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Thursday, June 1, 2023

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SDSU students take part in the "Countercultural Literature and Psychedelic Rock" collaborative class. (Photo: Ken Jacques) SDSU students take part in the "Countercultural Literature and Psychedelic Rock" collaborative class. (Photo: Ken Jacques)

Taking an Interdisciplinary Approach

Instructors apply collaborative teaching methods to allow students to explore themes from various angles.
By SDSU News Team

San Diego State University is taking a unique approach to teaching by providing students with an opportunity to explore subject matters through a combination of classes that may appear unconventional at first. The Arts Alive SDSU Collaborative Teaching Exchange allows two professors from different academic disciplines to create an educational experience that fuses the themes of their classes and complements their curricula and learning outcomes.

Alphabet created in Bio-Design collaborative class
Alphabet created in Bio-Design collaborative class
Sponsored by Arts Alive SDSU, the partnerships are required to involve one arts and one non-art discipline, and students are required to put together a culminating event that is open to the SDSU community.

This semester, SDSU is offering three pairs of classes that apply the collaborative teaching concept: Countercultural Literature and Psychedelic Rock, Lemon Sage and Bio-Design.

The courses are taught “stacked,” meaning they are offered at the same time and day. Each faculty member teaches in their own space, but because the courses are held at the same time, the instructors and their two classes can meet and collaborate.

A team effort

The two faculty members team-teach at least four times a semester to allow the students from their individual classes to collaborate across disciplines. Faculty members have a wide degree of flexibility in developing their courses. Together they determine what students should work on in teams as opposed to individually, and how the classes structure their culminating event.

In the case of Bio-Design, the instructors are challenging their students to think outside of the box by adapting learning methods their classmates use in the other discipline.

“The purpose of the course is for design students to practice working with real data provided by biology students, creating visual applications that help the public understand science,” said Arzu Ozkal, associate professor in SDSU's School of Art and Design, who is teaching one of the courses in the Bio-Design class pairing. “Meanwhile the biology students will develop visual literacy skills, which could help them formulate new research questions.”

Enhanced learning experience

The Arts Alive SDSU Collaborative Teaching Exchange program kicked off in fall 2016 with a collaboration between English professor William Nericcio and music professor Eric Smigel. They combined their respective courses, English 220: Introduction to Literature, and Music 351: Music and Culture of Psychedelic Rock in the 1960s. With overarching themes such as the distortion of time and space and other concepts connected to psychedelic culture, the two classes joined forces four times over the semester to discuss the countercultural movement and common themes. Their final exhibition, “Psychedelic Mirrors: Acid Test” featured a multimedia collage of lights, film projections, face painting, and a live performance by a psychedelic rock band.

Students in this first cohort were surveyed about their collaborative teaching experience and nearly 60 percent of them said the interdisciplinary format enhanced their learning experience.

Breaking new ground

Arts Alive SDSU funding covers many of the costs associated with the program.

“While some faculty at other universities have attempted to create similar programs, they have done so by working around the edges,” said Dani Bedau, chair of Arts Alive SDSU. "The support provided at SDSU is unprecedented.”

The Arts Alive SDSU Collaborative Teaching Exchange has the potential to have a profound impact on institutions nationwide. Bedau co-presented on the program at a recent symposium at the University of Colorado, Denver. Additionally, the Arts Alive SDSU Visual Discourse Analysis process, which qualitatively analyses the success of the classes through pictures and other visual methods, has brought buzz to the program.

Future collaborations

There are six approved collaboratively designed classes that will be offered at SDSU over the next several years. Among others, the university will offer collaborations between dance and physics, history and graphic design, and public affairs and television writing.