better share your  ideas with peers and with students and administrators
  • Agreed on methods of student evaluation
  • Administrative support for efforts, to include time to explore commonalities, develop courses, plus help in resolving administrative or political barriers