COVID-19: An interdisciplinary experience?

There is a very tired saying that we learn by experience. The learning that results from an experience is not compartmentalised; we don’t naturally think in disciplines, do we? Well, we are currently living through an unprecedented (another word that has been overused recently) global experience in the form of COVID-19, and look at all of the learning — for better or worse — that is coming out of that experience: musicians are connecting with global audiences via concerts they are hosting from their living rooms, actors are streaming live “performances” of Shakespeare, ordinary citizens are participating in yoga or cooking classes with a global community — and all of this is taking place while we learn to adapt to new forms of technology or, in some cases, we adapt new forms of technology to meet our changing needs in a world of self-isolation. Conceptually, we are grappling with change and finding ways to connect and communicate (locally and globally) in ways that may be challenging or unfamiliar. The lockdown environment might be affecting our relationships (positively or negatively) and perhaps even giving us a new perspective on things.

All of this got me thinking: why not use the current situation as a learning opportunity for students? So I started to put together some interdisciplinary ideas. These are just entry points, not full units, and they are not perfectly polished. Feel free to use them as a springboard for designing a full IDU within your own context. (There is a certain irony in the fact that I have created IDU ideas, which are collaborative in nature, in isolation, but I’m hoping people will accept the exceptional circumstances and appreciate the spirit in which I share these.)

There are three main entry points into an IDU: through concepts, global contexts or content. I have outlined the process I went through to create each of these integrations below.

I started with the content or topic, which is COVID-19 (or, more generally, pandemic). I then viewed that topic through each of the global lenses (contexts) and considered key concepts that seemed best aligned to each context. From there, I suggest the disciplines that might lead to the most effective interdisciplinary experience; I started with disciplines that share the same key concept and then considered others that might work well as an integration. I don’t suggest that all of those disciplines listed need to be integrated into a single unit (although they could!), but listing several opens up multiple opportunities.

Obviously, the current global situation is an emotive one, and as educators we have to tread carefully and consider the emotional needs and wellbeing of our students. This topic may not be suitable to address with all students in all schools at this time. However, I think the SoIs are general enough to be able to adapt using any global event as the core focus, which could still lead to some meaningful interdisciplinary learning outcomes. Equally, you could adapt the framework to work with any topic of interest.

I will be expanding on these ideas in an IB Educators Chat that I am facilitating on MYP Interdisciplinary Learning on Wednesday, 13 May at 19:00 GMT (that’s 20:00 London time). During the meet, I will offer some practical suggestions for how to coordinate the logistics of one or more of these IDUs (in either a remote or classroom setting) and provide an opportunity for global discussion and collaboration on how to make interdisciplinary learning happen in our current online environment. Follow the link below or email me for more information.

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