IDCE Revising its Curriculum to Promote Flexible, Transdisciplinary Training

The IDCE Department at Clark University is launching its most significant curriculum changes in many years—changes that will affect all graduate students and redefine the core of IDCE. As significant as these changes are, they are also, fortunately, quite simple to explain.

IDCE’s areas of focus cut across its graduate degree programs

The essential goal is to leverage IDCE’s unique transdisciplinary strengths to create a learning environment that mirrors the working world IDCE students will enter, and which gives them the skills they need to have an impact on that world. The mechanism is a considered and moderate shift away from an emphasis on degree programs within IDCE toward a problem-centered curriculum that brings students from different degree programs together to attack significant problems.

Interdisciplinary study has always been at the heart of the IDCE experience, but the requirements of its seven Master’s programs have not always made such study easy to pursue. Each of these MA or MS programs offers courses that challenge and excite students throughout the department. But in practical terms, it has often proven difficult (sometimes impossible) for students to take enough courses outside of their home degree program to foster the sort of dynamic, cross-programmatic exchange of ideas and perspectives the department strives to achieve.

As Department Director Edward Carr put it, the current system has too often forced each degree program to function “as a department unto itself.” The revised curriculum, by contrast, will “encourage students in different degree programs to work and learn together.” Carr adds that such cross-programmatic encounters are “and “represent IDCE’s greatest intellectual advantage.”

Under the new guidelines, core classes in each degree program will be reduce to three units. Currently such requirements vary from 3.5 to 4.5 units, with additional requirements for methods and skills coursework in some programs.

Across a student’s graduate experience, the rebalanced curriculum will allow for a full six units of electives to be drawn from within one of IDCE’s areas of focus (or, if a student is so inclined, a self-designed area of transdisciplinary focus). This is very much in keeping with the broader IDCE mission to tackle problems which bridge (and indeed defy) disciplinary boundaries, and will make the most of the intellectual and experiential breadth of the IDCE community.

Speaking of those areas of focus, here they are:

IDCE AREAS OF FOCUS:

(department wide, program independent)

Environment and Development

Education for Social Change

Integrated Assessments

Refugees, Forced Migration and Belonging

Youth Development

Economic Development

Workforce Development

As IDCE adds new faculty, and as the world changes, the department will revise these areas of focus to reflect the intersection of the department’s strengths and the most significant challenges facing the world. Under the new curriculum, students will be more free to explore these areas of focus regardless of their degree program, and will spend more time with students and professors from beyond that single program.

What does all this imply for the overall mission of IDCE? Edward Carr recommends envisioning that mission in terms of problems, questions and solutions. In particular, he draws attention to what he calls “wicked problems”—those that defy simple solutions and require the expertise of multiple disciplines. “A lot of people see wicked problems as sources of frustration or disincentives to act,” he notes. “But in IDCE, we see these as the sites where the most interesting things are happening, and where we can have the greatest impact. Both in our research and our teaching, IDCE is positioned to address these challenges because we think and work across disciplines, bringing together diverse expertise and experiences.” The revisions to IDCE’s curriculum are designed to make these boundary-crossings more feasible and frequent.

The culmination of a long process of discussion and deliberation by the IDCE community, the changes are planned to go into effect in the fall of 2017.

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