John Pollard

Professor of Practice, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Associate Dean, W.A. Franke Honors College

2018, 2019 CUES Distinguished Fellow

John Pollard

The Future of Gen Ed: Big Ideas, Interdisciplinary Thinking, and Informed Decision Making

The General Education (Gen Ed) model still prevalent at many institutions across the United States is a carry-over from 19th century ideas: it aims at well-roundedness, through enabling a liberal arts experience for students outside of their majors.  In 2016, a survey issued by the AAC&U showed that over half of AAU institutions were rethinking their general education programs; the rising trend is to move away from mere well-roundedness and a topic-based curricular structure, toward developing disruptive thinkers that can reason about big ideas that are largely integrated . The University of Arizona’s general education framework is still guided by this antiquated model and over the past few years, there have been many calls by faculty and administrators to rethink the general education experience for our students.  In fact, one of the main initiatives of the UA Strategic Plan is to reform general education. The time has come for change in Gen Ed at the University of Arizona; but this change must also be accompanied by a scholarly look into the mechanisms of curricular innovation.  The Big Ideas, Interdisciplinary Thinking, and Informed Decision Making CUES project builds upon a first year of CUES funding and leverages UA values and priorities to further the  development of a novel Gen Ed model suitable for the 21st century thinkers.   Combining curricular innovation, educational research, and faculty coalition building, the project aims to design and evaluate a new, collaborative, course-based model to promote the development of interdisciplinary thinking and informed decision making. 

Megan Baker
Graduate Research Associate, W.A. Franke Honors College

Megan Baker is a PhD student in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona and a graduate research associate working on the CUES The Future of Gen Ed: Big Ideas, Interdisciplinary Thinking, and Informed Decision Making project. Her work on the project aims to better understand the relationship between pedagogy and the advancement of interdisciplinary student reasoning. 

Project Outcomes

With support from the CUES Fellowship, this project brought faculty together to develop new curricular frameworks and course structures to support interdisciplinary reasoning in students.  Alongside the development of the curricula, the project generated research data to contribute to the broader scholarly understanding of how interdisciplinary thinking develops, and how students make meaning of their interdisciplinary learning experiences.  The classroom research conducted in the project led to the publication of "Student Learning in Interdisciplinary Team-Taught Courses Centered on a 'Big Idea'" (see below) and numerous conference presentations centered on interdisciplinary curricula and instruction.  The project also supported a PhD dissertation examining the disjuncture between enacted and experienced curriculum in interdisciplinary learning environments.  This work continues to strengthen and amplify the project's impact. 

The ideas generated from the project have also informed the new University of Arizona General Education curriculum in substantial and enduring ways.  The project and accompanying research have enabled a deeper understanding of how to construct meaningful activities for students and identified ways to scaffold the development of interdisciplinary thinking in students.  This knowledge was used to create various instructional support materials, presentations, and training for faculty to provide support as they propose and implement new interdisciplinary course curricula.  

Publications

Baker, M., & Pollard, J.  (2020).  Student Learning in Interdisciplinary Team-Taught Courses Centered on a “Big Idea.” Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Education, 9(2), 338-360.  DOI: doi.org/10.32674/jise.v9i2.2273

Presentations 

NOV 2022: Promoting Interdisciplinary Learning Through Engagement with “Wicked Problems”, 42nd Annual Association for Interdisciplinary Studies Conference, Sonoma State University. Virtual, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona

OCT 2021: Designing Signature Assignments that Promote and Demonstrate Interdisciplinary Learning, 43rd Annual Association for Interdisciplinary Studies Conference, Southern Utah University. Virtual, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona

OCT 2021: Positioning Students as Critical Agents in Interdisciplinary General Education, 43rd Annual Association for Interdisciplinary Studies Conference, Southern Utah University. Virtual, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona  

OCT 2021: Expanding Global and Interdisciplinary Learning through Collaborative Online International Learning, AAC&U Virtual Conference: Global Learning Reimagined. Virtual, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona

MAR 2021: The Project-to-Publication Pipeline in CUES Sponsored Educational Innovation, CUES Inside UA-Funded Scholarship Series, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ (Virtual), with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona  

FEB 2021: Cross-Disciplinary Team Teaching Around Complex Issues to Promote Integrative Learning in General Education, AAC&U’s 2021 General Education, Pedagogy, and Assessment.  Virtual, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona  

JAN 2020: Perspective-Taking in the Undergraduate Classroom, International Conference on the Development and Assessment of Intercultural Competence. Tucson, AZ, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona   

NOV 2019: The Will to Reimagine the Study of Higher Education, Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) National Conference. Portland, OR, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona 

OCT 2019: Global Citizenship for Campus, Community, and Careers: Crossing Borders and Boundaries, Association for American Colleges and Universities (AACU). San Antonio, TX, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona

OCT 2019: Big Ideas, Interdisciplinary Thinking, Association for Interdisciplinary Studies Conference 2019. Amsterdam, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona

JUN 2019: UA Cross Fertilizing Academic Disciplines, Strategic Plan, University of Arizona, with Megan Baker, PhD Student, University of Arizona

MAR 2019: Informed Perspective-Taking: A New Gen-Ed Model, CUES Inside UA-Funded Scholarship Series, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ