Knowledge Power: Interdisciplinary Education for a Complex World


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The definition of IDR is provided and discussed in Chapter 2. Popper, K. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, , p.

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The history of science from the time of the earliest scholarship abounds with examples of the integration of knowledge from many research fields. The pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander brought together his knowledge of geology, paleontology, and biology to discern that living beings develop from simpler to more complex forms. In the age of the great scientific revolutions of 17th-century Europe, its towering geniuses—Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke, Edmond Halley, Robert Boyle, and others—brought their curiosity to bear not only on subjects that would lead to basic discoveries that bear their names but also on every kind of interdisciplinary challenge, including military and mining questions.

Today, the proliferation of new understanding about the molecular and genetic underpinnings of life demonstrates the power of combining disciplinary knowledge in interdisciplinary ways. In recent decades, the growth of scientific and technical knowledge has prompted scientists, engineers, social scientists, and humanists to join in addressing complex problems that must be attacked simultaneously with deep knowledge from different perspectives.

Students show increasing enthusiasm about problems of global importance that have practical consequences, such as disease prevention, economic development, social inequality, and global climate change—all of which can best be addressed through IDR.


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All those invite and even demand interdisciplinary participation. There can be no question about the productivity and effectiveness of research teams formed of partners with diverse expertise. Robert K. In the years to come, innovators will need to jettison the security of familiar tools, ideas, and specialties as they forge new partnerships. Prolific and influential researchers are more likely to keep up with developments outside their own domains, and this interdisciplinary curiosity can lead to major breakthroughs on their own projects.

One of the things that I have observed is how increasingly the fields of sociology, bioethics, and economics are necessary to execute our missions in the apparently harder sciences as we move ahead. Academe has responded to the burgeoning specialization of knowledge and increased cross-fertilization by creating new hybrid research fields—such as bioengineering, biogeochemistry, and paleoseismology—and innumerable courses of study that explore the interstices between traditional disciplines see Box and Appendix D.

The administrations of many campuses have begun to respond vigorously with renewed energy and innovative organizational structures. After several decades of experimentation, interdisciplinary centers, institutes, programs, and other structural mechanisms have proliferated on and adjacent to university campuses; indeed, these research units often outnumber traditional departments see Figure and Box Despite frequent tensions over budgets, space, and intellectual turf, many of these centers and institutes are vibrant research and training environments.

They do not supersede the departments but complement them, often generating new kinds of excitement. Feist, G. Review of General Psychology 2, no. Psychological Bulletin , no. NOTES: The number of departments has increased steadily over the last century, from about 20 in to between 50 and in National professional societies have also increased in number from 82 in to in see Figure Although those changes may appear to indicate increasing specialization, the increases in new departments, such as biophysics and biochemistry, and societies, such as neuroscience and photonics, reflect a blending of previously distinct fields.

NYU decreased after because the departments on their two campuses University Heights and Washington Square merged around that time. During the preparation of this report, practitioners of IDR and other contributors described some of the key conditions for effective IDR. They include sustained and intense communication, talented leadership, appropriate reward and incentive mechanisms including career and financial rewards , adequate time, seed funding for initial exploration, and willingness to support risky research see Table At the heart of interdisciplinarity is communication—the conversations, connections, and combinations that bring new insights to virtually every kind of scientist and engineer.

Just as a biologist Watson and a. Case Study: Columbia University. Columbia has been extremely supportive of interdisciplinary education and research, but it, like many other universities, has almost no publicly accessible records of the administrative structures used to facilitate such work. Departments of instruction at Columbia are established by the trustees and written into the university statutes.

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Therefore, there are accurate records of their number. A list of current departments is published in the Faculty Handbook. Numbers alone, however, are not very enlightening. In each of the decades since , some departments have been eliminated and replaced by others as the university shifted its academic priorities and some departments have been allowed to linger in the university statutes long after they cease to be functioning entities. A statutory count does not reveal how widely the university has dispersed its energies. Unlike departments, centers, institutes, and other interdisciplinary units are not written into the university statutes.

Institutes are supposed to require the approval of the university senate and the president. In contrast, centers and other interdisciplinary units can be created by the individual schools and in practice have often been established without even the approval of the dean. There is no central approval or recordkeeping. In , there were such units. There are no counts for years prior to Some are bigger and intellectually more influential than some academic departments.

Others are highly specialized and narrow. Some have existed for decades, others disappear after only a few years, and still others merge to create new units or emerge when one interdisciplinary unit is split. Some have retained their original purpose throughout their lifetimes; others have substantially shifted their academic focus.

Aggregate numbers cannot reflect this diversity. Seminars to foster bridges between students, postdoctoral scholars, and PIs at the same institution.


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Without sustained and intense discussion of such possibilities and without special effort by researchers to learn the languages and cultures of participants in different traditions, the potential interdisciplinary research might not be realized and might have no lasting effect. Learning a new field is always hard work, and it must be catalyzed by both formal efforts, such as institutional policies that support.

The task of this report is to update and illuminate the intrinsic power of IDR and to build on models and recommendations that can identify and remove barriers to its full expression. A similar task has been assigned to research councils in Europe see Boxes and The purpose and current research agenda of IDR must be examined more closely than they have been by scholars. Should we be moving from a gradual trend toward interdisciplinarity to one that is even stronger?

Strengthening IDR is not merely a concept that is philosophically attractive or that serves the special interests of a few neglected fields. It has been vital since the creation of our great research universities—and critical during times of national emergency. It has led to major new industries and opened up the world to the creation of wealth, to international collaboration, and to enhanced technology and scientific exchange.

There is this long-standing call for this type of research. The question we have to ask ourselves is, what is the problem? Feller, I. Scientific discoveries occur increasingly on the borders between disciplines. In addition, economic and social innovations call for input from a variety of disciplines.

In its recommendations, the council focuses on universities.

Knowledge Power: Interdisciplinary Education for a Complex World | Times Higher Education (THE)

It found that the obstacles to multidisciplinary research manifest themselves most emphatically in such institutions, which, paradoxically, are best positioned to gain from IDR. Universities play a key role in the knowledge infrastructure. The recommendations are practical and grouped along three issues that, according to the AWT, are indispensable for the effective promotion of multidisciplinary research:. Ensure that there are enough motivated researchers.

Incentives are required to encourage scientists to engage in multidisciplinary research. There are no counts for years prior to Some are bigger and intellectually more influential than some academic departments. Others are highly specialized and narrow. Some have existed for decades, others disappear after only a few years, and still others merge to create new units or emerge when one interdisciplinary unit is split.

Some have retained their original purpose throughout their lifetimes; others have substantially shifted their academic focus. Aggregate numbers cannot reflect this diversity. Seminars to foster bridges between students, postdoctoral scholars, and PIs at the same institution.

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Without sustained and intense discussion of such possibilities and without special effort by researchers to learn the languages and cultures of participants in different traditions, the potential interdisciplinary research might not be realized and might have no lasting effect. Learning a new field is always hard work, and it must be catalyzed by both formal efforts, such as institutional policies that support.

The task of this report is to update and illuminate the intrinsic power of IDR and to build on models and recommendations that can identify and remove barriers to its full expression. A similar task has been assigned to research councils in Europe see Boxes and The purpose and current research agenda of IDR must be examined more closely than they have been by scholars. Should we be moving from a gradual trend toward interdisciplinarity to one that is even stronger? Strengthening IDR is not merely a concept that is philosophically attractive or that serves the special interests of a few neglected fields.

It has been vital since the creation of our great research universities—and critical during times of national emergency. It has led to major new industries and opened up the world to the creation of wealth, to international collaboration, and to enhanced technology and scientific exchange.

There is this long-standing call for this type of research. The question we have to ask ourselves is, what is the problem? Feller, I. Scientific discoveries occur increasingly on the borders between disciplines. In addition, economic and social innovations call for input from a variety of disciplines. In its recommendations, the council focuses on universities. It found that the obstacles to multidisciplinary research manifest themselves most emphatically in such institutions, which, paradoxically, are best positioned to gain from IDR.

Universities play a key role in the knowledge infrastructure. The recommendations are practical and grouped along three issues that, according to the AWT, are indispensable for the effective promotion of multidisciplinary research:. Ensure that there are enough motivated researchers. Incentives are required to encourage scientists to engage in multidisciplinary research. In this connection, the council makes statements about a variety of subjects, including the desired broader definition of scientific quality, the broadening of university career policy, and the need to improve the image of multidisciplinary research.

Promote interaction and meetings. Tangible measures are required to put this into practice. The council calls for the creation of more horizontal ties at universities and for the establishment of institutions to lead research in societal issues. Set challenging goals.

Knowledge Power: Interdisciplinary Education for a Complex World
Knowledge Power: Interdisciplinary Education for a Complex World
Knowledge Power: Interdisciplinary Education for a Complex World
Knowledge Power: Interdisciplinary Education for a Complex World
Knowledge Power: Interdisciplinary Education for a Complex World

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