Interconnectedness is opposed to the atomistic view of reality. When describing our world in ‘modern’ terms we articulate a view that is atomistic in the sense of separated entities that make a whole. Machinery made of parts that work together independently (parts that are replaceable) has been the metaphoric foundation of the industrial revolution as we consider our western modern society. It has been a good model that has allowed for an impressive advance of technology but has come to a need for renovation. Some would say there is a need for a revolutionary change of perspective. The new physics can guide us as it provides a new understanding of elementary relationships in how things are and work. The idea of a field from which “things” appear as some kind of precipitate by a stimulus or perturbation.
My friend Prof. Lou Foltz uses this metaphor for understanding our individual presence in the context of our society. Specially important when we are dealing with an educational context like in a college where students become (nurturing and finding themselves) as they relate to the community. The same can be said of those in charge of the educational process, faculty and staff.
Higher education is going through a deep transformation. Many aspects of the way colleges and universities are organized to provide the service needed by our society have to change and in some cases is changing. But in general institutions of higher education as other institutions in our society are slow and reactive to change. Most changes have been superficial, cosmetic and mainly related to the delivery of instruction, from night classes for adult learner, through asynchronous online, to guided inquiry and participatory education in the practice of ‘service” and “team” learning. This changes are for sure an advance to higher ed but lack the fundamental change that is necessary for a new society where the understanding of interconnectedness moves one to a collaborative and peaceful action to the solution of the problems we face today.
Think of the violence we are witnessing today. Labeled as ‘religious’, ‘ethnic’, ‘sectarian’, or ‘class’ warfare these conflicts represent a world view of separated-ness, where each group sees itself as different and disconnected from the other. We need to change this worldview!
In my classes I always talk about the connectedness of the topics we cover in class with our daily lives. I will not be different in my chemistry, physics, or environmental science classes. For example as we talk about ‘an element’ say carbon I move away from the ‘atomistic’ definition of carbon as the atom that has six protons giving it the ‘atomic number’ 6, instead I talk about carbon based on its properties, asking the question how does carbon relate to other elements. Getting to the following idea: if an atom ‘looks’ like carbon, ‘behaves’ like carbon, ‘relates’ to others like carbon, ‘bonds’ to others like carbon; then it is carbon. Later we can ask why we have these properties and get to the conclusion that having six protons will make it have six electrons and that will allow the electrons to be interchanged with other atoms giving it the properties that we observe.
Teaching in disciplinary silos has been the norm in higher education, this has to change, but how can we do it?
How can we develop curricula that is truly interdisciplinary since its conception?
How can we change the way we assess outcomes in a new interdisciplinary interconnected world?
How can we use standardized testing to make sure certain concepts are well understood and dominated while at the same time we don’t lose sight of the interconnectedness of these concepts?