Rachel Stevens, IWP Intern, MA RTW & TESL Certificate Student
I will return to issues of student identities in future posts, but this week I would like to talk about another identity: the Interdisciplinary Writing Program’s.
This past week, the NAU IWP held an open house designed to highlight the program’s semester achievements and future goals. As a member of the iWriting team, I had the opportunity to discuss my team’s workshops and collaboration with the Athletic Training department this semester. In talking with faculty and administrators at the open house about the iWriting team’s writing workshops, I was repeatedly asked a question that caused me to think reflectively on our work–What is next for the interdisciplinary team?
This question did not take me by surprise; it is one that we in the iWriting group have been addressing all year. With each small step we took, we had to constantly think about how our actions were propelling the program further and what direction we wanted to propel in. For example, last semester, the iWriting team held a three-day workshop that proved to be less successful in drawing students’ interests than the team had anticipated. To address this issue, we decided to forego the three-day model, instead building a two-day workshop for the Athletic Training 350 class and offering individual conferences after the second day. The student turn-out was much higher: ten students attended each day.
This question of “what’s next” was also a major driving force for the team’s motivation–one of our ultimate goals for the iWriting workshops is to make them truly interdisciplinary, and this semester we worked hard at deciding what kind of identity foundation we wanted to establish in order to make the program ultimately expand. In attempting to establish said foundation, we learned that we still have a lot to learn.
This learning curve is, much to my comfort, not unique to the iWriting team (or the NAU IWP at large). In “Learning Interdisciplinary Pedagogies” (2012), Friedow et al. note that establishing interdisciplinary pedagogy “requires a willingness on the part of all participants–faculty and students–to inhabit a ‘learner’s stance’ (Qualley 1997: 2), as interdisciplinary interactions ask those involved to resee our disciplinary identities and pedagogical commitments” (p. 406). In other words, in order for interdisciplinary work to be successful, everyone involved needs to be prepared to work. And work hard.
This work of establishing identity and a successful interdisciplinary program is not designated just to the iWriting camps. Rather, the entire IWP–and the faculty, administration, and students outside the IWP staff–must assume that “learner’s stance” and accept learning curves when establishing a new program. And, after the different parties involved commit to the endeavor of creating a truly interdisciplinary writing program, they then face the task of providing the right services to meet students’ needs.
One of the difficulties IWPs face regarding the “what’s next” is bridging the gaps between the theoretical research regarding interdisciplinary collaborations and the practical application of research findings and theories. In “A Roadmap for Forming Successful Interdisciplinary Education Research Collaborations” (2014), Bossio et al. make a very pertinent observation regarding this issue: “There seems to be no integration of the theoretical literature into a practical and effective strategy for successful interdisciplinary collaboration” (p. 198). Friedow’s article echoes a similar concern, noting that more “examples of how faculty from different disciplines actually develop, engage, and revise interdisciplinary pedagogies with one another are needed in interdisciplinary scholarship” (p. 405). While these types of findings could be disheartening to budding IWPs such as ours, which are in their infancies and looking for theoretical foundations that could be applied to our different initiatives, these findings are also encouraging. First, the articles illustrate how conversations are underway regarding how programs like our IWP would benefit from more concrete examples of actual collaboration; they are raising awareness of interdisciplinary needs and programs like the IWP are breaking ground for future interdisciplinary work.
And so, returning to the question of “what’s next,” I found this Bossio et al. quote most fitting: “[F]acilitating a successful interdisciplinary research group requires a self-reflective approach, incorporating knowledge from both practical and theoretical models of interdisciplinary education research” (p. 199). At this stage of its development, the IWP is absorbing knowledge both from outside research and its members own trial and error. It is a fluid entity, molding and shaping to meet new demands each semester. In order to accomplish new goals and establish a foundation, its members–such as the iWriting team–are continuously reflecting on what methods were most and least effective.
Moving forward, the IWP’s identity and role within the university will evolve, incorporating more theory as it develops and more examples of successful interdisciplinary initiatives as they arise, but one constant will remain: its members stay self-reflective and willing to work hard to meet the needs of students across various disciplines.