Breakout session A:
Designing a course that is both cross-cultural and interdisciplinary

Breakout session A
Designing a course that is both cross-cultural and interdisciplinary

Saturday, November 15, 2003
10:30 - 12:00 am

Robert T. Yuan, Professor of Cell Biology- University of Maryland

Courses on the history, art and philosophy of other countries are frequently found in university curriculums. On the other hand, the introduction of a global dimension into science and engineering courses is rare. In large measure, such courses would require the introduction of social, historical and cultural themes into the science, not a simple or easy task. Over the past decade, I have created and taught three honors seminars as well as developed case studies for an introductory biology course. The seminars were:

Biology and Culture: student teams developed case studies in which biology was used to solve major problems in developing countries (e.g., the use of mixed cultures in soy sauce fermentation, development of natural molluscides for control of schistosomiasis). These 36 case studies form a collection we call the Diversity Notebook.

Biotechnology in Asia: this examines the interface between biotechnology, economic development and culture in selected Asian countries. Student teams are organized into country teams in which they become expert.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): A Complementary Approach to Western Medicine: This compares the philosophy, historical trajectory and practical applications of TCM as compared with Western medicine and looks at areas where the two might be integrated. Student teams work on projects that focus on parallel approaches to a specific disease or on medical care delivery systems.

General Microbiology: case studies from the Biology and Culture seminar have been used in this introductory course to provide a more diverse view of the field.

It is more difficult to teach courses that are both cross-cultural and interdisciplinary, and they are necessarily more complex to develop and teach. The following elements need to be considered: content, tools and cultural sensitivity.

Content: the theme of the course has to be a compelling scientific area (e.g., biotechnology, biological applications) placed in a totally different social, cultural and economic context. There are rarely textbooks so the availability of resources and teaching materials is a challenge.

Tools: in order to get the most out of the course, students need to do much of their own research. Assignments must be designed to require research, e.g., case studies, country reports, and promote information exchange (e.g., widespread use of computers, written reports, oral presentations, team projects, teams that are mixed by race/ethnicity, gender and academic majors).

Cultural sensitivity: the use of mechanisms to enable students to look at the science through a different cultural lens (e.g., case studies based in native technology, work as a country team, role playing, alternative therapies).

The first step in the creation of such a course is defined by what the instructor wants the student to learn in a different cultural context and then establish a framework that includes the elements described above. It is also essential to have a system for evaluating the course on a continuous basis.

This session will provide concrete examples of course design plus exercises that will enable the participants to construct their own courses.