Stretching, Crossing & Breaking Boundaries in the Administration of an Interdisciplinary Science Program Article uri icon

  • Overview


  • All too often pedagogical innovation is suppressed by inflexible administrative systems with rigid boundaries. This session aims to outline some of the administrative boundaries that have been stretched, crossed and broken in the development of an administrative system designed to meet the pedagogical needs of a new, research-based, interdisciplinary science program (iSci) at McMaster University. The Honours Integrated Science (iSci) program is a four-year program in which students learn essential scientific concepts and skills relevant to a range of science disciplines (chemistry, physics, math, life sciences, Earth sciences, psychology) through project-based exploration of pertinent topics and themes. The program involves instructors from all departments in the Faculty of Science and many components of the program are team-taught by two or more instructors. Students take interdisciplinary courses specifically designed for iSci, but can also ‘concentrate’ their electives in a specific discipline area to gain entry to graduate and professional schools. As can be expected, the structure and scaffolding of instructional and administrative resourcing in such an interdisciplinary program stretches, crosses, and even breaks through many conventional curricular and administrative boundaries in a university system. The boundaries we have identified include those associated with instruction, student records, and long term planning.

    Administration of an interdisciplinary program includes allocation and timetabling of staff and teaching assignments, class scheduling, allocation of laboratory and class resources, and room assignments. Some of the boundaries that have to be stretched and crossed in this area of administration include coordination of delivery of classes and labs with multiple instructors and departments, and creation of a system that allows accurate recognition and reporting of instructional roles, particularly for tenure and promotion purposes. Administration of student records in an interdisciplinary program is particularly challenging and requires clear communication of course equivalencies between disciplines and departments. This is essential for our students to track their own progress and to communicate this to other units within, and external to the university. Interdisciplinary programs also have unique long-term planning needs related to resource, space, and equipment allocation from contributing departments, multi-departmental curriculum changes, and on-going budget issues.

    This session will be of interest to instructors, program designers, university administrators, and educational developers. The experiences and perspectives of the iSci program’s administrative and instructional teams will be shared as we discuss how to successfully stretch and sometimes break the boundaries of a traditional university administration system. We will identify administrative boundaries that can be adjusted to fit interdisciplinary programs and those boundaries that may need to be broken.

publication date

  • July 20, 2012