What is a Module

The main goal of these modules is to provide a framework for students to work in a multidisciplinary environment to help them understand the complex nature of 21st century problems using sustainability as an organizing concept. Note that we are drawing a careful distinction between a multidisciplinary setting versus an interdisciplinary setting. An interdisciplinary approach requires ideas and concepts from different disciplines to be integrated into new ways of thinking. Participants must become fluent in the participating disciplines to create a new entity with its own concepts and theories. On the other hand, in a multidisciplinary approach, the distinct perspectives and concepts of each contributing discipline are used to tackle particular portions of a complex problem. It is important for each participant to understand the multifaceted nature of the problem and to have the necessary skills to communicate with others to produce a collaborative solution through a common perspective. In this case, fluency in all the participating disciplines is no longer emphasized. Although numerous significant challenges may ultimately require the new insights that can emerge from and interdisciplinary approach, a multidisciplinary approach to scientific education has tremendous value. First, implementing a truly interdisciplinary approach requires restructuring disciplinary boundaries and can thus elicit significant opposition from faculty and administrators comfortable with the status quo. In addition, it requires serious financial and administrative support. A multidisciplinary approach, on the other hand, works well with the existing systems we see in today's institutes of higher education. Moreover, multidisciplinary approaches to science education provide students with a foundation in a specific discipline as they develop broader interdisciplinary skills.

In the MSE framework, each module has a central theme related to a 21st century problem (e.g. global climate change) that, by necessity, engages multiple disciplines. Within each module there are projects designed for specific courses. To use a module you simply need to be teaching one of the courses that have a project. You do need to have other course being offered at the same time. Each module has general information about the central theme including power point slides for students to view in order to provide context for projects.

In each course, projects start with a guiding question that poses a problem/motivation for doing the activity. Some courses start with just the question, others may choose to start by reading technical reports, etc. created by students in other linked courses. In either case, students’ motivation and engagement is enhanced because the work they are doing is directly related to projects other students are doing in other courses/disciplines. Once the overview and starting point information is presented, each project has specific materials designed to be part of the typical content for that course.

As part of each within-course project, students create their own technical report. The writing of the technical report is crucial for meeting the learning objectives of the MSE module. At this point the instructor may choose to end that particular activity. Alternatively, instructors may choose to participate in the multidisciplinary collaboration by using the content management system (CMS) to pull out follow-up information that informs and expands what his/her students have done so far. In this case, the project progresses to a summary activity that focuses on really cementing the learning objectives for 21st century problem solvers.