Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 16, 2011

Homeland security: Interdisciplinary learning for an emerging discipline

Filed under: Education — by Philip J. Palin on August 16, 2011

Most of last week HLSWatch gave focused attention to The Challenges of Developing a Homeland Security Discipline to Meet Future Threats to the Homeland by Linda Kiltz.  Below is a reply and further considerations by Dr. Kiltz.  She has also posted more specific replies to several of the comments made last week using the comment function for each of the posts.


Thank you to all of those who participated in discussion on the challenges of homeland security education. I appreciate the thoughtful dialogue and debate on some of the critical issues I raised in this article.  While I believe there continues to be a need for more discussion on what a standardized homeland security undergraduate and graduate curriculum would entail, I believe we need to move on to more critical issues that require great thinking.  First, we need to have greater debate and scholarship on the definition of homeland security.  We need to move beyond what government policy documents provide in terms of definitions and begin to explain what we mean by homeland security.  Is it a concept, an organization, an area of research, or a policy domain?  If a definition is a statement that specifies or identifies critical properties or features of a concept then what would these be for homeland security?  While this endeavor may produce no agreed upon definition, it could at least lay the foundation for building a theoretical foundation in this emerging field.

Second, many scholars have discussed the multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary nature of homeland security.  I suggested that we initially use a multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning due to the inherent challenges in trying to design, develop and implement interdisciplinary programs.  I think it will be critical to move to a more interdisciplinary approach in the future due to the complex, interdependencies inherent in homeland security.  Klein (1990) states, “Interdisciplinary education has been variously defined as a methodology, a concept, a process, a way of thinking, a philosophy, and a reflexive ideology.  It has been linked with attempts to expose the dangers of fragmentation, to re-establish old connections, to explore emerging relations and to create new subjects adequate to handle our practical and conceptual needs.  Cutting across all these theories is a recurring idea.  Interdisciplinarity is a means of solving problems and answering questions that cannot be satisfactorily addressed using single methods or approaches.”

Despite the challenges in creating and implementing interdisciplinary programs, I believe all of us can begin to implement interdisciplinary teaching practices.  Below are ten suggestions for interdisciplinary teaching.  Examples of how each of these activities has been integrated into a course would be helpful to HS educators.

Ten Suggestions for Interdisciplinary Teaching

1. The objective of interdisciplinary teaching is to assist students with seeing complex problems and solutions from a holistic and global perspective … reviewing the history of the pedagogical approach may be helpful, as well as linking it to the increasingly global nature of contemporary society (the world wide web, multi-national organizations, etc.)

2. Identify specific outcomes that illustrate interdisciplinary thinking and problem solving.

3. Construct lessons around a particular question or problem, and take time to identify the disciplines that may offer insights, responses and solutions.

4. Take time to identify issues both central and peripheral to the problem or question; explore how addressing the periphery could enhance the process of problem solving.

5. Explore how various disciplines would resolve an issue; analyze discipline-centric concepts and theories by investigating the success of their applications and comparing and contrasting various multi-disciplinary approaches.

6. Assist students with content analysis of unfamiliar sources that may represent documents outside their chosen field of study; allow them to evaluate the credibility of sources through small group discussion.

7. To enrich critical thinking and writing skills, provide ample opportunities for students to reflect upon the process of their problem solving and their insights on the relationship between the knowledge base and skills of different disciplines.

8. Generate rubrics for student work that satisfies both formative and summative assessments, and be sure to integrate interdisciplinary elements into the rubric.

9. Integrate skills into the problem-solving protocols that draw upon critical thinking, such as statistical literacy, content analysis, and deductive compositions.

10. Integrate conversations about interdisciplinary learning into the challenges we face in homeland security.

Selected Publications

• Augsburg, Tanya. Becoming Interdisciplinary: An Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies, 2nd Ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2006

• Froderman, Robert, Julie T. Kline, and Carl Mitchman, eds. Oxford Handbook on Interdisciplinarity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming, 2009

• Klein, Julie T., Humanities, Culture, and Interdisciplinarity: The Changing American Academy. Albany State University of New York Press, 2005

• Klein, Julie. T. (1990). Interdisciplianrity: History, theory and practice. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

• Klein, Julie T., “Resources for Interdisciplinary Studies.” Change (March/April 2005): 52-58.• Repko, Allen. Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory. Los Angeles and London: Sage, 2008

• Woods, Charlotte. “Researching and Developing Interdisciplinary Teaching: Towards a Conceptual Framework for Classroom Communication” Higher Education. Vol. 54 Issue 6, p. 853-866. Dec. 2007

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 17, 2011 @ 3:41 am

Linda, Thanks again for the important contributions. I very much like the focus on interdisciplinary and your ten suggestions.

As a matter of technique — but a technique important to all learning, and especially adult learning — I would argue themes are best cultivated rather than imposed.

It is certainly productive to identify key themes and organize interdisciplinary engagement with these themes.

It is riskier — but potentially even more productive — to engage adult learners (most learners?) to expose themes that are meaningful to them and then engage their themes with interdisciplinary rigor.

I will confess that as a teacher when I work to expose the learners’ thematic interests I may well be trying (hoping) to move them in a particular direction. But it has been my fairly consistent experience that if and when I remain open to their choice of direction, the entire learning experience is enlivened and enlightening in a way not experienced when my themes and sequence are more rigid.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 17, 2011 @ 4:57 am

Some are analysts and some are synthesizers. Both needed in HS. Great series of posts and comments and wonderful almost a decade after 9/11 to understand the complexity of the task before US.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 19, 2011 @ 1:13 am

Oh and the FRP was issued in May 1992 but not actually employed in August 1992 when responding to Hurricane Andrew, almost two decades ago.

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