follow the listserv of the Professional and Organizational
Development Network in Higher Education (POD)--whose
members staff and direct teaching and learning support
centers--may have seen the following query pass
over their screens in January this year: "Dear
PODers," wrote Victoria Mundy Bhavsar, "In
my discipline (agriculture), we are very fond of talking
about integrated multidisciplinary learning experiences.
I imagine other disciplines do this, too. Could I get
some reflections on what this might actually mean in
practice? Besides making students take a whole big lot
of classes in several different departments and hoping
they 'get it' by the end!"
This is the $64,000 question for many educators concerned
with the reform of undergraduate education today. Convinced
that undergraduates' experience has become too
fragmented to prepare them for the complexities of today's
world, educators across the country are designing new
opportunities to help students put the pieces together.
These innovations and experiments aim to help students
connect their learning across fields, and also to integrate
classroom work with experiences in larger campus and
community contexts--and to do so in ways that strengthen
learning throughout the college years and beyond.
Such work is in keeping with recent thinking by Carol
Geary Schneider and her colleagues at the Association
of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), who
identify three key themes in the "reinvention
of liberal education" today--themes that,
taken together, define a "New Academy that is
taking shape within the old one" through a variety
of campus, system-wide, and national initiatives. These
include a new, across-the-curriculum focus on "inquiry
and intellectual judgment," a renewed concern
with "social responsibility and civic engagement,"
and a new interest in "integrative learning."
Indeed, they suggest that integrative learning may one
day "take its rightful place alongside breadth
and depth as a hallmark of a quality undergraduate education"
(Schneider 2004, Leskes 2004).
This interest in integrative learning is the focus
of a partnership between the Carnegie Foundation for
the Advancement of Teaching and AAC&U--a national
project involving ten campuses, each committed to deepening
our understanding of this crucial aspect of undergraduate
education. One of the first products of this work has
been a "Statement on Integrative Learning,"
which points out: "Integrative learning comes
in many varieties: connecting skills and knowledge from
multiple sources and experiences; applying theory to
practice in various settings; utilizing diverse and
even contradictory points of view; and, understanding
issues and positions contextually." Of course,
developing such a synthesizing, creative cast of mind
has long been a goal of liberal education, albeit one
that students have been expected, more often than not,
to pick up for themselves. What's new today is
that institutions are seeking to help students see the
larger patterns in their college experience, and to
pursue their learning in more intentionally connected
ways. To put it a bit differently, the capacity for
integrative learning--for connection making--has
come to be recognized as an important learning outcome
in its own right, not simply a hoped-for consequence
of the mix of experiences that constitute undergraduate
Integrative Learning for Twenty-First-Century
There are many good reasons for this emphasis, including
a new appreciation of the importance of integrative
learning for contemporary life and thought. Students
headed for professional careers will still need specialized
expertise. But with flexibility and mobility as watchwords
in today's economy, few college graduates can expect
to spend a whole career with the same employer or even
in the same line of work. Further, the role of interdisciplinary
collaboration and exchange is growing both within and
outside the academy. In government, industry, medicine,
and higher education alike, problems are vetted and
solved by bringing together people who are trained in
different fields. Because of changes in knowledge and
communication practices, including technological advances
and globalization, all of us are faced with information
that is more complex, fast moving, and accessible than
ever before, challenging the integrative and critical
capacities of experts and novices alike. Psychologist
Robert Kegan summarizes the scope of the issue succinctly
in the title of his 1998 book In Over Our Heads:
The Mental Demands of Modern Life.
This is true of civic life as well. We no longer live
in a world where it is easy to feel in control or empowered
to affect what's happening in one's own neighborhood,
much less in the nation or the world. Yet at the same
time, our personal choices, even the food, clothing,
and cars we buy, have immediate consequences for those
far away. Speaking about the results of a massive international
study of air pollution, University of New Hampshire
scientist Berrien Moore said in an interview on the
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, "What happens in Beijing
will affect Boston, what happens in Boston will affect
Paris, et cetera. And I think that's one thing that
we will have . . . even as we begin to solve local problems,
this connectivity of the planet will come back at us
time and again" (2004). To participate responsibly as
local citizens, then, people must also be citizens of
the world, aware of complex interdependencies and able
to synthesize information from a wide array of sources,
learn from experience, and make connections between
theory and practice.
Our colleges and universities can play an important
role in helping students develop the "integrative
arts" necessary for meeting today's challenges
(Schneider 2004), and many campuses already embrace
such a goal. College catalogs make powerful promises
about students' personal and intellectual development
as thinkers and citizens--and certainly there are
inspiring models and existing proof to show what may
be possible (Colby et al. 2003). To meet these commitments
to integrative learning more fully, and to meet them
for all students, is the difficult challenge ahead.
A Difficult Challenge
No one should underestimate the difficulty of this
new direction because it runs against the grain of many
of the most established features of the undergraduate
experience. Consider, for example the experience of
University of Kansas psychologist Dan Bernstein, who
wants his psychology majors to develop "a nuanced understanding
of the complex origins of human action," but worries
that "individual courses typically promote specialized
understanding of one explanatory model":
Teachers who are trying to cover as much of the course
material as possible rarely give assignments that
ask students to step back and compare different models
of human action. Instead they typically presume (or
hope) that the range of courses required for the major
will provide an occasion for students to make those
comparative reflections on their own. (Bernstein,
Marx, and Bender 2005, 40)
Clearly Bernstein's analysis applies well beyond
the field of psychology, and the challenges are not
only at the level of the individual course. There are
structural arrangements that privilege departmental
and disciplinary agendas over general education and
interdisciplinary work. Administrative systems that
define faculty roles and rewards have been slow to recognize
interdisciplinary and applied scholarship, not to mention
the extra efforts involved in designing, teaching, and
assessing courses aimed at integrative learning, and
the persistent gaps between programs in the professions
and the liberal arts and sciences, the curriculum and
the cocurriculum, and campus and community life.
Many of the ways that courses are delivered and taken
encourage faculty and students alike to think of learning
as discrete, unconnected chunks. As Gerald Graff explained
in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 1991,
"The classes being taught at any moment on a campus
represent rich potential conversations between scholars
and across disciplines. But since these conversations
are experienced as a series of monologues, the possible
links are apparent only to the minority of students
who can connect disparate ideas on their own." Faculty
often talk about valuing the transferability of knowledge
and the meaning making that occurs when students link
diverse ideas from multiple sources, classes, courses,
and disciplines--but teaching for such outcomes can
be difficult, and is rarely explicit.
Exacerbating this tacit message of fragmentation is
the increasing complexity of students' lives.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, traditional
students entering college full-time right after high
school, supported by parents or working only part-time,
now account for only 27 percent of undergraduates; and
more than 40 percent in 1999-2000 were more than
twenty-four years old. Many have families and jobs that
necessarily take precedence over schoolwork. And a growing
proportion of students are attending more than one institution
over their college careers (McCormick 2003). By further
fracturing undergraduates' college experience,
these "swirling" patterns of enrollment
make integrative learning across courses and contexts
even more difficult.
They suggest, too, that while curricular changes can
do a lot to help students connect the dots, such changes
cannot be the only solution. We also need approaches
that help students develop these capacities to make
connections for themselves. Helping students
to become more self-aware and purposeful--more intentional--about
their studies is a powerful idea, and it is, in our
view, the key to fostering integrative learning.
Integrative learning does not just happen--though
it may come more easily for some than for others. Whether
one is talking about making connections within a major,
between fields, between curriculum and cocurriculum,
or between academic knowledge and practice, integrative
learning requires work. Of course, students must play
an important role in making this happen, but their success
depends in large part on commitment and creativity from
To support integration, many colleges and universities
are developing new kinds of institutional scaffolding
within and between their general education programs
(breadth), their majors (depth), and--in many cases--campus
and community life. On a national tour of campuses today,
one will find linked courses that invite students to
take different perspectives on an important issue, capstone
projects that ask students to draw on learning from
earlier courses to explore a new topic or solve a problem,
experiences that combine academic and community-based
work, or systems of journaling and reflection like those
known as learning portfolios. But these useful examples
also serve to highlight one of the next challenges:
to link the various sites and strategies for integration
by putting in place a variety of structures and practices
that enable students to connect, say, their first-year
learning-communities experience to a final capstone
course or to study abroad in the junior year. In order
to be truly effective for students, integrative learning
must be not an isolated event but a regular part of
As the articles and examples in this issue of Peer
Review attest, combinations of such designs can
be found in institutions of all types and persuasions.
Although each has a unique approach growing out of campus
mission and history, there are common threads. Most
institutions that have made headway are creating new
and varied opportunities for integrative learning, engaging
students in reflection on their learning, involving
faculty in teaching that nurtures integrative arts,
and building campus-wide interest and experience in
If there is a through-line, in all these initiatives,
it is the importance for everyone involved of being
intentional about pursuing integrative learning goals.
Indeed, as Carnegie Foundation President Lee Shulman
reminded participants in the Integrative Learning Project
in July 2004, there's a sense in which all learning
is integrative--the real questions are around what,
for what purposes, and how intentionally integration
is sought. It is hard to think of a college course or
curriculum that could not be taught or designed--and
taken--with integrative learning in mind.
We conclude by returning to the $64,000 question with
which this article began. "Could I get some reflections
on what this might actually mean in practice?"
This is the winning question not only because of its
focus but also because it was asked in a public forum.
It is a reminder that efforts to strengthen programs
that foster integration need not, and should not, be
pursued alone. Too often, good work in teaching and
learning remains with its creators, unavailable for
others to consult, review, and build on and inaccessible
to those who really want the help. Colleagues--and
campuses--need to work together, sharing what they
are finding out about integrative learning, developing
new assignments for fostering integration, creating
new models for assessing outcomes, and building on one
another's insights and accomplishments.
Local efforts can be reinvigorated through participation
in a community of educators working toward similar goals,
and that community, in turn, can contribute to building
knowledge that informs efforts to foster integrative
learning at colleges and universities around the world.
Such an approach will not only deepen our collective
understanding of how students learn to integrate their
undergraduate experiences and what that "might
actually mean in practice"; it will give us the
tools and knowledge and networks necessary to go beyond
"hoping they 'get it' by the end."
This article draws on a publication by Mary Taylor
Huber and Pat Hutchings, Integrative Learning:
Mapping the Terrain (Association of American Colleges
and Universities. 2004).
Bernstein, D., M. S. Marx, and H. Bender. 2005. Disciplining
the minds of students. Change 37 (2): 36-43.
Colby, A., T. Ehrlich, E. Beaumont, and J. Stephens.
2003. Educating citizens: Preparing America's
undergraduates for lives of moral and civic responsibility.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Graff, G. Colleges are depriving students of a connected
view of scholarship. Chronicle of Higher Education.
(February 13, 1991).
Leskes, A. 2004. Foreword to Integrative learning:
Mapping the terrain, by M. T. Huber and P.
Hutchings. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges
McCormick, A. C. 2003. Swirling and double-dipping:
New patterns of student attendance and their implications
for higher education. New Directions for Higher
Moore, Berrien. 2004. Interview by Betty Ann Bowser.
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. PBS. September 9.
Schneider, C. G. 2004. Practicing liberal education:
Formative themes in the reinvention of liberal learning.
Liberal Education 90 (2): 6-11.