Singapore Institute of Technology

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Advocating an incremental approach in openness to interdisciplinary education

conference contribution
posted on 2022-03-25, 08:58 authored by Kwang Hwee Cheng
Real-world problems are not compartmentalized into neat disciplinary areas, so why should education, that is aimed to prepare learners to deal with such problems, be? Interest in interdisciplinary research and education is not novel, and their relevance in tackling the complex problems of society today is well recognised (e.g., Michelsen, 2013). However, there are numerous and formidable challenges to the implementation of a truly interdisciplinary education, as educators and researchers have found (Lindvig & Ulriksen, 2019). These challenges are culturally contextualized, and not easily surmountable (Weinberg & Harding, 2004). This paper seeks to apply the concept and approach of “logical incrementalism”, traditionally used in business strategy thinking (Quinn, 1978), as a way to overcome some of, and if not most of, the challenges faced in interdisciplinary education, particularly in traditional academic cultures rooted in monodisciplinary pedagogies. This is done by describing and formulating an incrementalist approach as a key that would “open” the hearts and minds of stakeholders in the education system towards interdisciplinarity in pedagogy, a concept this paper describes as “incremental openness”. Within such formulation, there will be lessons drawn from existing literature (e.g., Yang, 2009) and the author’s own experiences, to provide concrete and practical suggestions of how it can be implemented within the context of higher education in Singapore.

This paper assumes the relevance and utility of interdisciplinary pedagogies in higher education, and will therefore instead focus on the contemporary challenges of their implementation. Specifically, literature that discusses empirical experiences of interdisciplinary teaching practices in the context of business and law (e.g., Allen, 2007), as well as the author’s own teaching experience, will be drawn upon to provide illustrations of practical complexities and challenges. These form the backdrop and the impetus for the recommendation of a pragmatic and workable approach that is the central argument of this paper – that is, incrementalism can promote the openness of stakeholders towards accepting and implementing interdisciplinarity in education. To ground this approach in academic theory and demonstrate its practical feasibility, the concept of “logical incrementalism” from the field of strategic thinking (Quinn, 1978) will be discussed, before a framework for its application to interdisciplinary education is proposed and recommended. Practical examples to illustrate its implementation and workability in specific contexts within our higher education system will also be put forth or suggested.

This paper is exploratory in nature, and it is not a presentation of an empirical experiment, so the insights drawn are better described as “findings” instead of “results”. The analysis of the experiences of researchers and educators in interdisciplinary education, using the context of business and law as an example, show that there are indeed formidable challenges in promoting interdisciplinary pedagogies in higher education. This warrants a search for new and workable approaches to tackle these challenges. Logical incrementalism has shown its usefulness in business strategy formulation and implementation, by allowing business executives to approach complex and uncertain events with responses formulated in an incremental fashion, keeping “early commitments” broad, “tentative”, and “subject to later review” (Quinn, 1978). This allowed them to test assumptions and provided opportunities to learn from further developments. This paper argues that a similar incrementalist approach, described as “incremental openness”, which can be executed at various levels and different areas within the higher education context, carries great promise for the further development of interdisciplinary education. Some broad key areas in which the approach can be applied include (but are not limited to): • Encouraging the educator’s professional development beyond monodisciplinary fields; • Fostering co-teaching and collaboration among educators from different disciplines; and • Promoting the use of interdisciplinary methods and approaches in students’ assessment rubrics.

The author shares the view that “although the commitment to interdisciplinary education must be a serious one, the implementation of interdisciplinary education must be enjoyable” (Weinberg & Harding, 2004). It is the author’s hope that the “incremental openness” approach espoused in this paper would enable all relevant stakeholders, such as educators, students and policy-makers to approach interdisciplinary education with greater confidence and enjoyment (and if not, then at least tolerance)


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Applied Learning Conference 2022, 20-21 January 2022, Online

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