Jean Hertzberg brings students together across disciplinary diversity to help all students better see and experience science. She finds that students enjoy learning from each others' experiences and backgrounds. And, that this learning is best supported by intentionally-structured teamwork.Return to Top
Jean Hertzberg, prompted by a challenge issued from her university to develop interdisciplinary projects among STEM and humanities students, teaches a course on flow visualization that brings together fine arts photography students with engineering students to capture images of fluid mechanics on film.
From this unlikely partnership of artist and engineers, Hertzberg finds that the most significant learning outcome from the course is a shift in students' perception of the world: "they leave this course and they see fluids everywhere." One of the goals of engineering education is to help students see the world as engineers. Hertzberg finds that this course, because of its emphasis on visually capturing and recording science in action, effectively accomplishes this task. For engineers, it also builds their capacity to "use creativity for the sake of creativity and beauty," which she believes makes them better, more well rounded engineers. For the art students, Hertzberg finds that the course helps them perceive science in the world.
Hertzberg believes that one of the most important elements of the partnerships in her course is that there is disciplinary cross-pollination; that is, the engineers are expected to do art and the artists are expected to do science. She says that a subtext of this requirement is that every student is capable of doing both art and science. The class is made up of approximately 30 students: one-third who are MFA students who receive studio-credit and two-thirds who are in the College of Engineering who take the course as a technical elective. Each group of students bring different skill sets to the course. The engineering students have experience working in teams and the technical skills to create fluid movement. The photography students are better able to provide oral feedback and constructive criticism on final products and bring photography expertise.
Collaboration is an important element in the course, but Hertzberg provides an environment where students are allowed to realize its importance on their own. The first project they're assigned is an individual project in which they capture an image of a fluid flow. Students learn that it's difficult to create and manage the flow and take a photo. It becomes apparent that having team support will make the work easier: they can share equipment, manage the fluid mechanics, and work to capture the image together. Hertzberg, then, assigns them to teams for the duration of their projects in class. She intentionally manufactures the teams to cut across several aspects of diversity including graduate and undergraduate stages, disciplinary background, and access to supplies and tools. In addition to assigning the teams, Hertzberg discusses team dynamics in lecture before the students work together. And, at all times, teams are optional-students may opt out at any point and work on their own.
Hertzberg finds that beautiful things grow out of these unlikely partnerships. For proof, check out the photographs from her students at her course website
. Beyond the physical images, student feedback evidences that students appreciate working with people from across campus, with different disciplinary backgrounds. And, from these partnerships both groups of students' learning experiences are enhanced in ways that they carry forward far beyond Hertzberg's classroom.Return to Top
The engineering/photography student divide is an extreme example of disciplinary diversity but nearly every STEM class has disciplinary diversity among the students, it may just be more subtle than Hertzberg's case.
A key premise in Learning-through-Diversity is the notion that when students are encouraged to bring their experience and knowledge into the classroom in practical, useful ways, learning for all students is enhanced. Jean Hertzberg structurally supports the exchange of diverse skill sets and disciplinary knowledge in such a way that both engineers and photography students gain new ways of interacting with the world.
For Jean Hertzberg, teamwork is an important vehicle for this exchange. Learning-through-Diversity, as a concept, also asks instructors to consider how to support student-to-student interaction. By building the teams herself using information that she collected from an in-class survey, Hertzberg seeks to construct positive student-to-student interactions.Return to Top
Recommendations for Adaptation:
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- Recognize that you can start small. Hertzberg's collaboration is a grand example but it is likely that you have disciplinary diversity among your current students. Try to identify what those differences may be and consider ways you can use different skill sets or levels of preparation to your advantage in the classroom.
- See what resources exist on your campus to support interdisciplinary collaboration. You may be able to get seed money to support your curriculum-planning.
- Find a colleague in the field you hope to partner with. They can help you understand the different disciplinary cultures you may encounter. They can also help you network to recruit student participants.
Things to Consider:
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- One reason that Hertzberg's class has been successful is that she doesn't privilege the knowledge of one set of students over that of another set. Engineers are not the experts and photographers the novice. Instead, she sets up a situation where each groups' knowledge is important to accomplish the task at hand. Consider how you might ensure a similar dynamic in your classes: how will you encourage students to respect each other across their diverse skill sets or backgrounds?
- Jean Hertzberg encountered bureaucratic roadblocks and barriers. For instance, the typical photography student's schedule is prioritized around 4-hour studio blocks. This made scheduling a class time convenient for all students difficult. Also, the course is housed in the College of Engineering and, therefore, needs to have a majority of its students come from engineering. These roadblocks may be difficult to anticipate, but remain flexible to adapt and change to meet a variety of constituents' needs.