Kyle Anderson, Brett Werner, Daniel Kirchner, Matthew Klooster
Professors Anderson, Werner, Kirchner, and Klooster submitted a grant proposal to the Henry Luce Foundation in September 2013. The Foundation was seeking ideas from liberal arts colleges for ways to integrate Asian studies with study of the environmental challenges impacting Asia and the world. The grant, combining Asian Studies and Environmental Studies, prompted them to collaborate and create an innovative, interdisciplinary teaching and learning environment for students interested in Asian Studies or Environmental Studies. Anderson et al wanted to create an atmosphere that could serve as a model for other faculty interested in interdisciplinary work across a wide spectrum of disciplines.
Pooling each of their respective academic, research, and personal learning experiences, this group of faculty members designed a pioneering Asia and Environment lab where students could tackle practical-oriented issues using creative problem solving skills. This lab derived from a model the Sciences are effectively using in which each professor teaches a course in their discipline, then team teaches the lab component.
Using this model, Anderson taught Asian Humanities; Werner, Intro to Environmental Studies; and Kirchner, Environmental Ethics (future courses would include Klooster teaching Conservation Biology). Students from each of these courses would then come together for the lab portion, engaging in an interdisciplinary, team taught experience with an emphasis on synthesizing new ideas and solving problems. In this lab setting, students also engage in peer teaching opportunities to reach beyond their field of study, finding analogs in other courses and identifying how they relate to Asia and the Environment.
The impetus for the lab structure originated from the faculty members’ shared desire for students to engage in practical service learning opportunities. Without the ability to travel to Asia for practical context during the 16 month pilot grant, the idea of practical field work took on a new dimension within the Asia and Environment lab. Students were presented with problems that existed in Kentucky in their various fields of study, then compared them to a similar issue in Asia. Issues ranging from the impact of industrial food production and deforestation, to the role of culture and religion, among marginalized populations were examined. Finding solutions to the challenges presented by these issues is a long-term project, one where students will benefit most from engaging in multi-disciplinary learning experiences.
To effectively scaffold instruction and extend the learning experience past one semester, the faculty team applied to the Henry Luce Foundation for an implementation grant for a multi-year project in which the Asia and the Environment lab is interwoven with comprehensive, tiered instruction and high impact practices such as study abroad and independent faculty mentored research. Students will begin the project with a Summer Language Institute, in which they will be immersed in a foundational linguistic environment to prepare them for their study abroad experience during CentreTerm. During the fall semester, students will take their respective courses in Asian Studies, Humanities, Environmental Studies, Environmental Ethics, or Conservation Biology, coupled with the Asian lab class to begin making parallels between diverse disciplines and methods of thought.
The following January, students will join one of two CentreTerm trips going to Asia. One group will go to Malaysian Borneo to study Ethics and Ecology, the other to Thailand to study Aquaculture and the Environment. During this trip, students will engage in cultural learning opportunities, utilize learned language skills, and investigate potential projects and partners for the future.
Upon return to Centre from their study abroad trips, students will enter into the spring term where they will begin developing a research proposal; some students will return to Asia for additional research during this term or future terms. The following year, students will finalize their research and disseminate their findings at local and national conferences.
Coupled with previous experiences along the way, each new tier of instruction and opportunity builds both confidence and knowledge in students as they learn how to navigate the nuances between various disciplines, languages, cultures, and countries. These transformative experiences help bridge the gap not only between academic disciplines, but between Centre and the world.
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