Learning Science Without Boundaries: Pedagogical Innovations that Shape the Integrated Science (iSci) Program at McMaster Article uri icon

  • Overview


  • The Honours Integrated Science (iSci) program is an interdisciplinary, research-based science program that focuses on the development of self-directed learning skills in a supportive and collaborative environment. The iSci program is designed to allow students to learn science without the constraints of traditional discipline boundaries, course structures, or teaching methodologies. This poster session will explore the innovative pedagogical approaches used in the iSci program to facilitate student learning of science, the creation of a broad curriculum, and the development of undergraduate research skills. In their first year iSci students take a single course (ISCI 1A24) that integrates learning of the knowledge, concepts, and skills covered by traditional discipline courses in chemistry, physics, math, life sciences, earth science and psychology. Students learn in a variety of situations – from team-taught formal lectures and tutorials to inquiry-based team and individual research projects that involve hands-on laboratory and fieldwork. Interdisciplinary research projects are conducted as part of the structured iSci class time and allow students to develop their research and communication skills in an instructor- guided environment. The topics selected for research (e.g. Mission to Mars, Drugs Doses and Biodistribution, Sustainable Energy, Cancer) facilitate interdisciplinary learning and students gain first-hand appreciation of research methodologies and the linkages between different scientific disciplines. In their second year of the iSci program students undertake 5 research projects, each focusing on a different topic considered to be essential learning for interdisciplinary science students. The research projects are scheduled in a modified ‘block plan’ format and run for periods of between 6 and 10 weeks. Topics include thermodynamics, ecology, biochemistry, neuroscience, and earth history. Second year students also select an ‘enrichment’ project based upon one of these five topics to further enhance their understanding of that topic, or a quantum mechanics project. In third year students complete three team research projects and an individual research project on a topic of their choice, and in fourth year they complete an honours thesis, working in conjunction with a faculty researcher. Throughout the iSci program student learning occurs primarily through team and self-directed exploration within thematic research projects. These projects change in form and scope as students move through the 4 year program, and students progressively take on more responsibility for the design, analysis and communication of the research. Communication of science and the development of leadership skills are emphasized within the program and class time is dedicated to the development of these skills. We will present examples of interdisciplinary research projects that form the foundation of the iSci program and will discuss instructor experiences and student responses to the innovative pedagogical approaches we use to practice undergraduate research-based education. These approaches have application to many different discipline areas and program types. This poster session will be of interest to instructors, program and curriculum designers, educational developers and university administrators.

publication date

  • July 20, 2012