Assignment 11

Assignment 11

1) read the article: Derry, S. J., & Fischer, G. (2007): "Transdisciplinary Graduate Education".

2) describe which ideas / concepts discussed in the article you found most interesting

3) describe an idea / concept with which you disagree or which you did not understand

Lee Becker -
For me, the most interesting concept in this article was soft leadership which was described as subtle management skills that are distributed across group members..., but I think Lao Tzu better captures the concept as "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves." What I find most interesting is that good leaders truly embody this ideal, however the reward structure in industry and academia often is set up to reward the exact opposite behavior. I definitely agree that the art of soft leadership should be incorporated into graduate programs, perhaps to encourage a greater societal change in thinking, but like all forms of artistic expression, can it really be taught?

The report suggests that evaluation of graduate students' Socio-Technical knowledge can be assessed by requiring students to develop and use socio-technical environments (e.g., blogs, web portals, games) to communicate, explain, support and disseminate research findings. However, I feel that this is not a good indicator of whether or not a student sees the value of using such tools, and reading this I am reminded of one of my undergraduate professors requiring us to use heavy-handed software engineering life-cycles and methods for an assignment that could have easily been accomplished in a handful of coding sessions. Care must be taken to ensure this is not perceived as yet another artificial hurdle for project completion.

Saroch Panichsakul -
I especially like the idea of "Design, Learning, and Collaboration". I always believe that the world where all people cooperate really well will result in a success. This concept seconds the idea of Amer Diwan's pair programming. The horizontal collaboration (students from different disciplines) will lead to many brand new ideas. In this century we cannot move forward or come up with things that matter from only one or two perspective. Google, for example, recruits people from computer scientist to environmental specialist. The vertical collaboration (undergraduates, graduates, post-docs, professionals) also broaden viewpoints of people in the same field. Undergraduates might bring a new idea to graduates while professionals might help new graduates start their career life.

I somewhat disagree that physical distance among collaborating team members can substantially reduce their effectiveness. That study was conducted in 2003 but the technology today is much more advanced. We have hi-speed internet which people across the continent can talk like they are at the same place. We can stream the video packets so quick that the web conferencing tool like WebEx can work flawlessly. We have a very advanced meeting solution like Cisco TelePresence ( that people across the world can sit and meet like they are in the same room. Moreover, people at different places can contribute to the team very different ideas. They view the world from different eyes. Team members in China might think of the new ways to develop the products the way other members in the US might never think of.

David Gnabasik -
Several interesting concepts in this article struck me while reading. The idea of explicitly identifying and overcoming distances is a habit of thought and practice worth cultivating, since various distances are encountered while engaged in collaborative problem-solving. Nor is it difficult to recognize when a technology stands in the way of good communication, a concept that is difficult to numerically quantify. I learned how to be an effective collaborator in my teens, as measured by the success of multiple team projects. But those experiences also taught me that communication can be very time consuming, all the more so when it is not dealing directly with the problem at hand. Similarly, communication is often the most costly part of distributed computing. It takes time to develop a communication method that is inexpensive, unobtrusive and still rich enough to be used effectively. Operating e-mail is easy; learning to write what goes into the e-mail – its quality – is the hard part. The same can be said for other new media. The point of an unobtrusive media is to enable the processes of thinking, learning, working, and collaborating so that they are not functions of the media. This always requires an extensive and expensive support system in order to maintain the socio-technical environment, to maintain the machines, the computing and communication environment.

The idea of engaging in and fostering distributed intelligence, of renting space in someone else's brain, is powerful and worth researching even though “Orchestrating the intelligence that is distributed throughout such transdisciplinary organizations in service of the problems they are created to address is a complicated challenge.” I agree that developing “reflective practitioners” is the key to making use of this power. However, it is hard to master one discipline, let alone two. It's time-consuming to work through the difficult problems that any significant discipline requires as proof of admission. Having to do that all over again is a significant challenge.

Jinho Choi - I agree with the statement that graduate programs should encourage individuals to be experts in their own areas yet have an ability to collaborate with people specialized in different fields. In general, it is hard to expertise in multiple areas at the same time, it is often need to have fair amount of knowledge in other fields. Collaboration gives great ways to solve this issue and that is why it is important to figure out some efficient way of doing it.

It is great to have transdisciplinary programs but since it is somewhat new, I wonder how far it can extend. In other words, I'm not sure if the transdisciplinary programs will be treated the same as other fundamental ones since they are based on the needs of collaborating multiple fields and these needs can be changed in time. I believe it is necessary to have such programs due to the current trend that is fusing different fields, but it is probably hard to follow the trend in academia.

Paul Marshall -

How much is all of this focus on other disciplines (during the relatively short period of one's graduate education) going to limit the depth in which a person can explore in his or her own discipline (namely, a technical aspect of computer science)? It seems like there is some room to have some people educated in such a manner (multi-trans-co-inter disciplinary), however, as has been mentioned before: we only have so much time. At what point does learning about other disciplines limit your lack of understanding about your own? I am interested in High Performance Computing (a field that works closely with Physics, for example – but not only Physics – what do I do about the other disciplines??) – how much can I really learn about Physics and about Computer Science? Is it possible to become an expert in both? Or at some point would I just know too little about either one to be of little or no worth in both? In this particular case they are both very technical fields that require a lot of study and take a lot of time to truly understand.

While there may be room for some people to understand enough to bridge this gap, I do not feel it is something that should require the transformation of graduate education in order to force everyone to be educated in this manner. I still think there is valid reasoning and justification to allow a highly focused physicist to focus on his or her area and a highly focused computer scientist to focus on his or her area without the need to "bridge" them. Part of the beauty of computer science is its generality - in computer science there are plenty of things which are designed for one purpose yet take off in a completely different direction - we can't always see where the collaboration should occur, so why try to force it? I don't mean to imply that we shouldn't allow such collaboration and education in areas where we can see a natural relation. Perhaps I misunderstood the paper, but it seemed to generalize something that works in certain situations, though not necessarily across all of graduate school and all of the studies therein.

KyuHan Koh -

I found the most interesting idea and the idea I can’t agree more in the first paragraph. I believe that true collaboration requires gaining knowledge from various fields where collaboration is needed and understanding the total process of the project. For example, if a computer engineer or scientist wants to build language learning simulations through collaboration with linguists, psychologists or educators, he or she needs to learn a brief level of the process of language acquisition. Also, non-computer experts in this project need to learn the limitations or constraints of computer simulations. If they understand and know more about others fields, the synergy effect from this project would be increased. To satisfy those requirements of true collaboration, the curriculum for Ph. D students need to be changed as the paper says.

The idea I had some questions was the course description for “Design, Learning, and Collaboration”. The paper says “to provide opportunities for transdisciplinary collaborations by recruiting for horizontal (e.g., students from different disciplines) and vertical (e.g., undergraduates, graduates,post-docs, professionals) integration”, but I wonder how to recruit students from different disciplines and how many students could be recruited from how much different disciplines. Even though “enough” students are recruited from “enough” different disciplines, there is no guarantee that this transdisciplinary collaborations would be successful because the problem is always not quantity but quality. The idea itself sounds innovative and promising, but I doubt the course has worked as it was designed and intended.

Jeffrey LaMarche -
The first concept I found most interesting in the article was the description of the transition from "a world of learning by being taught" to "a complex socio-technological world in which there is a requirement to guide one's own learning and life's work" (p. 6). Although after reading it, this concept seems obvious, I do not remember anyone actually telling me this is one reason you go to graduate school and that it is one of the primary goals of a graduate education. My learning experiences working outside academia have also focused primarily of learning by being taught, not by learning on your own.

Soft leadership was another highly interesting area of the article, but also an idea that created some conflict for me. This basically goes against the traditional model of leadership in our society, which is the boss/employee structure. In the past few years I have made a distinction between a boss and a supervisor. I believe a soft leader and supervisor are similar, although not completely equal (a supervisor does not relinquish control of their status). A boss on the other hand is the police force of the workplace. The boss creates and enforces rules, hands out punishments and rewards, and is focused on getting the jobs completed (regardless of whether or not people learn new skills or think about what they are doing). Overall, soft leadership sounds wonderful, however it will take a while to overthrow the current boss leadership mentality in the United States. I think soft leadership would work excellently in academia, however some Professors have the boss/peon mentality that will be difficult to overcome.

Joel Pfeiffer-
I believe that the concept of reflection is an interesting and perhaps the most important thing to consider. Monitoring our progress and adapt to our weakness is incredibly important and is often overlooked. Many problems that arise in collaboration would hopefully be recognized by simply assessing the work that has been done.

I'm not sure how much I agree with the notion of soft leadership as defined by this paper. True, breaking up leadership roles for various parts of the project based on expertise sounds like an amazing way to work, but when disagreements arise having a single leader to resolve them is perhaps the most efficient manner of moving forward. Especially when either path can work, not having a single leader can result in wasted time as people dispute. Also, I might have missed it, but I did not notice anything regarding the scope of the project. For instance, a large framework might be too much personnel overhead for a simple task such as "Hello World".

Dan Knights -

I am interested in the concept of "Boundary Objects" as discussed in the article. As an erstwhile high school math teacher, I have had some experience with the challenge of trying to communicate a concept from teacher to student. After reading the article's definition of boundary objects, I can clearly recall that certain conceptual frameworks such as analogies or case studies acted as facilitative boundaries between me and the students, and that others acted as inhibitory boundaries between us. This was the main challenge in teaching low-performing students–finding a useful boundary object for a given concept.

Regarding the same concept, however, I wonder how and when the practice of developing useful boundary objects would be taught or encouraged in graduate school. I am certain that it is important for students to develop a "grab-bag" of conceptual boundary objects for transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary communication, but this is so "soft" a skill that I have a hard time imagining it being included in an enforceable manner in a curriculum or set of standards for graduate study. Even if it were enforced by a particular institution, it seems like it would take a long time for the research community at large, in particular academic and industrial institutions looking to hire graduate students, to recognize the "hard" value of this "soft" skill.

Michael Otte – I like the overall concept of the paper, which I took to be: We need to apply research methods to the study of graduate education itself, so that we can figure out how to make it better; specifically, with respect to what techniques are useful for teaching people (and communities of people) to be successful in interdisciplinary fields.

I understand that this paper was probably written to bring a possible research paradigm to the attention of the fields that are equipped to work on it. However, I dislike the fact that the paper largely consists of examples that were tailored to the Learning Sciences and Cognitive Science collaborative graduate research education, and felt that examples of other possible application fields would have been useful.

John Michalakes

Campbell's fish-scale model of "collective comprehensiveness through overlapping patterns of unique narrowness" was a new insight for me as a counterpoint to the culturally ingrained notion of "Renaissance scholar envisioned as a human being knowing all important things." I see the point about the Renaissance Scholar model being inadequate for the 21st century (at least as far as science and technology concerned; one hopes there will always be appreciation for and aspiration to such knowledge in the arts).

However, I have trouble with the premise that a major focus of graduate education should be to instill transdisciplinary competencies. One could argue that is what an undergraduate education is for. In my opinion, graduate education is for specialization and becoming an expert in a particular area of a particular discipline after one has acquired communication and learning skills and academic breadth as an undergraduate. I'll grant that if one's discipline is the study of learning and collaborative tools and paradigms, that is certainly legitimate as a specialization.

I see the value and necessity of varied specialties nucleating around a problem to form a multi-disciplinary effort for whatever time scale is appropriate, but I have some concern that institutionalization of these processes into a deliberate academic formalism may stifle the crucial spontaneous insight of the uniquely situated individual in making connections between disciplines.

Jane Meyers-
I found the issue of educating students how to succeed/adapt/learn in the future world of technology very exciting, as opposed to restricting education to the here and now. This poses a huge challenge for academia, and I agree that “rather than trying to broadly cover too much territory, graduate programs could do a better job by empowering all students to learn on demand, exploiting the powers of collaboration and new media as tools for lifelong learning.” I think this is an important issue that should be raised and discussed starting in our own department.

Of course, one way of preparing students for real-world problems in academia, industry and beyond is introducing them to transdisciplinary problems. In this paper it states that: "If we take seriously the challenge of nurturing this type of scholar, then one thing we must do, …, is arrange for graduate student’s mentored participation in distributed socio-technical communities in which participants with specialized backgrounds work together to frame and address important problems requiring sharing of disciplinary knowledge and resources over significant periods of time. While I agree that participating in this type of project would be beneficial, I think a similar set of skills could be obtained by working on non-academic problems, which are potentially easier to come by. In facilitating transdisplinary/socially-diverse problems as apposed to participating in them, students could learn and observe effective and ineffective methods of communication without the bias, distractions, and frustrations that come with participating. By being passive leaders and learning the benefits and difficulties of collaboration, students will be better prepared to collaborate with others and methods of tackling problems that arise. I agree with Lemke’s statement that “We do not in fact learn to participate in every activity just by participating in it”, but I do think that we can learn how to effectively participate by watching/facilitating others collaborate and then applying what we learn.

Rhonda Hoenigman - It would be too harsh to say there was nothing in this paper that I found interesting, however, I did feel that the paper over-complicated that which is simple, and over-simplified that which is complex. I like the idea of soft leadership and empowering employees to be self-lead, etc., however, this idea is not new. Human resources departments across the country have been touting this idea for years. Also, if the article meant to imply that soft leadership should replace hierarachy, then I disagree with this. Even a democracy needs a president. My next concern is with the idea of transdisciplinary education. Sure, it's nice to know a lot about everything, and I'm sure some of us have families who already think we know everything now that we're in PhD school. However, the focus of graduate school should be learning how to learn. We are in training to be researchers and learning how to pick good research topics. Why does it matter if our research question is influenced by one subject area or ten? And where do we draw the line? If my computer science project has a touch of biology, is it transdisciplinary, or does it also need a little chemistry? The concept of learning is the same - starting with limited information and becoming more informed. By placing a requirement that a topic has to cross disciplines, or cannot cross disciplines, we're focusing too much on domain knowledge and not enough on the process of knowledge acquisition. I also have issue with the idea that people stop learning once they leave college. Sure, there is less time for learning just for the sake of learning, but professional engineers everywhere have to continue learning once they have left school in order to keep themselves employed. A quick look at how the software industry has changed over the last ten years should support this claim. Any professional software engineer has had to keep up with the latest trends, compilers, and languages. No one is born knowing .NET, so certainly something has to be learned. Finally, collaboration. I am very much in favor of the idea, however, collaboration is something that happens in the real-world every day. People work together because they have to and they learn to get along. Out of this collaboration comes solutions to problems that keep people employed and companies in business. The whole idea of studying collaboration makes me think, "what is there to study?". As long as people behave like respectful adults, collaboration can happen.

Yifei Jiang -
In the seven themes as a starting point for discourse and research on transdisciplinary graduate education, I like the idea of soft leadership. From my past work experience in software area, I can feel that soft leadership is very important in team collaborations. I think the most important effect of soft leader is to influence other group members to work or learning effectively, like encourage others to express their idea, help others and monitor group progress with strong responsibility. I agree that soft leadership will also improve the efficiency of graduate education, especially the transdisciplinary graduate education.

I somewhat disagree with the idea that conceptual distances will reduce the effectiveness of work within transdisciplinary communities. Of course big conceptual distances will definitely reduce the effectiveness but appropriate conceptual distance, I mean the different ways of seeing the problem, can bring the communities new ideas. So we should allow even encourage some conceptual distance within group. Then the group can see the different aspect of the problem.

Mohammad Al-Mutawa - I found the whole subject of the paper “transdisciplinary Graduate education” interesting, and I especially liked the part “dimensions of an emerging framework” where different themes were discussed. The themes/ideas: models of community, distributed intelligence, soft leadership and lifelong learning were very interesting in particular. I really think that graduate program should focus on those themes as they can greatly improve the quality of the work produced by the graduate students and better prepare the graduate students to tackle issues of the real world.

One thing that I’m not sure about is that all the suggestions and discussions in the paper are made without really distinguishing between areas or disciples. I don’t believe that a single framework will be suitable for everything. If we take computer science as an example, in my opinion the area of HCI will better fit the discussion than the area dealing with systems or algorithms. Similarly if we consider other domains or subjects such as physics or law, in each of them there are area in which is easy to follow the recommendations by in other it is more challenging.

Yuli Liang -I’m interested in the concept of the soft leadership. I understood more about it when I was working, although I felt "I already know it" during my Master study. I’m curious that, besides the campus or the academic communities, could the industrial environment, like internship opportunity or collaboration, also be one way to foster the soft skill?

About the “boundary objects”, I’m a little confused. “A curriculum of such ideas is itself a boundary-object proposal: what scholars from all fields need to know to successfully engage in trans-disciplinary scholarship ” (p.13). Could these “boundary objects” be taught in advance before we really encounter the problems? It should be dramatically different when we facing different problems, right?

Nwanua Elumeze -
In spite of all the rhetoric about the benefits of interdisciplinary research, it still remains very rare to see it encouraged or fostered at the collegiate level. To the extent that it even exists, it only appears at the faculty level (e.g. researchers in HCI), and almost never at the graduate student level. In fact, 7 years later (after Fischer, 2000), graduate programs (with the exception of, say, Cognitive Science institutes) still have not exploited the powers of new media and collaboration tools in a way that makes it any easier to even attempt interdisciplinary research at the graduate level.

While I whole heartedly agree that this needs to change, I disagree with the notion that "better technology" would enable the process. Students with overlapping interests do participate in wikis and shared blogs, but the continued emphasis in academia on individual achievement often means that the wikis inevitably turn to solving domain problems (e.g. solving the latest biology homework, or a particular programming question).
For the rhetoric to become meaningful, the graduate school education and research agenda must do something radical like insist that students take some core courses in a different department (again, Cog. Sci. does this). Another way would be to insist that two committee members come from different colleges and contribute significantly to a student's research. These are practical, if arduous tasks, that need no extended investigations to implement. Just do it, and see what happens, I say.

Keith Maull

2) describe which ideas / concepts discussed in the article you found most interesting

I found the entire paper interesting, but the three areas that struck me most are found in the 3 of the 7 dimensions of the proposed conceptual framework. Distributed intelligence : this is an area that certainly has interesting progress to be made in graduate education, particularly in understanding the "distances that affect their work" to "employ strategies to overcome them". I think conceptual and social distances are particularly relevant in the context of "trans-disciplinary" education, since some of the most interesting learning one may experience is often born within the context of communication over conceptual distances. For example, I often learn more interesting ways to solve problems when I involve others who are not necessarily familiar with the implementation or technology behind a solution, as their insights are often "free" of the boundaries of being so close to the implementation. This, I believe, ties into the second interesting area : lifelong learning and collective agency. Solutions to hard problems are rarely the result of a single insight. Many hard problems today involve multiple disciplines, and it seems reasonable to expect solutions to those problems to engage an equal number of disciplines for truly powerful solutions. Graduate education that prepares the student for communicating, understanding and effectively engaging across disciplines will be invaluable. Finally, binding these dimensions together will no doubt be achieved through soft leadership. Many of the soft leadership skills mentioned will be expressed and developed more completely when coursework is designed to be more collaborative and role based. When assignments are considered group efforts, instead of individual efforts, and when students are given the opportunity, shown the benefit and provided appropriate rewards for group work, soft leadership skills can then be put to action and consequently developed.

I also whole-heartedly agree with the state "using technology to repackage traditional pedagogies is not sufficient for today's graduate schools". I furthermore believe that new pedagogies should seek to take a more aggressive integrative approach to technology and how that technology can more effectively advance new pedagogies.

3) describe an idea / concept with which you disagree or which you did not understand
I understand the concept of 21st century teaching, but think the brevity of this section was disappointing. I think that it is not enough for educators to "embrace 'design-centered models ...'". Perhaps one of the larger problems facing the successful transformation of graduate education, and arguably all education that precedes graduate education, is the education of the educator's – to improve, enhance and be trained to adopt a new skill set that integrates many of the concepts mentioned in this paper into their own teaching skill set. This will, in my opinion, be the more significant challenge to progress, as many teachers "do what works" ... and old, out-moded habits are often difficult to break, particularly when there is no incentive to do so. I think this section should have addressed that more difficult problem – or at least offer a few suggestions on how it might be approached, since it will pose a significant barrier to progress.

Holger Dick
1.) I found the notion that we should not only learn with new media but also about new media interesting. This seems so trivial and in fact I think it should be trivial. But when I look at, for example, the CU CS courses, this topic is indeed completely ignored. This was especially interesting for me because I, coming from a more up-to-date University system, was used to care and learn about the media we're working with. Wouldn't have expected that it could still be ignored elsewhere. After all, in English studies, people do not only learn (with the help of books) how to create paper, books, and ink – the architecture, programming languages, and operating systems – but also about the medium book, its impact, its meaning, its use in the world.

2.) It's not so much one concept that I don't understand but the need and the impact of the whole debate. How is it that one of the newest academic disciplines seems to be one of the most conservative? And why are very few, if at all, of the concepts used even at CU where one of the authors is active? Where does the resistance come from and what are the arguments against a change?

Ashok Basawapatna
1) A senence that resonated deeply with me is the following: "Coverage is impossible and obsolescence is guaranteed. Rather than trying to broadly
cover too much territory, graduate programs could do a better job of empowering all students to
learn on demand, exploiting the powers of collaboration and new media as tools for lifelong
learning" – let me explain. At UCSB I was in the Media Arts and Technology (MAT) department which aimed to achieve collaborative learning across multiple disciplines- there were professors in art studio, music, comp science, engineering etc. who were all part of the faculty (they held double chairs in their own department and in the MAT department). Much of the core curriculum centered around teaching the students (this was a graduate program) a broad range of topics that they would need to effectively utilize new media. Furthermore, you would have people who were musicians spend days hacking together simple circuits and you would have people like me, more technically oriented, spending days creating a simple electronic music composition. The point being, never did the department actually foster collaboration across discipline in everday life~ the collaborations, for the most part, were bigger projects or in class collaborations were sometimes chanced upon but it wasn't the everday fare. This is not a knock against the department by the way, this is an open problem and it just highlights the ultimate challenge for the future (at least as I see it): making collaborations commonplace – forcing reliance on collective intelligence.

2) I think my confusion arises at if you're teaching collaboration in classrooms how exactly do you guarantee its translation to the real world? What things can you do to make this occur among students? While teaching specific subject matter that the student may or may not use ever again how would one differentiate the collaborative aspects as something that can be taken out of the classroom and in fact must be taken out of the classroom?

Caleb Phillips:

1) read the article: Derry, S. J., & Fischer, G. (2007): "Transdisciplinary Graduate Education".


2) describe which ideas / concepts discussed in the article you found most interesting

The article suggests that graduate education should be restructured to incorporate
more cross-disciplinary collaboration and to use technology in innovative ways to
assist learning (rather than as a shallow addition - i.e. "gift wrapping"). The authors
investigate their ideas through two experimental courses taught at CU-Boulder and UW-Madison.
I tend to agree with the thesis of the paper, but didn't find any one argument particularly compelling.

3) describe an idea / concept with which you disagree or which you did not understand

I would have liked to see a more thorough analysis of the experiment. Although
the authors implement their ideas through these courses, there is no rigorous survey
of their successes or failures. Without such an analysis, it's hard to draw a useful
conclusion from the paper (besides a very extensive survey of the proposed dilemma).

Dola Saha

I found Distributed Intelligence as the most interesting idea in the article.
Interdisciplinary groups have to work within some constraints of distance,
and the distance can be of any type: conceptual, temporal, technological or
social. But, it is indeed true that if the groups can identify the distances
creating the bottleneck in their progress, they can employ strategies to overcome
the distance. I definitely see that interdisciplinary groups in real-world do
comingle and try to find the distance and work on that.

The only thing I did not like in this paper is the lack of real-world experiments.
Although deploying breadth requirement in graduate studies seems to be an
experiment, but there is no means of measuring how people are actually sharing
knowledge, how much each one in the group is getting benefit from an
interdisciplinary collaboration. Also how interdisciplinary collaboration can
actually be achieved between different groups in real-life is not very clear.

Shumin Wu

I thought discussion of the difference types of distances discussed in Distributed Intelligence to be quite interesting. Of course, some times these distances (social, technological) are the result of differences that may help bring out different perspectives in a collaborative environment.

However, the point I have some difficulty agreeing is that transdisciplinary competencies should be developed in graduate school. Certainly, this can be somewhat developed in undergraduate studies, and in the right commercial setting where a goal/product require collaboration amongst different disciplines, this type of competencies can be developed. Ultimately, the time one spends in graduate school is relatively short compared to one's career in the relevant field. The opportunities to develop in depth research is relatively few verses opportunities for developing lifelong learning and transdisciplinary competency outside of graduate school.