McMaster University 2016

Team: Alex Dhaliwal, Wendy Lawson, Maureen MacDonald, Umair Majid, Bridget Mavety, Sunita Nadella, Sarah Robinson
Supporters: Kris Knorr, Rafaella Shammas

The School of Interdisciplinary Science (SIS) is a new academic unit in McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, established on January 1st, 2016. It is home to three undergraduate programs that all invite students to think about science in an interdisciplinary way. Each program has run in isolation from the others prior to the creation of the School. The three programs are: 

Integrated Science: Program admission is in Year One. Students take a single 24-unit course in first year. The course establishes a strong cohort feeling. The course is co-taught by multiple instructors and asks students to approach questions in an interdisciplinary way. The course provides the foundation for thinking about Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. Approximately 250 students are in this program across four years. 

Life Sciences: Program admission is in Year Two. Students are required to take one of each of the following courses for program admission in Year Two: Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. Interdisciplinary labs and courses (two new as of 2016/17) begin in second year. Approximately 1100 students are in this program across 3 years after admission in level two. 

Medical Radiation Sciences: Program admission is in Year One. This is a career-oriented program that prepares students for health professions that uses radiation in diagnostic and therapeutic treatment care of patients. Practitioners in the field do a large part of the teaching in this program. By its nature, the program is interdisciplinary, requiring a foundation in Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. Approximately 120 students are in this program across four years after admission in level one. 

The School of Interdisciplinary Science (SIS) is now home to more than 1500 undergraduate students. The Spring 2016 Change Institute is timely. One of the mandates for the new School, as stated by Dean Robert Baker, is to “foster exploration and discovery, while emphasizing experiential, collaborative and student-centred learning.” Our primary goal of the Change Institute is to develop a culture of shared responsibility for teaching and learning in the School that transcends the previous program boundaries. We would like to explore how each program can learn from the tested successes in the other programs. Importantly, we would like to evaluate those successes from the perspective of the students. Our proposed team consists of one student and one faculty member from each of the three programs. Our goals are to address some of the following questions: 

  •  iSci offers interdisciplinary courses that transcend department boundaries and that are co-taught by faculty across departments. Is this approach translatable to courses in Life Science and Medical Radiation Sciences? 
  • Evaluation methods targeted for a small iSci class encourage collaboration and peer evaluation. Can these methods be translated in a meaningful way to larger Life Science classes? 
  • Students report that the flexibility of course selection for Life Sciences students, within and outside of the Faculty of Science, provides a breadth that informs career decisions in upper years. Do iSci and Medical Radiation Sciences students want and need this opportunity for discovery? 
  • How might the career-oriented approach of Medical Radiation Sciences inform students in Life Sciences? 
  • Experiential Learning is an important piece in all three programs. Can we find an approach to facilitate finding experiential opportunities within and outside of courses that work best for all students? 
  • How can students in the new School build a strong internal program cohort and simultaneously a united spirit across the three programs? 

The Change Institute will provide an opportunity for the faculty from each program to get past the stories and hear exactly what happens in each other’s programs. Student partners will keep the faculty honest and contribute their own creative ideas to the process. The timing of the Institute will allow students and faculty to make informed decisions in the critical first steps of School development. 

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