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The Role of Interdisciplinary Research THE NEED FOR CHANGE This report makes two arguments: that interdis ciplinary research is important for the Improvement of mathematics, science, and technology education and that good interdisciplinary research is possible. Although it is probably easier deco secure agreement on the first argu- ment than on the second, neither is self-evident. In an earlier report (Committee on Research in Mathe matins, Science, and Technology Education [hereafter Committee], 198S), this committee discussed the impor- tance of bringing together different disciplines and different perspectives in improving mathematics, science, and technology education. The present report summarizes that discussion, gives specific examples of the need for collaborative research, explains why such collaboration is difficult to sustain, and provides some procedures for furthering ito The need to improve the quality of teaching and learn- ing in mathematics, science, and technology education in the United Stales has been well documented (National Sci- ence Board Commission on Precollege Education in Mathe- matics, Science and Technology Education, 1983; National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1983a, 1983b; Hueftle et al., 1983; Bask Force on Education for Economic Growth, 1983; Crosswhite en al., 1985; Jacobson and Doran, 1985; McKn~ght et al., 1987~. The se studies show that effective education in those fields is impeded by minimal high school graduation requirements, the rote learning orientation of science curricula, the bureau- cratic structure of educational institutions, and the limited incentives for recruitment and retention of - 1

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2 well-qualified teachers. The catalogue of deficiencies is easy to produce. Correcting them is not. As we noted previously (Committee, 1985:1-2), the deficiencies in mathematics, science, and technology education are not pro warily the result of ignorance or incompetence, but, rather, of choices made by American society in allocating personal and collective resources and effort. Those choices include the obvious ones of the aggregate levels of resources devoted to mathematics, science, and technology education and to research deco im- prove that education. They also include the less obvious choices reflected in the innumerable responsibilities and constraints imposed on schools by parents, professional associations, communities, and public authorities. And they include the choices of American parents in allocat- ing personal resources of time and money to supplement- iIlg ~ encouraging, and supporting the educational efforts of schools, as well as in providing extracurricular and recreational activities for children. As citizenry the members of the present committee think some of these choices Praise and inefficient. However, our lassie here is not to campaign for political or social support for mathematics, science, and technology education. Rather, our charge is to suggest ways of improving that education within the broad choices reflected ire societyO We believe that ~igniflcant improvements can be achieved within the framework of contemporary American society. Educational institu~cions change frequently enough to lend credence to the possibility of unaging that change to some degree. Managing change to some degrees however, ~s different Eros' adopting policies or promulgating edicts O We surface credibility of introducing educational change through simple fiat (eo809 governmental policy, pronounce- ments' or legislation) conceals some mayor complexities. First, changing education may require changes in many different, interrelated ins~citutions, including uni~rer- sities, publishing companies, professional associations, labor uslions9 employers t organiza~clons9 courts, public agencies' and families9 as well as schools. Each of tines@ institutions is itself a complicated collection of cooperating and competing groups and individuals. Second, the scientific base for beneficial change is fragmented and incomplete. In our previous report, the commit~cee stressed the impor~cance of research a - ed at increasing the amount and quality of active, fruitful learning time for students of schematics, science, and

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3 ~cechnology. Cognitive studies of learning are providing more understanding of the nature of effective curricula and instruction. Studies of organizations are providing more understanding of barriers and opportunities in stim- ulating and implementing innovations. Studies of schools are providing new knowledge of the impact of classroom and teaching activities. Though some of the relearnt research is disciplinary, much of it is not. As we concluded in our previous report (Committee, 1985:52~: "[a] ~chorouth understanding of how children learn or fail to learn to reason will require fundamental research that involves the highest order of both disciplinary and in~cer- disciplinary research skills.. Third, there is good reason for concerti about the link between scientific research on teaching and learning and ache every-day experiences of teachers and students. Research on teaching and learning is often inattentive to insights and effective practices that are well known to experienced teachers 9 while the practice of coaching is often inattentive deco knowledge that has come from educa- tional research. More is lmown about teaching and learn- ing science and mathematics than is currently being used effectively. _ _ _, _ ~_ Numerous terms are used to describe the various links between research and practice and mung researchers from different fields and institution, but none is fully satisfactory in the present context. Therefore, through- out this report, -we use interdi$s~igit,nary as a generic term to refer to all kinds of research/practice collabo- ra~cions as well as the term to refer to collaboration among disciplines. Of particular interest are the following: 1. Collaboration among different specialties of a 2. discipline or profession--for example, among cog- nitive, developmental, and social psychologists to understand ache role of early childhood experi- ences in the comprehension of scientific concepts . Collaboration among disciplines--for example, among chemists, educational psychologists, and cognitive scientists to structure chemical knowl edge for effective ins tion. Collaboration among basic research, applied research, and development and application--for example, to improve the effectiveness of computer technology in the teaching of basic arithmetic operations . -

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4 40 Collaboration among practitioners, policy makers, and rasearchere--for example, to develop sad adopt curricula and teaching materials that co'oQunicata scientific tcr~owledge in a way that is botch scientifically rigorous and educationally manageable . THE NEED FOR COLI^BORATION lye contemporary organization of science is not the result of an arbitrary division of labor; rather, it reflects ache ways the structure of human understanding of knowledge has evolved through experience. Although knowledge cannot be factored into completely au~conomous clusters of phenomena and variables, some things are more tightly linked than others. The disciplinary organiza- ~cion of research facilitates exchanges among people and ideas that hare many interconnections at the expense of those that have few. Some domains of inquiry fit less well into the disci- plinary structure than others. badly is research on mathematics, science, and technology education. Unders~eandlag and improving education in -science requires three distinct kindle of knowledge. firsts the structures arid processes of the subjects to be taught, seconds the fundamental biological, psychologi- cal, linguistic, arid sociological processes involved in learning these subs acts, particularly the development of reasoning skills; and third, the coneex~cs in which teach- ing and learning talce place, the wide range of formal and informal if mtruceional experiences that are ~ in turn ~ embedded is contexts of interacting social and political institution and north The need for different kinds of knowledge is illustrated by the examples giver in Chapter 2 of important research requiring interdisciplinary collaboration. One domain that fits On the basis of the committee' earlier work, this report considers four Categories of interrelated research on mathema~cics and science curricula, on teachers and teaching, on improving the settings for learning' and on change in schools. For example, research on curricula, instruction, and new learning systems includes research on the organization of knowl- edge and processes to be taught, on the developoIen~c of reasoning skills in asthes~atics and science, on testing and evaluation, and on the possibilities for improveo~ents

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5 through computer-based technologies. Much of this re- search requires cooperation among teachers, subject- matter specialists, educational and learning psycholo- gists, sociologists, computer scientists, and materials developers. As another example, research on the various settings In which learning take place--the home, the classroom and school, television and other mass media, and peer groups and other informal instructors--entails collaboration between sociologists of the school and sociologists of the family, between developmental psychologists and anthropologists, between teachers and linguists, between students of organizations and devel- opers of new information technologies. BARRIERS TO COLLABORATION The historical examples summarized in Chapter 3 of this report (and other examples that could be added) illustrate that it is sometimes possible to develop effective in~cerdisciplinary efforts. A need for such work, however, doers not translate reliably into a burst of productive collaboration. In large part, the problems of interdisciplinary work stem frog' the utility of the division of labor and the specialization in science and education. Research scientists do Toe wander far from their specialties precisely because society and good sense dictate that most of the time they should nor do so. For the same reasons, professional educators do not wander far from their professional expertise. The diffi- culties of collaboration between teachers, administra- tors, and scientists are generated by the same attributes of organization that Bake them efficient in their own spheres. There are three factors that exacerbate the difficulties implicit in a specialized organization of knowledge and research: (1) problems of concern; (2) problems of organization, coordination, and com~unica- tion; and (3) problems of recruitment. Problems of Concern Most of the mayor historical examples of successes in interdisciplinary collaboration resulted from an unusual level of shared concern. When these has been an over- powering sense of urgency about a probleo', as in the case of some issues of national crisis (e . g., the de~relopmen~c

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6 of the atomic bomb, the early years of the space program) or deep appeal to personal values (e.g., arm control research, research on woolens, it is easier to attract outstanding researchers and others to interdisciplinary collaboration and to -sustain their involvement. However,- there is likely to be a limit to the number of "crlsesn or n great oppor~cunities " that a social system 9 0t an individual, will accept as real at any one tiom ~ While many people agree that the problems of math- ematics, science, and technology education in contem- -- porary America are io~portsat, they do not generate that kind of urgency or concern. Those with major concern for that education should concise to elaborate the many ways In which the problems of scientific literacy are legiti- mate bases for commitment, but one should not anticipate that even the most persuasive arguments will transform the problems into crisis concerns for many people. Individual scientists may also see profess tonal as well as personal reasons for not undertaking such work. For example, some social and behavioral scientists may hesitate to respond to a call to increase literacy in the natural sciences if success in that task is likely deco lead deco decreasing attention to literacy in ache foust- datio~ of their own disciplines. A research physicist may have a greater stake in literacy in ache physical sciences but may see her contribution to such an effort as being less significant than a publishable research result in physics. And a high school science teacher may see only modest benefit in contributing to a long-term research project when he is confronted with more pressing daily problems of teaching a crass O The fact that exceptionally effective interdis- ciplinary effort seems to have stemmed from exceptional conditions of shared concern is ~ warning not to expect miracles, but not a cause for despair. If crisis or shared values were required for all coordinated effort, scheme would not be much of it. Yet society routinely induces disparate individuals and groups to solve prob- leo's in a coordinated way, even without shared values or sense of crisis. The most obvious examples of such suc- cesses are found in price systems, political exchange systems, and bureaucracies. Each coordinates conflicting participants without securing agreement on values beyond a broad acceptance of the circles of the game.n They function through the design and implementation of various forms of contracts and implicit contracts, socialization into legitimate behavior through rules and roles, and the creation of coalitions. .

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Problems of Organization, Coordination, and Communication The problems of organizing divers ity are not funda- mentally different from general problems of organiza- tion. They involve two things: a choice of ache appropri ate balance between gains from coordinated control of diverse activities and gains from decentralized special) Cation and a choice of mechanisms for achieving that balance efficiently. In general, although efficient mechanisms minimize the costs, there is-always a trade- off between interesting effort in coordinating activities and Investing effort in improving specialized diversity. When activities are heavily interdependent, coordination seems particularly appropriate; when they are not, decen- tralized specialization seem better. It is easier to describe the trade-offs involved in organizing diversity achy to find the appropriate balance. Many proposed interdisciplinary projects face skepticism and resistance from researchers in particular disciplines. Part of this response is undoubtedly due to the fact that the benefits from such research are likely to be less salient to them than to outsiders, but it is also attributable to a greater awareness of the difi- cultiea. An interdisciplinary project that requires extensive cross-fertilization of ideas at the level of the individual research worker incurs heavy costs of organization, communication, and coordination. Indeed, persons within individual disciplines often see the difficulties of fitting different perspectives together and recognize the cost of coordination and communication more clearly than do those outside the individual disci- plines, who may see the need for cross-disciplinary, multispecialty, multiperspective projects, but tend to underestimate the organizational costs of doing them. Since such people are more likely to be found in mans- gerial positions and in funding agencies, there is a persistent tendency for the organizational costs (both in money and in time) to be underfunded. Problems of Recrutment - Finding ways to stimulate interdisciplinary activity may not be easy, but it is easier than ensuring that the people recruited for those activities are talented enough to meet the challenge of the research. For some of the -

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8 people most needed, participation in interdisciplinary projects is arguably both less socially efficient and less personally attractive than work in more specialized activities. Talented scientists with an absolute a~an- tage over others for a particular project often have a comparative advantage in their disciplinary work as wells And interdisciplinary research may not be attractive to them ,, particularly ita the early stages of their careers 9 because of the incentive struc~cure of scien~ciflc careers and the role definitions of dioxin plinary scientists. To rewards of a scientific career lie mainly within a discipline; recognition by ones peers is essential and comes primarily for disciplinary excellence. Similarly, an experienced and talented lawyer, physician, teacher, or administrator is unlikely to find multiperapective activities either as consisten~c with role definitions or as rewarding as staying within relatively circ~csibed professional activities -and groups. This situation argues the need to creat@ incen- tives for interdisciplinary research that counterbalance the existing adverse reward systems Asid@ from rewards, serious in~cardisciplinary work tends to be painful. Interdisclplinary collaboration involves situation in which roles' repu~catio~, and paradigms have deco be renegotiated or redefined The process is likely to D-ke participants uncomfortable, particularly if they are relatively successful in a discipline or specialty. The excitement of uncertainty is a classical basis for the excitement of science, but the uncertainties that attract research scientists are characteristically within sharply defined constraints of established paradigms. Economists think like economists; Chemists think like chemists. Research within a single paradigm is more easily designed, executed, interpreted, and communicated than is research that imalves more than one. Yet the intellectual challenges irherent in many of the problems that require the expertise of more than one specialty have attracted son of the finest scientific minds to interdisciplinary research leading to the crea- tion of whole new fields, such as as~crophysice' molecular biology, and cognitive science. However, it takes e~tab- fished scientists, with tenure asked - olid self-esteem9 deco take up the challenged This implies that interdisci- plinary research requires the leadership of senior scientists and cannot ordinarily succeed by attracting just Junior researchers, however talented. At the same time, even the best disciplinary scientists will, on

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9 average, be less competent at interdisciplinary work than they are in their disciplines. Though they may be more competent than most others at interdisciplinary work, they will have to learn about somewhat unfamiliar problems, people, language, standards, and techniques. Unless it is possible simply to import a particular paradigm into a new field, interdisciplinary efforts are relatively difficult in execution as well as relatively uncertain in outcome. These problems are particularly notable when, as is often true in education, the impetus for interdisciplin- ary collaboration comes from outside the field. There are two difficulties with imposing an interdisciplinary focus from a funding agency or manager. The first is the obvious one that the best researchers prefer to work on problems of their own choosing and are in short enough supply to be able to do so. The second is that outsiders often lack clarity about the task9 which, when added to the other confusions of interdisciplinary work, gives such work low prospect of success. Yet there are occasions when interdisciplinary work is not only appropriate but also appealing: when ache normal research activities of a disciplinary scientist lead deco important questions unanswerable within that discipline; Then a teacher sees a need for greater comprehension of some specific feature of the learning process; or when a policy analyst wants advice on a well-defined problem of learning technology. In such cases each is recruited relatively easily into an interdiscl plinary pro] act . OVERCOMING Lyle BARRIEtS TO COLLABORATION _ _. . , lDhe committee believes that a coherent attack on the problem of encouraging good interdi-~cip, inary collabo- ration is possible. The first requirement is to have -=l~n~P~ noodle within each relevant specialty help define the interdisciplinary problems to be worked on. The second requirement is to recognize that the primary barrier to such collaboration is the fundamental effi- ciency of the division of labor and specialization: since specialization serves so well most of the time, it is difficult to organize along different lines when the traditional division of labor serves poorly. Such a recognition implies that the fundamental strategy for encouraging relevant interdisciplinary collaboration

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10 involves working within and around the disciplinary and professional structures rather than attempting a basic reconstruction of the organization of science and education. First, staying power is needed to ~ a real dif- ference in science, ma~cheeatice, and technology educa- tion. Therefore, any agency sponsoring research and development in this area needs deco institute ~ systematic procedure for establishing program goals9 tracking pro gram effects in relation to goals over hem, and making adJust:ments to improve program effectiver~ssO Our addi tional suggestions cover each of the three problems identified above. Ameliorating the Problem of Conce`.. We believe there are three different ways by which the problems of inadequate conceits can be confronted: creating ~ general sense of crisis; identifying a subgroup of relevant people who, for particularistic reasons, are more concerned than the average scientist; and substituting other mechanism for the motivational cohesion produced through shared concern Specifically, a sys~cematic program eight be created, directed toward the scientific co~i~y, explaining the magnitude of the problems within mathematical science' and ~cec~ology education and indicating the impor~cance of interdis- ciplinasy collaborative efforts deco confront those problems. Such a program might address the scientific community in general or identify subgroups of scientists and others witch par~cicular concern about education. hi809 more careful co~i"ration need to be given to the various aspects of problem requiring interdisciplinary work in order to minimize the costs of collaboration and communication. For example, an agency could aslc a small interdisciplinary tea-to identify components of direct relevance to a given interdisciplir~ary problem but that can be addressed within the boundaries of one discipline or specialty before being coordinated with other pieces of the work. Ameliorating the Problem of Organization, Communication, and Coordination We believe that the problems of organization, coomnmi" coercion, and coordination reflect primarily a tendency to

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11 underestimate the costs of interdisciplinary collabora- tion, particularly as the n''nber of perepect-ives i-m'~lved increases. We suggest a more careful consideration by funding agencies of the relation between the marginal cost of adding additional perspectives to a project and the marginal return. The tendency to think if it is good to add one additional perspective it must be better to add four needs to be tempered by a recognition that the costs of organization, communication, and coordination roughly double with each new specially. Successful collaboration typically involves a relatively small number of perspectives. Also, sponsoring agencies need to make a special effort to provide adequate funding for the extra costs of interdisciplinary projects and commit themselves to program and resource stability. Tempting as it is to reorganize program as educational priorities replace each other, successful interdisciplinary collabo- ration takes time to build. One way of providing time asked adequate funding is to estabish research or demonstra- tion centers in which experts from various specialties work together on joint projects; however, the design and management of such centers must be carefully thought through in light of experience with such centers in education and in other fields. A possible progr~tic initiative It be for the National Science Foundation again to provide funding explicitly for interdisciplinary research, as in the Joint National Institute on Education/Hational Science Foundation program of 1981-1982. Other possibilities include a special program to fund the interaction of researchers with common interests and complementary training, including support for sabbaticals or lengthy visits to encourage collaborative projects. With more ambition, one might consider developing an en~cit~r like the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at which scholars with differing backgrounds can work together on common education problems. These and other program alternatives are discussed in Chapter 4. Ameliorating the Problems of Recruitment We believe it is relatively easy deco stimulate inter- disciplinary work, but it is hard to ensure that the individuals led to engage in that work will be of a quality commensurate with the difficulty of an inter- disciplinary task. The primary mechanisms for recruiting

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12 talented people are the selection of challenging problan~ and the provision of attractive incentives for interdis- ciplinary collaboration. In order to be effective in attracting the desired par~cicipation, such incentives t be tailored to a well-defined interdisciplinary task that is recognized as critical to solving problem herring a hip priority for outstanding indivisible within a specialty. The Foundla~cion should consider a program of grants that first identifies individuals whose contribution to improving mathe~tice,, science, and technology education would be particularly critical and Ached ash them to identify an interdisciplinary effort that (a) is socially important, (b) would have a high prospec~c of success, and (e) would secure their attention because of its intel- lect~1 challenge and scientific excited Art alterna- tive is the identifica~cion9 proud special conferences or advisory groups, of interdisciplinary problems that have strong linkages, either croup theory or applica- tion' to existing discipline-based research, so that researchers could perceive opportunities for contributing to education without: necessarily changing their field. A third possibility is a program Of grants and fellowships that will encourage able young scientis~cs and educators to acquire the tools of another specials ant enable established professionals to provide leadership for ineerdiseiplinary research O Chapter 4 provides further suggestions on pertinent program al~cernatives.